How to Protect your Photos Online

Protecting your Photos Online from illegal Copying

As a photographer one your main focus will be on taking photos, but you will also wish to share these photos online. With the advent of online photo sharing websites such as 500px, Flickr, ViewBug and others, not to mention social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, sharing your photos online couldn’t be easier. For the same token, copying these photos also becomes easy and you can have your photo technically stolen and reused elsewhere without your permission. If you post one photo somewhere online for example every second day, you would have over 150 photos per year uploaded. You will never be able to research and track if a photo is being misused without your permission. Here are some tips on How to Protect your Photos Online.

Watermarking your photos

Placing a visible deterrent on your photos is probably the easiest way to deter the most basic instance of someone stealing your photos and images. This could be simply your name or your web address, basically stamping your ownership on the photo. Going back to before 2011, I never did this, that was until I found a company using my image without permission. So after that I placed my details on all my photos. I tried many versions of watermark and now I have the perfect version, which is via PhotoLogo. (Read my PhotoLogo Blog post here.)

As much as possible I try and maintain the logo so that it is not too much of a distraction from the main image. I also think, as well as it being a deterrent to image theft, I think it is a nice exercise in branding!

You can add a watermark in Photoshop very easily. I simply load my image, create a new layer and paste and transform the logo so it sits in a suitable position.

Watermarking to Protect your Photos online

Only Upload Lower Quality Files

One trick you can use to deter commercial usage of your images is to only upload lower quality images, or images less than 1400 pixels. The problem is that if you upload a high quality image to your site or for example flickr, anyone who downloads this could actually us it for print etc. The image size I quote of 1400 pixels is what I regularly use, partly because my website maximum width is 1300 and I feel an extra 100 pixels will display is decent enough quality, yet, 1400 pixels is small enough to protect my images.

You can also compress the images, e.g. only upload images which have had 30-40% compression. Ideal for screen viewing and fast download, but useless if you want a high resolution image.

If you want to compress your images in photoshop, there is a great tool called Save for Web under the File menu. Export the file to about 60% quality and you should have a file size around 200-300Kb. This is good for websites but not so good if you want to download and manipulate the image.

Lowering Quality of images to Protect your Photos online

Add your copyright information to the Images MetaData

Did you know that you can actually embed your copyright information directly into a JPEG file? This can be done from within Lightroom (under MetaData) or Photoshop (under the File -> File Info section). It is called metadata, and similar to Meta Data used in web pages, it provides extra information about the item.

I have my website and name added to all my exported images just to I can keep tabs on them. Also, if you are giving images to a newspaper or magazine, their software often picks up this information and your credit on the printed image can be made a bit more of a certainty.

Note, this is not always a site fire way to eliminate image theft as some if not most image upload sites will or may strip out this information but it is good practice in my mind to do so.

What can you do if someone steals your photo online?

I have been in this situation. Someone is using your photo without permission. It is not a nice scenario to be in but having to write an email or letter asking them to stop using it or perhaps even pay you for the permission.

There are a few things you can do such as;

  1. Contact the company hosting the images, e.g the hosting company will usually have an abuse@ email address or similar.
  2. If it is Facebook or Twitter etc, these usually have standard forms you can complete to make a copyright abuse complaint.
  3. You could write to the person who took the photo via their website or published email and ask them to stop using the image.
  4. I have seen some photographers write a ‘Thank you for using my image’ letter accompanied by an invoice. (Money talks!)
  5. If you really want the image removed you can contact a lawyer as a last resort. But this costs money so it is not for all.

Unless you are a professional the best you can do is to try steps 1 to 3 above. It may not always work but you need to protect the images you worked so hard to produce.


Protect your Photos online

You can always feed the perpetrators to the tigers …. only kidding, that’s frowned upon in the photography community.


If you are posting images on line you need to be aware how to protect yourself from theft and also be able to proceed with a cease and desist complaint should the need arise. Hopefully this post will be a guide in How to Protect your Photos Online.
If you have any comments please feel free to leave them below.