Zenfolio’s Peter Urbick: Protecting Your Photos Online
Mar 2013 26

In the digital world, protecting data that we place online is of paramount importance. There are so many different types of software and tools available to capture images from websites that if you don’t employ some sort of protection for your work it is almost sure to be re-used without your permission.

In this article you’ll learn some of the precautions you need to take, and how to take them, to secure your work. From copyrights to watermarks it provides an overview of the methods you should employ to protect your livelihood.

Protect Your Work

With the majority of new and existing clients using the web, putting your photography portfolio online is essential to gaining exposure and customers. But with this additional exposure come certain risks. That’s why you need to take the security of your photos very seriously. Anyone who is somewhat computer savvy can copy your photos and use those images for their own purposes without your permission or payment. Protecting your images will save you money and is a good business practice.

Most people believe that right-click protection is sufficient to detract potential theft of online images. However, using easily obtainable screen capture software and large monitors it is very easy for someone to take a screenshot of a large photo and obtain decent prints, or simply re-use your photo online elsewhere without your permission.

Watermark Your Photos

If  you have a recent US $5 (or other, higher denomination) bill in your pocket, hold it up to the light. You’ll see an image there faintly on the right hand side of whoever is featured on the bill (Lincoln for the $5). The image you see is a watermark. There is a reason that currencies employ watermarks. They’re one of the oldest, and best, ways to protect an image.

Now there are tools available for you to place your own watermark image or text superimposed on top of your photos to show that you are the creator and owner of that image. When you add a watermark to an image it’s like telling the world “do not steal my work”. For this reason, it is good practice to use a watermark on each photo you post online.

To easily create your own watermark use graphics software, such as Adobe Photoshop. Once you have your watermark designed you’ll want to layer it over the photo. You should consider how the design might influence your image and based upon this place it at the top, middle, or bottom so as not to totally overshadow the photo. Another thing to consider is that depending on the depth of colors in the photo, you will need to select different percentages of transparency when layering the image. One of the fastest and easiest ways to watermark batches of photos is by using a photo hosting website, such as  Zenfolio. They have a tool specifically for this, saving you the time and effort of having to add them to each individual photo.

Copyright Your Photos

Include your copyright notice with each photo as text or within an overlaid watermark on your photo

Don’t make the mistake of thinking no one will steal an image from your website because they know that you own it. While it is true that you are the creator and owner of an image from the moment you create it, you’ve got to stake a claim to your images.

When you own the copyright to an image you have the full legal rights to publish, license or sell that image whether for commercial purposes or for a private client. So for your own legal protection you should present and copyright your work properly, When writing your copyright notice include the symbol ©, the year of your photo’s publication, and your name or business name.

You can also register your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is particularly important in case you find out that your work has been stolen or infringed and you need to pursue legal action in court. Learn more about your rights and how to register your work at http://www.copyright.gov.

Add Password Protection

Depending on what kind of photos you take; wedding, maternity, children’s portraits, or boudoir photos, you may want to keep them private. By adding password protection you can restrict the access to original files so only the clients can view them. This is a must have feature when setting up a secure website.

Get Secure Storage

Like most photographers if you’re shooting or recording regularly you’re probably accumulating many gigabytes of images a month. In case of a disaster you need a solid backup strategy to be able to restore your files. Having a secure web hosting service is a good backup plan as they allow you to store your originals online and download them back to your computer if needed.

Zenfolio Can Help

At Zenfolio, we’ve been protecting professional photographers images for many years. Zenfolio has powerful access control features that allow you to fine tune the security of your galleries, right down to the individual photo level. You can make your albums public, private, and password protected, or open only to a list of clients. You can restrict access to original files, as well as limit the largest size that can be displayed on the screen.

A Zenfolio account also provides you with unlimited storage for your photos and videos. These are stored in a state-of-the-art; secure geo-distributed data centers, ensuring you have a back up of full-size original photos for download available any time. You can get more details on how to protect your images, or start a free trial, at Zenfolio.

Peter Urbick

Peter Urbick works for Zenfolio and has been a writer for more than 13 years. Over that time he has worked with a wide variety of companies including Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Logitech, and PayPal to name a few. Originally from Washington state, Peter has a BA from the University of Washington and a Masters Degree from the Grenoble Graduate School of Business in Grenoble, France. Visit Zenblog.zenfolio.com/blog for more from him, including his upcoming series “The Life of a Camera”.

  • Stig Nygaard

    Or choose not to be so paranoid, and look at this subject from a totally different angle…

    Why do you take photos?
    How do you like too see other peoples photos?
    Do you want more traffic to your online gallery?

    No matter what you do you can’t prevent people from stealing if they really want to. Yes you can make your photos less interesting to steal, by making them small and putting big ugly watermarks on them. But then they are also less interesting to look at…

    Why not turn-around. Make people enjoy your photos at their best. That is reeaally big and without ugly disturbing watermarks and copyright stamps? If you’re proud of your photos, don’t you want to show people how good they really are?

    Why not also allow people to post them elsewhere as long as you are credited by name? In that way even more people see your work, and usually people post with a link back to your gallery creating even more traffic on that too. This is what a lot of people are doing today using Creative Commons licenses in different variants (https://creativecommons.org/choose/).

    Of course if you are professional it depends on how you make your money? Do you sell stock or do you do assignments? In the later case you can take the “open road” described. A lot of new popular photographers do that. It is of course a bit more difficult if you make your money on stock photography.

    Are you an amateur shooting for fun, I personally think it’s a no-brainer. Of course you should post your photos big, without watermarks and allow people to share them as long as you are credited! But of course I also know that a lot of people disagree with me… 😉