How to Remove Watermarks from Photos

posted on: July 3, 2014

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Why do photographers watermark photos?

The watermark over a photo is there to protect that photo from being used inappropriately by someone who does not have permission to use or distribute the image.  This is especially important when images appear in online galleries that can be accessed without passwords, most often with services like Facebook or Pinterest, which require that you give their company full permission to use a photo anywhere and for any purposes whenever you upload an image to their site.

Without that watermark, someone may find an image of you, your children, or your product online, think it's a free google image that can be used without permission (because there's no obvious watermark or copyright info on it), and then slap it on a website or poster advertising a disease or medical condition without your knowledge or permission.  Suddenly you become the poster child for a viral disease you've never heard of, or for an organization you'd be embarrassed to be associated with. While that example may seem extreme, it's not far from the truth of what I've experienced when finding images of my clients that they'd uploaded to Facebook without watermarks, on websites for companies they'd never heard of.  If they'd uploaded an image that had been watermarked, the company probably would't have used the image on their website.

Where can you find images without watermarks?

The best place to find images to use on business websites, concert posters, or for advertising promotions is on stock websites like iStockPhotoShutterStock, or Getty Images.  You can be super focused in your keywords for finding just the right image with these stock image banks, and because the images were MADE for commercial usage, they're always sharp, eye catching, and professionally photographed without the expense of hiring a photographer for a custom project or piece.  It's a small fee for each image, but a huge peace of mind to know that know one is going to accuse you of stealing, or worse yet, send you a much more expensive bill or court date for illegal usage.

If an image is being used to illustrate editorial content or a blog post, it may qualify under most Creative Commons uses.  The best place to find free images that have a creative commons license for editorial use is on Flickr's Commons Search.  You can search by relevance, interest, or recent imagery that fits a topic or theme, and you can even define if you'd like the license to be fully public, creative commons, or ones that allow commercial usage.

OK, but how do I get a watermark removed from an image?

The only person who has legal permission to remove a watermark from an image, is the person who put the watermark on the image to begin with.  Hopefully the watermark provides information about the photographer's name or website so that you can contact them directly to see if the image can be used or purchased without a watermark.  If the watermark is too elusive to identify the creator, see if the image has copyright or creator information stored in the extended EXIF data of the image.  Once you've identified the creator of the image, send them an email with the following information when making a request for watermark removal:
  1. Email the copyright creator with the subject: Request for Image Use
  2. Include a link to where you found the image online that provides a preview of the image
  3. State how you'd like to use the image and why it's important to use this particular one (this assumes that you've already searched the stock photo agencies and flickr commons mentioned above without luck of finding anything similar that was already available for usage)
  4. Provide a sample of how the image would be used as well as what website it would appear on
  5. Ask if the image is available for use without a watermark if credit is given or if usage is paid
  6. Provide a phone number and email so that the image creator can contact you to discuss more details about the image and its usage
  7. Follow up if you don't hear back within 7 business days
  8. Assume usage is illegal or unavailable if you don't hear back within 14 business days
If you find an image on Google that doesn't have a watermark or any EXIF info, it's better to assume that it's fully copyrighted and illegal to use than to assume it's freely available.  There's nothing worse than being served with a large bill or court case just for making a bad assumption.

If you have any other questions, please leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer them!

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