The Art of Keeping Your Images Safe


The Art of Keeping Your Images Safe

watermarking images, protecting images, protecting your artwork, online,
The Art of Keeping Your Images Safe...

Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at a few ways you can protect your images when you display them online.

The Watermark…

Not too long ago an artist friend of mine asked me if she should pay out the best part of $20 to have a watermark created for her work through an advert she had seen on one of the social media platforms. The watermarks the company produced were nice and clean but the fact that they were being sold on social media meant that lots of artists were buying the very same style. My friend wanted something different and being a self-confessed technophobe, she wasn’t too sure how to go about creating her own.

Over the years I have produced somewhere in the region of literally hundreds of watermarks in an attempt to find a balance between offering a reasonable level of protection for my work and not have them being so obtrusive as to detract from the artwork itself. To be totally honest though, watermarks are not going to completely solve the problem of someone taking your art. They might stop the casual online art thief but anyone with even a small knowledge of Photoshop can remove a watermark in less than five minutes.

Being primarily a digital artist, people scraping my images is a problem I come across frequently. I can’t begin to count the number of wallpaper websites that have taken thumbnails of my artwork and stretched and squeezed them into something that could be used as a wallpaper on a PC or Mac or on a smartphone. I even had a run in with an app developer who had lifted the images from one of my Print on Demand stores, and who had then uploaded them into the app complete with the watermarks!

Nowadays I am slightly more chilled out about it all realising that if anyone wants to steal my work they will. My job is to just make it more difficult for casual picture pinchers. Once your work is online there’s very little you can do about it if someone decides to not play by the rules.

You can try to take action but the problem is that many of the websites that skim low resolution images are anonymous. There’s no way to contact the website owners and very little else that can be done. When a site does get closed down another ten spring up. But the key thing to focus on is that for the most part, they will be using small low resolution images that really don’t scale well.

Some images occasionally appear on Amazon printed on various products but I have to say that the process with Amazon whenever this happens is painless and the items get removed very quickly and often the stores get shuttered. All you can do whenever your artwork goes online is take a few actions that will limit the casual grabbers and make it slightly more cumbersome for those who are more determined in the hope that they will move on or ideally just give up.

So my friends watermark also needed to meet a few standards. It should look professional, it shouldn’t be too obvious but at the same time it should be seen, and it needed to be reused on different sized artworks.

A few years ago you would have been limited in how you created a good quality watermark, today not so much. Most good apps and photo packages give the end user the ability to add watermarks and even my all-time favourite app, Procreate on the iPad has just received an update that allows text layers to be included. Thank you to the Procreate team for this update, now if you could just add in a curvature tool we will be golden!

If you have access to Lightroom CC from Adobe, there is a built in watermark feature which you can read about right here.  If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can also create watermarks in those applications too, and you can find the instructions right here

If you don’t have access to the Adobe suite of products you could even use something like Microsoft Paint on Windows to apply a watermark and the options become much more limited. But if you have an iPad or iPhone then something like iWatermark+ from Plum Amazing will allow you to have total control over how your watermark will look. You can read about that application right here. Make sure to get the plus version at $3.99, it does way more than the previous version did!

The great thing about iWatermark+ is that it also allows you to add Steganographic Watermarks to images which adds an invisible watermark to the image and this is a technique I have been using for a while now. Buy an original digital work from me and it will be packed to the rafters with non-obvious or intrusive protections unless you buy the work with a reuse licence.

But there is a train of thought too that suggests that using watermarks is generally a bad idea. I know that there are many people who assume that the watermark will appear on the final image when they buy it and no matter how much you explain it in the art description, they will still ask the question or keep on scrolling past it.

Watermarks will never give you total protection. Cropping, or using the heal tool, will remove all but the most stubborn of watermarks. The only way that puts many would be art thieves off is to go with a whole image watermark. That though looks unsightly and again will put people off as will a watermark that has been poorly constructed in the first place.

