Ways To Protect Your Digital Images Online

Ways To Protect Your Digital Images Online


The following post was originally written in our DPS forums by one of our wonderful moderators – Nicole. You can read more of her writing at her blog or see her photography at her Flickr account.

The only digital photos that are 100% safe from being used without your permission or stolen are those that you don’t actually put up on the internet. But, obviously this doesn’t work for people like us who want to share our work with others via forums and other photo sharing sites. So, here are a few ways that you can protect your digital images. Some of these may work for you, some of these may not. It’s an entirely personal decision about what you want to do to protect your photos.

Option 1: Visible Watermark

One of the main ways to add a watermark is to make it visible to anyone looking at the photo. This can discourage people from taking your photo, but if a photo can be edited once to add a watermark, it can be edited again to remove it. If nothing else, this puts an extra barrier there that will make most people think twice before taking your image.

Making a custom brush: This is a simple technique that you can use to create a brush that basically stamps on your watermark. The good thing about it is that it allows you to change colours and opacity so that you can make the watermark work with whatever picture you’re adding it to.

  1. Create a new file with a transparent background.
  2. Type out your copyright information.
  3. Add a drop shadow and lower the opacity of the layer.
  4. Crop the picture so that there isn’t a lot of extra room around your copyright.
  5. Save the file as a brush.
  6. Use the brush to stamp your copyright over your picture, change the opacity or colour if you need to, then save as a new file and upload it to the internet however you want.

Adding a border: If you don’t want to put the watermark over the image itself, you can always add a border to your image and place the watermark there. One easy way to do this is to:

  1. Create a new file in your photo editing program of choice that is larger than your photos dimensions (it’s up to you if you want to make it equal on all sides).
  2. Fill the background in whatever colour you prefer, you can add other decorative elements like a thin line within the border if you want.
  3. Using the copyright brush you created or even the add text tool, type your copyright information somewhere on the border.
  4. Save the border as it’s own file if you want to use it multiple times.
  5. Paste your photo into the border and make sure that it’s aligned properly. Save this as a new file and upload it to the internet however you want.

Software for Mac: My favourite piece of software for doing this is actually called PicMark because it lets you add a watermark and / or border to a batch of shots and save them to a new location. It’s basically an all in one tool for the above ways of adding watermarks. I really do recommend this software if you’re running a Mac.

Option 2: Editing the exif Data

First, let me start out by saying that there are lots of software programs out there that will let you edit your exif data. These are just a few that I’ve used, they aren’t an endorsement or anything, so it’s up to you to decide which programs you like and want to use.

On the PC: Microsoft’s Photo Tool lets you generate a copyright notice that is embedded into the photo’s metadata and does not change how the picture appears at all. It is a very simple way to put your copyright information into your digital file.

On the Mac: I haven’t found as simple of a way to edit exif data like there is on the PC, however, PhotoToolCM (located near the bottom of the page) allows you to create a contextual menu so that when you right click (or Ctrl+Click) you can edit the photo’s exif data. Here, you can add a comment which includes your copyright notice. It’s still pretty simple though.

Option 3: Doing it In-Camera

Not all cameras have the option to add a comment or copyright info, but for those that do, a very easy way to make sure that you don’t have to add copyright data to your exif info is to make sure that you’ve entered your copyright info in your camera’s comment field. Some cameras even have a field specifically for copyright or author. With my Nikon D50, I’ve entered (c) My Name and E-mail. This way, I know that the information will be on every picture I take, and since it’s not something that’s visible like a regular watermark, and you can put it in your camera and forget about it.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Some Guy July 31, 2012 06:21 pm

    Ok so heres the real question...Once I add the copy right info in the EXIF using my D7000 AND photoshop and I post my photos online....I right click them and save them to my desk top....then when I try and view the EXIF info nothing comes up...why?

  • domain host August 4, 2011 01:57 pm

    Ways To Protect Your Digital Images Online
    nice post

  • Alky April 20, 2011 12:04 am

    You could always postit to yourself and keep the envelope safe, if its digital print it out or send yourself a CD in the mail with images on it.

  • Diversified ART August 8, 2010 07:42 am

    I use a variety of measures.

    I state the terms of use for my work.
    I copyright all of my work as a collection and provide a link to the copyright office.
    I trademarked the name that all of my work is under.
    I use any number of watermarking techniques in photoshop and word.
    I try to fill out all of the pertinent information with any image editing software I use and the camera I use.
    And last but not least I provide information that teaches people about what plagiarism is and the correct way to cite original works.
    Whew...as fast as technology expands, completely protecting content on the internet is close to impossible.
    I've written some articles on this subject and I teach other visual artists how to protect their work on the net. I can't teach it as fast as it changes, but I certainly try.
    I appreciate this article and each of the contributors comments.
    If we all share what we are doing and try to help each other out, maybe we can have a small part in slowing down the epidemic of plagiarism and content theft.

