The Family Photographer: Protecting your images online

This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for a while, so it’s not so much as a “how-to” post as an invitation to discuss the subject.

The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve started watermarking my photos. (A watermark is, in this case, a small and mostly transparent addition to your image that shows the image is copyrighted, to deter unathorized use.) I’ve toyed with the idea of watermarking my images for years, but was too lazy to do it. Now that I run all my pix through Photoshop before I publish them, and thanks to this great tutorial from one of my 365 friends, I can drop a watermark into each image with three clicks.

You can see it in this photo of the American falls at Niagara Falls (because I don’t have enough Niagara Falls in my blog this week, right?)

American Falls 2

I really don’t want the watermark to interfere with the images, so I tucked it way down in the corner and tried to make it mostly transparent. (The problem with putting it way down in the corner is that it’s not too difficult to crop it out, should someone be so inclined, but the kind of people who steal images are generally the lazy sort anyway, and I suffer no delusions that my images are worth the extra effort to acquire!)

So that’s the ‘what’ of watermarking, and a hint at the ‘how,’ but what of the why?

I talked to Andrea a bit about this when we had lunch the other day, and it was great to finally talk to someone about it after stewing on it for weeks. I’ve been having a crisis of confidence about having so much of my world online and out in public lately. Part of it was the (albeit totally innocuous) recognition of Lucas and Beloved in the library by a nice lady who reads the blog and lives in my neighbourhood, but it was mostly motivated by some weird traffic in my Flickr stats.

You might remember back in the fall of 2007, there was a kerfuffle on the ‘net about people stealing images of kids and making fake profiles on the social networking site Orkut. About a month ago, I noticed that there was traffic from Orkut that pointed to a (completely ordinary) picture of Tristan from an apple-picking trip a couple of years ago. I made the image private, and that stopped the traffic, but there are still a few links from sites that Flickr doesn’t recognize pointing to random photos in my stream and if I can’t reconcile it I’m not comfortable with it.

For a while, I was so twitchy about the issue that I thought the solution might be to simply stop taking pictures of the boys for my 365. That idea made me feel sick, and sad, and a little angry. The whole reason I started Project 365 was to improve my photographic skills, and while it’s nice to be able to take better pictures of carrots and fence posts, what *really* matters to me is better pictures of the people I love. If I were to quit taking pictures of the kids, I might as well quit the 365 entirely.

I toyed for a while with making every image of family members private or for contacts only on Flickr (truth be told, I’m still thinking about it) but that certainly wouldn’t help with the images I post here. And it may be a little bit too late in any case, what with four and a half years worth of images already out there in cyberspace.

In the end, I’ve decided on a middle ground of cautious awareness. I think it’s prudent to be conscious of what you put on the Web but, thanks in part to the chat I had with Andrea, I’m feeling less exposed and freaked out about the whole thing. I’m taking simple steps to minimize any potential risks, like being cognizant of the kind of images I put up — no bare bums, stuff like that. I don’t post their pictures to any group that has “child” or “babies” or anything like that in it. And I monitor the traffic on Flickr much more carefully than I monitor my blog traffic. If anything makes me even remotely uncomfortable, I make the image private — so far, I’ve only done it twice.

Andrea asked me what it was that I would be worried about, what nefarious use of my images I feared, and I don’t know, exactly, what could be done. Frankly, I’d rather not think about it! But, as I’ve often said about living my life online, I’m not going to give undue attention to some ephermal and ill-defined potential risk.

And that comes back to watermarking. I’m going to watermark all my images, so I can protect in some small way the intellectual copyright on the few really stellar images that I’ve created, and to deter any unsavoury use of the images of with people in them.

What do you think of all this? Are you a purist who is annoyed by the ‘ego’ factor in watermarking photos? Do you think it’s futile to even bother? I’ve seen people argue that by simply putting images online, you are de facto giving up your rights to what happens to them — something I, no surprise, completely disagree with. What do you do to protect your images online? I’d love to hear your opinions on this!

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

11 thoughts on “The Family Photographer: Protecting your images online”

  1. I don’t watermark my photos, mostly because I hate looking at photos with watermarks and because they’re easily removed and all that. But I also don’t post any pics of my kid to groups on flickr anymore and I generally don’t tag them. Most of my pictures of my son only get one or two views on flickr, so I’m not even concerned about posting the odd bare bum (if he lets me photograph it of course ;). I also monitor my flickrs stats for the same reasons.

  2. I don’t watermark my photos. So far I’m not all that worried about it. I do the basic as you said – no bare bums and so forth. If that changes I would probably avoid posting photos instead of watermarking them. But it doesn’t really bother me if someone else watermarks their photos.

    I really try not to live in fear over this. Because I know that there are people, friends and family, who enjoy seeing photos of my kids. I would hate to deny them this completely benign pleasure because I was freaked out. There are millions and billions of baby photos floating around the internet, and I mostly think mine are just a little more background noise, not really likely to attract much attention one way or the other except from people who care about my kids.

  3. Because of the nature of the interent ie. you lose control of anything you publish on it as soon as it’s up, I don’t post any pics of the kids on open sites like blogs or FB. We do have some up on flickr in a private account only accessible to a very select few.

  4. We’ve decided to go all private. No photos on FlickR, just two pics of my son when he was one week old on facebook and that’s about it.

    Our own photo website has an access through login and password. The login and password are our family names (anybody who knows our family will know this), and I constantly put them in our blog posts, each time I refer to photos. The purpose of the login/password is solely to avoid pictures being referenced by google.

    I post photos of my 365 project on a personal blog too, and not on FlickR. So I’ve decided NOT TO take photographs of my son. Because there’s no login and password to this blog.

    It’s also because I consider that I have no right exposing my son’s naked body. It’s HIS body. I just feel protective of the teenager he’ll soon be (he’s not even 2 years old, laugh at me 🙂

    And I also wanted to look at something else than him, look more at the details or the big picture around me. I felt that I had been too focused on him ever since he was born (and we had moved to Canada, and I had stopped working). You can see him sometimes on the pics, but it’s either his back, or half his profile. A feet. Never a bare bum.

  5. I don’t water mark my pictures just because I can’t be bothered. I spend more than enough time already on the computer/internet. I do monitor my flickr and my blog for traffic. My pictures only get a handful of views. I shouldn’t say that — pictures of my kids only get a handful of views. Most folks are stopping by for the recipes and recipe related pictures. My biggest traffic days are Wednesdays when I host What’s Cooking Wednesday. I feel the same way as Amber. I’m just some more background noise. There are people out there who are interested and care about us and I do all this for them.

  6. I’ve considered using watermarks on my images due to the fact that people are out there plucking photos off flicker as if the site was a freebie stock photo site. I feel that it’s unfortunate that as photographers we have to resort to this method to prevent any unauthorized or malicious use of our work more specifically those of family members and friends. But if it’s what we have to do to protect our photos then it’s gotta be done.

  7. I started watermarking my pictures a while back (actually I was hoping you were going to discuss HOW to watermark here… I have it set as an action but when I crop a picture, the watermark tends to get change sizes.

    Not sure why I watermark tho. Just kinda made sense. And I’m too lazy to spend time hiding my watermark in my image, like some people do (although I kind of want to sometimes), because then it’s not so easily cropped off.

  8. No real opinion on copyrighting. I just wanted to say that I visit your blog often although we haven’t seen each other since the playgroup days. Your family photos are wonderful and they, and all your photos, project joy and your love of life…keep up the excellent work!

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