A watermark is also probably for life. If you change your brand identity then you might need to update the watermarks on previously shared images to prevent diluting the brand image or to reduce or eliminate any confusion that might arise from the changes you made.
Whether or not a watermark is for you is a personal choice. For me it is all about where I share the image, if there are any other protections available, and it also depends on the resolution. If I post a lower resolution image on social media, that image is going to be of little use if it was printed off on anything larger than probably a 4 x 6 post card. If I post a higher resolution image, the watermark is just another tool that might offer some defense.

You might have also noticed that many of my works that are posted on social media are photographed hanging on a wall. The wall is actually the side of my workshop and I have a number of spare frames that I can place the artist proof of the prints or the originals into and stage a shot. This means that the viewer gets some idea of how the image will look when hung on a wall and it ensures that the artwork doesn’t need to be a much higher resolution. If they want to then view a higher resolution version they can see it on my store where other protections for the image are in place such as locking down the ability to disable right-click.

Gilded artwork, mark taylor, beechhouse media, artist,
Gilded - One of my latest creations!


There are alternatives to watermarking and whether you decide to use one or not is really down to personal choice. For some works the watermark adds rather than detracts from the image which kind of seems counter intuitive, but a badly designed watermark will put people off not matter what. If you are going to apply a watermark though you do need to consider the following:

1.    You either need to go big or place the watermark in a position that makes it hard to crop the image.

2.    Set an appropriate level of transparency

3.    Make it clear to viewers that the watermark will not appear in the final image they buy

4.    Avoid using garish colours that draw attention away from the subject

5.    Your watermark is not a life story – avoid multiple links and contact details, keep it simple.

6.    You might need to create both light and dark watermarks depending on your work

7.    If you can first create the watermark using a vector based app such as Illustrator or Inkscape then you will be able to scale it as and when you need to, without risking pixelation.

8.    Create raster based transparent PNG files to overlay on top of the work

watermarks, creating watermarks, protecting art with watermarks,
The Watermark Checklist

Alternatives to Watermarks…

Buy an original print from me and the quality will be excellent. That’s because the original images are created using very high dpi counts. Online, high resolution images are problematic on multiple fronts. They are slow to load and they are much more likely to be the target of scraping.

Any work I post on social media is always posted at 72dpi. This in itself means that if anyone did take the image they would be limited in how that image could be printed out without seeing any pixelation. (That’s the jagged edges and noise that you sometimes see when you scale a photograph up in size.)

Anything that is sold is usually between 266 dpi and 600 dpi, depending on where it will be printed and on what kind of printer, and some of the print on demand sites can still achieve great quality even as low as 150 dpi, you just have to be mindful of their guidelines. I tend to use a higher dpi purely because I can then use the image wherever I need to use it.

So you could consider making your images smaller, reducing the dpi, or staging the artwork in a scene. All viable alternatives to a watermark but watermarks can still be used if you want to add in another layer of protection.

Another method is to use a zoomed in view of the work to post on social media. Crop an image so that only a portion of it can be seen and then use a much smaller image next to it to show the rest of the work.

Depending on the dpi and the image size this can also give you an alternative product to sell as a print. If for example you have an area within your painting that could be a painting in itself, then there is nothing stopping you from offering alternative prints with just the cropped area as the subject. This is something I have done in the past and found that the cropped image sold better than the original! In fact some 70+ cropped images were sold as prints from one of my works and the original sold none at all, go figure!

creating watermarks for use in your online photos
Create Variations of Watermark 

Another alternative is to disable the ability to right click on desktops. This only works if you have control over how your website is displayed. If you are using a platform such as WordPress or Adobe Portfolio there are options to restrict a user’s ability to right click and save the image. This is a little like watermarking an image in that the determined virtual art thief can still capture a screen shot or use snipping software to extract the image, but it is a deterrent for the casual or amateur art thief.

Add Metadata…

Adding metadata to images is another way that gives you some ability to at least prove provenance, well to an extent and assuming that the images exif data hasn’t been stripped out. It can be a task that takes you a while and particularly when you have a big portfolio of work that needs the data to be applied on but it is worth doing and making it a default must do whenever you create an image.