  • Murcia web design August 4, 2010 05:08 am

    Nice tips. But internet is a entire security hole.

  • blank172 March 19, 2010 06:14 am

    Hi Darren. I wish you could list up a reliable standalone watermark apps (for multiple watermarking in one process) out there for both Window and Mac. This might be helpful. BTW I have been following DPS and it's great!



  • marwa September 19, 2009 11:09 am

    thank you .. nice ways

  • Pratham September 11, 2009 06:16 pm

    Hey thanks a lot for tips. It's very very useful. I'm looking for this from so long time. :)

  • Dan A. June 26, 2009 04:15 am

    Canon SLR firmware also has the ability to add copyright info to EXIF

  • Niko R. May 23, 2009 05:23 am

    Protect your photos. Inform of copyright. Even if you´re not doing it for yourself, realize the things like creative commons are reducing business from people whose livelyhood depends on selling photos. I know of no other such ill packed system like CC. When I first read about it I thought: "wow, what a fair deal", but now that I know better, that´s not what I am thinking anymore...

    My personal request to you: don´t give freebies on someone elses expense.

  • James Smith February 21, 2009 05:38 pm

    Super-Duper site! Will come back again - taking you feeds also, Thanks.

  • David Davis February 21, 2009 03:56 pm

    Thank you for your help!

  • David December 12, 2008 05:49 am

    One little tip some might find handy (especially if you have lots of photos) is to give every photo on your site the same name. Therefore instead of merrily right-clicking away the user will get a "same file name already exists" message after downloading one photo. Of course they can just add an extra character to the file name, but they will have to do this for every single photo - rather annoying and potentially off-putting.

  • Matt November 18, 2008 08:21 am

    I was unhappy with the solutions I found (you have hit several of them in this posting), so I created "PixelShield" which will actually prevent visitors from downloading the image files.

    Please take a look and let me know if you have suggestions. The website is pixelshield.com.

  • chieflittlehorse August 10, 2008 01:56 pm

    The best technique I saw to protect your images was to have it sliced randomly! If they do right-click and save as, it'll just copy that small portion of your picture and not the whole thing!

    You can still view this image if saved a certain way though!

  • janantha April 23, 2007 12:23 am

    Well the simplest way in Photoshop is to create a Photoshop Droplet. After you record the actions and make a droplet. All you need to do is batch the pics together and drop it on the droplet and the photos will be stamped with the credentials automatically! The beauty is that you are free to come up with any kind of copyright notice design. One thing to keep in mind is to let the droplet know about image size your photos.. otherwise it wont work perfectly. if you have 800x600 and 1024x768 then you might as well create two droplets to handle both those size.

  • NormMonkey April 21, 2007 12:49 am

    Another option is to use some form of steganography:

    By all means include an overt instance of your copyright data (e.g. watermark) in your image to make your intent clear.

    Elsewhere in the image include covert instances of your copyright data (as per the Wikipedia example of a cat image hidden in a landscape).

    If somebody steals your image, photoshops out the overt copyright info and uses it without your permission, you can prove it's yours by revealing the covertly applied copyright.

  • Andreas April 20, 2007 12:42 am

    first off, dpi has no meaning on-screen, set it to 1dpi for online usage, it will still be useable online, but not printable.
    secondly: always add your watermark all over the image, not too transparent either, it should be viewable in any circumstance all over the image - that way you spread your brand as well as protect your rights. and no-one can claim the image was cropped before they got it.

  • Kerri April 17, 2007 08:04 pm

    Any of the above workarounds can easily be overcome when you "view source" of the html webpage. If you know html, you can read where the image is located and navigate to it. Disabling right click is old school and not often used now, it's too easily bypassed.

    The most effective way to prevent image downloads is to embed the photo in flash. Even that can be bypassed with a "flash decompiler", but you need to be an advanced Flash user to grab the images.

    If your images are saved at 72 dpi, and are of a small size, such as 400 x 265 pixels (thats the same aspect ratio as 6 x 4 inch, then they won't print well, but will look great online. They won't be used for brochures etc, but can be used for online content.

    If it's on the net, it can be grabbed somehow.
    That is something we need to be aware of and agree to before we share our images with the world by posting them online.

  • Jacques April 15, 2007 04:49 am

    I've developed a way so that the browser does not cache the images.

    If the user tries to refer to the image from another website, he/she will get a blank image (or custom image) - similar if the user tries to right-click save picture.

    The only way for the user to save the image is the print-screen and paste it into Photoshop etc.

    All these methods are great to stop the average person from capturing your image - but at the end of the day - if the user really wants to use your image - they will.

    The best thing to do is to encourage the user not to use the images unlawfully or alternatively make it clear enough to view, but not printed.


  • lytfyre April 15, 2007 03:47 am

    Jason: yes, it is realtively simple to include a small piece of Javascript in a page to block right clicks, however this can be outwitted by:
    a. disabling javascript
    b. using the menu key instead of right click
    c. using print screen and pasting the image into an image editor
    d. using a browser that blocks unwanted popups.
    As well as many other methods.
    The advantage of the aforementioned PHP solution is that it is inacted on the server holding the images, not on the clients machine, and thus they cant disable it.

