Friday, May 9, 2014

Watermarking Mobile Photos: Is this even Necessary?

If you asked me, I have only one thing to say, and that watermarking is the gentle art of desecrating your photo with you name splash vividly across the image. Some photographers emblazon their name so big on their image that a Boeing 757 flying overhead would be able to spot it.

Watermarking is the best way to protect you photo from theft, but you can't avoid this if you want to get famous. People steal stuff which are valuable. No one steals junk as they can be found everywhere. But then again some mobile photographer post junk images and watermark it as well. Go figure. I mean, heck who would want to look at an ugly picture? Pretend for a moment that you go into a bar and the live music band just plays awful music . Would you go back for seconds? The whole purpose of going public is to show how good you are even if you lack the dexterity to play Scrabble in the German language. 

I know the rationale behind the watermark, this is not a bad rationale but a flawed one.
Photographers who desecrates his own photos just to protect the copyright while everyone else is showing off their wares on for free is a losing proposition. No one will notice you as those eye popping watermark creates an ugly distraction. The visible wartermark should be subtle. It should appear on one of the four corners of the image and not ALL of them.

Anyone with some photo editing skill will find a way to remove the watermark. It’s like this, if someone wants it so badly without ever wanting to pay for it, you can be assured that it will get stolen. Thanks to the healing tool, any photoshop amateur can wipe clean a watermark—and there are plenty of cracked copies of Photoshop on the PC for them to do it on too.

There are heaps of watermarking mobile apps on Android, I won't list them here but there are both paid and free versions for you to get crazy with. On iOS, is a free app that embeds a copyright watermark on your chose photo. It duplicates the photo so the original is not touched. 

Where does IPTC fit in?

There is also the invisible watermark which are used by Pros, this is a watermark that is embedded onto the picture's metadata. IPTC (International Press Telecommunication Council) is a metadata standard used globally by photojournalist. When you shoot for news agencies, this type of metadata is required for all images as it is a descriptive text that is embedded onto the digital image.

In photojournalism, you don’t submit photos which are emblazoned with your name to prevent theft. You submit photos which carry only IPTC metadata. This is the only acceptable means for the editorial office to identify your work and know what the picture is about.

Such metadata has proven very useful for archival purposes as the description, usage and ownership of the image is clearly stated for all to see. So when the image gets toss around from one corner of the world to another, the only way to identify the image is through such metadata.

I remember Trey Ratcliff had one of this photos stolen and used on Twitter, the image was later used in an Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald. The blunder would have been avoided if the high resolution picture had all the metadata that pointed to Trey.

As mobile photography gets more mainstream, mobile photos will flood the image landscape and we would have no idea what and where the photos were taken. Trey’s photo wasn’t shot on a mobile device, instead, the high resolution photo is available on his site,

The idea that photos getting lost in a social media stream is highly plausible in the digital age where everyone passes a photo around on social media. No one would have known where it originate from or for that matter, if the usage rights for this photo allow for creative common use. This is why IPTC metadata is the key to establish ownership and usage right for every image.

For News Photographers, IPTC is the preferred way of enccding copyright and geo location information. There are separate fields to manually enter location, headline, description, copyright usage, etc which are embedded onto the photo.

Go ahead, make your caption, no one can see this!

In a newsroom, there is no need to use EXIF data. What the hell does the photo editor want to know about your shutter speed or aperture settings when you shot the picture? EXIF data is useful for amateur photographers who want to learn to use the camera, Pros don't need such information.

Where is the App for that?

For Android, there is currently only Mophotos that allow for this. Not the best app to have but it does the job. Mophotos was developed to work with EyeFi cards. A photojournalist would import a copy of the image into the smartphone or tablet, key in the IPTC data and send it off to the newsroom. However it can also edit mobile pictures stored on your gallery.

IPTC metadata editing

For iOS, there is Photogene. A great app for editing photos and adding your own spiel on the IPTC metadata. Works for both iPhone and iPad if you didn't already know.

For me at least, the lesser evil is probably the best route. Share only low quality images online and if you must, use a less visible watermark if at all. Any type of watermark you put on an image can be removed, don't matter if it is a IPTC metadata or or visible one.

What is the Best Rule for Posting Photos?
Low resolution with an invisible watermark is the best way to go. You must remember that a low resolution image can only be used online, and not as a background image or wallpaper on in print.

Even a medium resolution image can be stolen, extrapolated with an image algorithm software and turned into a high resolution image. This is probably one incentive for would be software thieves but this is far too troublesome for the average image thief.

The Internet offers no protection to any digital properties and this is something all photographers have to deal with.


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