In Lightroom it is a relatively easy process to follow and you can find out more right here.  Other image editors often have the ability to add in metadata too so you will just need to find out from whichever app or program you are running which way to go about adding the data.

There are other benefits in adding metadata to images, the data makes search much more precise and any information remains with your photo even if you email it to a client or family member. It is also here that you can also include things like the location of the image, any copyright information, and you can also tag it and title it too.

Most cameras automatically apply a range of data including the date and time that the photo was taken and in most cameras settings you can allow it to also add data around the location. Some cameras allow you to add other metadata such as the artist/photographers name and some smart cameras and smartphone cameras can automatically add in the names of the people within the photo when they are recognised by the camera. Adding this is something that you will need to refer back to the instructions that came with your camera to figure out how to do it, or head on over to YouTube as many cameras have feature explainer videos available either from the manufacturers or from fans of the camera.

Adding Alt Text to an image also helps with search engine optimisation too. If you post an image on Facebook you can go into the post settings and add tags to any photo you have uploaded, ideal if you are taking local photography. Alt Text tags also allow search engines to find the most relevant images quicker, and if you are uploading to print on demand, adding in these tags seems like a sensible idea if the POD sites don’t strip out the data.
Image titles and captions can also be applied through many online platforms, and these allow internal web searches to find the most relevant images too. Generally if there is ever an option to mark the image as yours, do it.

Be Accessible…

By being accessible I mean that you need to give people the opportunity to contact you. Over the years I have had many people reach out to me asking if they could utilise one of my works, often for book and album covers and I always point them back to my licencing website. But to do this you have to make sure that your contact details or branding is recognisable and accessible.

Whilst there are a lot of people out there who don’t even blink before grabbing an image and swiping it for use in their own projects, there really are people who want to do the right thing too. Make sure that contact details or at least an email address is included somewhere in your protection.

Consider offering some free value…

I know that this seems counter intuitive but bear with me, I have been thinking about this for a very long time. I will be offering some of my artwork through the companion website to this site at https://beechhousemedia.com very soon. It is taking a little longer to get around to than I would like it to have done but very soon folks, very soon, there will be some free artwork available.

There are a few reasons why I am doing this. Firstly it is to say thank you to the people who already support me on social media and through my Go Fund Me page, and also to my collectors. The artworks will be works that are not for sale on any of my websites but there will be a few works that are part of a series of works. The remaining works in the collection will be for sale through the usual channels and retailers. A sort of try before you buy approach. That’s not something new, I took this approach with a series of works a few years ago and had a number of buyers decide to take up the offer of purchasing the additional works in the series.

But one of the biggest reasons that has made me want to head down this particular route is for me to be able to control piracy better. If people can get some of my work for free they might (or might not) be more inclined just to take the freely available images. Some of those people might even decide to purchase official prints and originals later on too.

I’m not totally going in blind. The images will sit behind a password protected area on my other website and to get the password you will need to have either visited my Facebook page, be an existing collector or buyer, or have donated through Go Fund Me. That way I can hopefully bring in some new page likes and there is some added value for those who support me and this website through buying my work or donating the cost of a cup of coffee through my Go Fund Me page. That’s important because without the support of the people who buy and donate, I could never afford to produce and update this site every week.

The password will expire periodically and new passwords issued, but this also means that I then have another market albeit one where I don’t make immediate financial rewards, and I can also offer some added value by offering some of my colouring sheets that I have been working on for many years.

For my Facebook friends and readers of this blog, I will also make some templates available that can be downloaded to use in your own marketing campaigns and I will be making some of my experimental and typographic art available through this route too. The important thing here is that I am getting artwork out into the wider world and making it more visible, adding some value that I don’t frequently add right now, and above all, I will be able to control better what images are available for download and make sure that they download at a decent resolution.

