This question has been a hot debate ever since photographers existed and you can create a sound argument for both sides quite easily.The two options are not black and white either and that is what makes it so difficult and it is often a very subjective discussion. To answer it I believe we need to consider an artwork’s role and that is to transport the viewer to another place or to carry some kind of message or idea and be thought provoking. But there are so many different platforms that images are presented on these days and with so many different agendas it makes it hard to distinguish when and when you shouldn’t be using a watermark. For example if we load up the Popular page of images from 500px it will present us with 10’s of different types of photographers all lumped together including sports, portraits, weddings, nudes, fashion, landscapes, auto, architecture just to name a few. Then within these individual groups you have sub-groups and all coming at the business of imagery from different angles. So just giving the advice to photographers that you should or shouldn’t use watermarks isn’t going to apply to everyone.
Not to mention digital based, print based, for clients, magazines, the media… what is the target audience ?
Here are few positives and negatives to go with each side of the argument
For No Watermark
The positives: Images can be used as personal backgrounds on computer desktops or google+ profile images for their followers and fans. The artwork can be enjoyed without the distraction of text, font and design.
The negatives: No watermark can mean that potential clients who are in need of such an image for a legitimate campaign can’t instantly find the author and might move on to someone else’s work that has one and can be tracked down quickly. Images are easily pilfered and used illegally for whatever people can get away with and there are many such stories on the net of photographers having their worked used in a newspapers or magazines without their permission.
Works with a Watermark
The positives: The artwork is easily identifiable as yours and people can google your name or contact you with ease. Having a nice logo that suits the artist can often be a positive as people can look at a work, like it then see the logo and be oh thats a ‘luke zeme’, thought so.
The negatives: The inclusion of a watermark or logo will break the illusion of the image. This is the main reason photographers will post their images without one and it’s how I began posting my images on the internet.
For me personally, I have my own reasons for using my logo on my art and they are mine and mine alone. I’ll admit that I don’t want to use a logo 100% of the time as I am a purist at heart when it comes to art and the appreciation of art. That said though, I relate the inclusion of a logo in my photography to painters like Monet or Rembrandt who’d use a paint colour similar to tones in the painting so their signature wouldn’t distract the viewer. BUT the signature was there within the painting and we immediately could search out their name within the image and go “oh thats a Monet”. Did this make their paintings any less amazing and are we continually distracted by them ? No it didn’t and they are worth millions of dollars today. So it was for this reason I went ahead and got my graphic designer to create multiple versions of my logo/watermark so that I can discretely place it within different coloured and varied light and dark toned images.
Examples of my logo:
I apply my logo in a layer in Adobe Photoshop CS6 and this way I can change the opacity and make it less obtruse if I want. Some times if I am in a cheeky mood I like to place it within the image somewhere like on a smooth wall or on a skyline 🙂
How I might use the four of these in different circumstances:
You can see how I might discreetly select 1 of my 4 logos depending on the type of image I have. So if I have a big light space I will often use one on my logos with the dark font so the contrast allows it to be visible and vice versa with a dark space.
So I try to be a little like the painting masters of Monet and Rembrandt in my use of the watermark and not allow it to take too much attention away from viewing the image. This is just how I have evolved my photographic model and it may or may not agree with your philosophies towards the subject but for me it gives me the best of both worlds.