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How To Keep Your Photos Safe Online

by Steph Doran (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

Publishing your images online is a great way to share your work with a wide audience, whether you have your own portfolio/website or blog, or prefer to use sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Instagram or 500px to display your photos.

Sending your files out into the online world comes with some risks, though. The digital age has made it easier to share images, but it’s also easier for others to steal, reproduce, copy, and even claim ownership over these images that you have carefully constructed and produced. There is no guaranteed way to keep your images 100% safe online, but there are some steps that you can take to make it more difficult for people to steal them.


Watermarking an image is a common method that many photographers use to proclaim their copyright status. A watermark is a logo, or text that is placed over all or part of an image (in the corner of the frame, but can also sometimes be in the centre, or cover an image entirely). Watermarks are usually semi-transparent, but can be completely opaque too. Depending on their size and location, they can be hard to remove, but that doesn’t mean that your images are completely protected. Watermarks can be cropped, or retouched out.

The main downside of watermarking your images is that it detracts from the overall impact of the shot. Photographers who wish to use watermarks must find a balance between having the watermark prominent enough to be noticed, but not so big that it ruins the viewing experience of the image.

Pros: Depending on where the watermark is placed, it is hard for it to be removed.

Cons: Watermarks can detract from the overall look of your image. They can also be cropped or retouched out.

Using low-res images

Uploading a low-resolution image is another way to help keep your images safe. Low res images are great for online viewing, but are not appropriate for printing, which can help deter many potential thieves. Of course, just because an image is a lower resolution does not mean that it can’t or won’t be taken. There’s also a trade off between resolution and viewing experience, so like watermarking, this technique requires a sense of balance. You don’t want your images to be so low-res that they look grainy or pixelated.

Pros: Low-res images look terrible if printed or blown up to a larger resolution, which can often deter thieves.

Cons: Making your image quality too low may impact on the viewing experience of your images.

Embedded metadata

Metadata is the information that is attached to each image, which holds the technical details about the file. In addition to this, the metadata holds creation and copyright information, as well as licensing details. Filling out the IPTC or Dublin Core section of the metadata is a great way to attach your copyright status to your images. You can do this using most photo processing software (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) Filling out at least the basic sections of the metadata should become part of your routine workflow when you are editing your photos.

Pros: Metadata is embedded in the image, so it stays with the image even if it is resized or re-saved.

Cons: The metadata can be changed or overwritten. While it can prove you are the copyright owner, metadata does not stop the theft of images.

Image taken by mohdrais

Disable right click

You have probably used the right click or ‘save as’ method to download an image before, and will therefore understand how quick and easy it is to do. This method is one of the most common ways that someone might steal your work. Disabling the right click on your own website removes the convenience and ease of the download, and is a common step in preventing image theft. To disable the right click, you will need to have control over the coding of your website, or at least the ability to edit or manipulate the code. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram do not allow you this control, so you may need to consider using other protective methods if your images are being hosted or shared on such sites. Some sites such as Flickr and 500px have the option to not allow images to be downloaded but you need to select this option in your settings.

Pros: This method stops ‘right-click-save’ theft, which deters thieves who are lazy.

Cons: There are many ways to get around disabled right click, such as taking a screenshot, or using search engine results.

Floating Foreground

A floating foreground is a transparent image that sits on top of your photograph, acting as a barrier. Whilst it does not alter the viewing experience of your work, it helps protect images from thieves who want to right click and save the files. Basically, the image sitting on top shields the image below from being downloaded, like in the photo below. When someone tries to save the image, they will find that they have downloaded the blank foreground image-not your work that is sitting behind. This technique can only be implemented if you have control over the coding of your website, as you cannot adjust this coding on websites such as Flickr, or social media.

Pros: Floating foregrounds make it harder for thieves to save images with minimal effort.

Cons: It is time consuming to create this defence, and it cannot be used across all platforms. Images can still be screen-grabbed, or saved via other means.

Employing some of the above methods can help you to prevent unauthorised image use. However, when you put your work online, either on social media, image sharing sites, or even your personal or professional website, you should be aware that no matter how many of the above techniques you use, there is always the chance that someone will find a way around them.

The benefits of showing your work to the world strongly outweigh the negatives of someone stealing, copying, or using your work without your permission. You shouldn’t be deterred from publishing your work online because of this.

It may be helpful to note that as a photographer, you own the copyright to your images as soon as they are taken (as per The Copyright Act 1968). There is no registration needed for this copyright - it is automatic, instant and free. There are a few exceptions to the rule (for example, if you have a different contractual agreement, or are photographing for a domestic commission), but in most instances, that copyright is legally yours. If you know somebody has stolen your images, and you can prove they have done this by showing proof of the original, you are protected by this legislation. You can use Google to do a reverse image search to see if any images you have posted online are being used elsewhere.

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