I have been doing a similar thing on my Facebook page for a while by offering free reference photos from the interesting places I get to visit, and I will be doing more of this in the future too especially since I now have a new camera outfit to use. Offering value like this builds up a community and often it is that very community who will become your biggest guardians. I'm not suggesting that this approach will work for everyone, whether or not you give it a try is down to only you, but for me right now it seems like a good thing to test out.

Summing up…

The short answer to how do I protect my images is that if you are posting them anywhere online there’s not much you can do other than put in some extra controls that make them a little more difficult to just take.

You can apply copyrights to your images but even this doesn’t offer a way to stop the images being taken if someone is determined enough.

What you can do that makes it less attractive to steal the image but still provides your fans and collectors with value is to look at posting alternative versions. Lower resolutions, watermarks if you want to, reducing the dpi, adding the metadata, but you could also consider just showing works in progress and staging your work in a frame and taking a photo of the wall where the artwork hangs.

If you find that your image has been stolen you should tackle it, but in my experience it can take a huge amount of effort if the person who has stolen the image is hiding their contact details or not even giving their contact details. It’s good to see that sites such as Amazon and eBay are starting to take this more seriously but the upshot is that until we start to head to a world of Blockchain uploads, which I wrote about right here, but ultimately there is very little else you can do.

If I find content in the groups on Facebook posted by a member who’s claiming the work as their own when it’s not, it is an immediate ban and a report filed to Facebook. There is no discussion on the subject with the poster at all, they just no longer have access, but I wish many other Facebook groups would step up and take this approach too.

Over the past few years of running groups this has probably happened on about a dozen or so times, each time a report has been filed and the member immediately banned, but no doubt another profile is set up and they move into other groups.

And finally, I would just like to say a huge Thank You to my dear friend and fellow artist Shelley Wallace Ylst, (an amazing artist who you can find right here https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/shelleywallaceylst ) for letting a website know that they had used one of my images without giving me a credit. Thank you so much Shelley. We all need to look out for each other.

That very same image also appeared on the timeline of one of my Facebook friends, or at least someone I thought was a friend. The issue wasn’t that they had used the image, it was that the person had made the image look like a nasty photocopy in black and white. I wasn’t incensed at all by the fact that the image was shared without giving me any credit for the original, but come on, making it look like a photocopy? Really?

Next time…

Hopefully by the time I publish the next update here I will have finally got around to setting up the new Facebook group where artists can gather around the virtual camp fire, share stories, have a vent, discuss the business of art, and escape from the noise elsewhere on social media. I have taken a couple of weeks away from the usual day job and every day so far has been jam-packed with catching up on jobs I have needed to do for what feels like forever. I’m slowly getting through the list but had a slight set back.

We had a public holiday over here in the UK on Monday and traditionally this is the time when Brits brave the few hours of sunshine we get on Bank Holidays and step out into the garden. One of the trees needed a prune, long story short, I ended up in an X-Ray department having a bent finger examined closely by a doctor. The swelling seems to be going down a little now but boy oh boy did it hurt as I fell down through two other trees. Surprising how small trees always appear to be much bigger when you are falling through them.

Next time I hope to have another article completed in my series of getting the most out of social media when marketing your artwork, finger and artwork permitting! Until then, best wishes, stay out of trees, and happy creating!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com  
Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia
If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here

Comments

  1. Excellent post Mark. Do you think actually copywriting the work is necessary & does it truly help from online thieves?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Colleen, in my experience copyright itself doesn’t protect the physical item/digital work/painting etc, but it will do a few things. Give you some legal protection which you can use against the thief, put the casual taker off taking if they have some morals, and it will send out a message of don’t try to touch this. Problem is that the determined will still take it and unless you are willing to follow through with some legal pursuit. At that point the law is on your side. Not sure what the legalities are in some countries, copyright lawyers make a fortune working that stuff out but I’d say that if you can do it then it’s another tool you have to fight back. But it’s a bit like the signs at Area 51 in Nevada. I’m sure people read use of deadly force authorised and push an inch or two past the sign to take a photograph! Don’t think many would test it out and carry on driving for another 13 miles past the sign without running into some hassle!

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