  • TuxGirl April 14, 2007 12:34 am

    This isn't foolproof, and isn't ideal if you want to have new people find your pictures in searches, but you can use a robots.txt file to prevent search engines from indexing your images if you wish (and if you have control over the server.

  • Jason April 12, 2007 09:55 pm

    Can't the builders of the websites write in the html to deny access if someone right-clicks on images. I've seen in on a number of websites and think that this would be the best way to protect the content.

  • lytfyre April 12, 2007 06:42 pm

    A couple of months ago I was building a website for a local photographer, who wanted to automate the process of watermarking his image galleries (he shot mostly local amateur and youth sports teams). It is quite possible to use PHP or another programming language so that when the image is viewed the watermark is applied. This way you can easily update all watermarks on all your images simply by changing one image file.

  • The Humanaught April 12, 2007 11:25 am

    I agree with CDW9 - it really depends on how we define "protecting". Adding watermarks and changing exif data presumes that the person taking your photo cares about your copyright. Generally, anyone looking for photos in a professional capacity will either adhere to a copyright or just blatantly steal them. Is silly to think someone has their finger on the right mouse button, about to click Save Image As... and sees a copyright and changes their mind.

    If you want to protect your image from simple theft or linkers, I suggest using flash-based galleries, or using blank GIF/PNG files (with some javascript) to mask them. This, of course, wont work for posting on free Web sites, but if you run your own online gallery on your site, it's a good option. Not 100% foolproof, but pretty good.

  • Kerri April 12, 2007 07:27 am

    Great advice, Martin, but I do find it hard to give my rights away so easily. Personally I think a tiny url on the bottom of the pic is unobtrusive. This allows for future contact if your image becomes well regarded and preserves your rights.

  • Joseph April 12, 2007 05:27 am

    like always your advices are useful and practical. Thanks

  • Martin April 12, 2007 04:31 am

    Before doing anything to protect your image, first consider if you will actually benefit from protecting it. For most photographers (as for most authors) obscurity is a far greater threat than copyright infringement. So instead of putting a copyright notice in the exif data, consider putting a creative commons license (http://creativecommons.org/) in the exif data of at least some of your images. You could, for example, choose a creative commons license that gives people permission to use the image as they like provided they give you credit. Your image is more likely to be used (and seen by others) if people know they have advance permission to use it and don't have to contact you to ask for permission.

  • Brian Auer April 12, 2007 03:40 am


    How does stating the copyright status protect your photos? Aren't they just as easy to take with or without the little words below them that say "Copyright".

    And how exactly does not posting the original size make it harder to prove it's yours? The US Copyright office doesn't even require a full res image for registration.

    I also don't get the comment about the book with words missing. Wouldn't it be more like publishing a really little book - like the ones you can fit in your pocket?

    Somebody please correct me if I'm way off base on any of these things. Especially the book thing - that's going to bother me for days on end.

  • Richard Cocks April 12, 2007 12:20 am

    cdw9 Says:
    April 11th, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Something else to do is never post the photo in its original size online.

    This is VERY dangerous thinking! This completely undermines any protection of your photo. To protect your photo you should make clear it's copyright status and inform viewers of this.

    By not posting in original size you make it harder to show the original is indeed yours and that it is properly under copyright.
    "protecting" images by making them too small to properly reproduce or by watermarking them does little to protect and simply makes it harder to show off your work.

    Posting reduced quality reduced size images and thinking that's protecting your work is like publishing a novel with words missing!

  • Laura Bashlor April 11, 2007 11:04 pm

    Another extremely informative article. Although there isn't a problem yet, protecting photos BEFORE something happens certainly makes sense.

  • Xof711 April 11, 2007 12:50 pm

    There is also the "Digimarc" technology, but it can be quite expensive and depending on the size of the image, slow to read.

    They talk abt it on DigitalFreak

    Plus some tips to protect your photos when you publish them online.
    Quite interesting actually!

  • Kerri April 11, 2007 11:58 am

    Just remembered - Photoshop strips the file info/exif data when you use "save for web"

  • cdw9 April 11, 2007 11:54 am

    Something else to do is never post the photo in its original size online.

  • Patty April 11, 2007 09:32 am

    Thank you for that piece, with some very good information for us all.

    I can add some info for Macs, too.

    In Aperture you can add the copyright notice in two places - the metadata and in preferences (where you can set a copyright for web output). Simple!
    I haven't learned Aperture well enough yet to know if it can add a watermark.

  • Kerri April 11, 2007 08:11 am

    Thank you for a very useful tutorial. I've been using a batch process in Photoshop to resize and add the copyright, but Photoshop hasn't added the file info as it should.
    Adding in-camera is a great time saver, I'll certainly be setting up my D50 today.