The daily proliferation of uncredited photographs on the Internet sums up what most people think of the photo they’ve taken. It’s meaningless. They couldn’t seem to care less about the fact that they are the author.
But as a photographer chances are you do care and sooner or later will begin to consider letting the world know a specific photograph is your work.
Enter the watermark.
I’m not going to tackle the legal ramifications of the watermark (or copyrighting). Those considerations go far beyond the scope of this post. I’m just going to share some pearls about the mechanics of adding a watermark to your image.
There are several decisions to make about your watermark, and it’s like anything else… the more effort you put into the process the more sophisticated your result can be. This will impact both the design of the mark and the control you have regarding it’s final appearance when placed within your image.
There are several methods of adding a text watermark. By text I mean simply letters from a font on your computer. For those of you using Lightroom, investigate the watermarking feature there. The problem with this approach is that it limits the “design” of the watermark by restricting it to simple text, and it also limits where the mark is placed in the image, it’s color, opacity, etc.. But for many it may represent a painless solution.
The next step up is to consider watermarking in Photoshop. This can be done a variety of ways, either as one-offs by creating a text layer and then adding one time text, or by building an automated watermarking approach through the use of a custom “paintbrush” watermark. The latter approach is much more efficient and lets you put the watermark symbol anywhere in the image, changing it’s color and opacity when it’s on it’s own layer. The custom watermark paintbrush can be either text or a graphic. Using a graphic as the basis for the paintbrush has a lot going for it because it could be a logo or even your signature, which is my personal favorite. Creating the custom paintbrush is a little time consuming as most of us have never made custom paintbrushes before, but there are good tutorials on the web and in a number of books. Here’s one on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61F3rbxI5Ww
I’ve used a custom brush in Photoshop to watermark for years but, truth be told, it’s a bit of a nuisance since it means I need to have access to a computer and fire up Photoshop. I’ve been looking for an easier approach and one that allows me to watermark on mobile devices. It’s relatively simple (despite what your first impression will be when you read the instructions!) and only requires access to Photoshop once to prepare a simple image file using your own signature.
Using a fine point BLACK magic marker (I like the Sanford Sharpie permanent ultra fine point) write your signature 10 times on a piece of blank white paper, spacing them apart. Why 10 times? As you write you warm up your signature, and it changes every time incrementally, especially now that many of us seldom write by hand anymore. Study all 10 signatures and decide which is the most attractive version. Honestly, one will look “better” than the rest.
Place the paper near a decent light source, a window or a bright lamp is fine. Use your cell phone to take a picture of your favorite signature, getting in close to make it a decent size but also making sure you’re getting the phone to focus well so the signature is captured sharp. Now email yourself that photo so you have access to it on your computer.
Open the jpg in Photoshop. In the layers palette, double click on the only layer (named “background”) and when the dialog box appears just click ‘OK’.
Add a Levels adjustment layer. In the menu bar go to,
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels
If a dialog appears just click OK. Once the Levels dialog is open you’ll see three tiny triangles beneath the histogram. Click and hold the one far right and drag it toward the left. You are resetting the white point. Keep dragging until all the detail of the paper surface is gone, generally about when you reach the left side of the largest spike in the histogram. Now grab the small LEFT triangle and drag a little to the right, til the setting says about “20″, resetting the black point. What you’ve accomplished is creating a very high contrast black signature against pure white.
Combine these layers. In the menu bar,
Layer > Merge Visible
Now look at the very bottom of the Layers palette. You’ll see a tiny symbol on the left, “fx”. Click it and choose ‘blending options’ at the top of the menu. Don’t panic when the complicated dialog opens because you’re going to ignore almost everything there. Down at the bottom you’ll see two bars, going from black to white. The top one is labeled “This layer”. Click and drag the far right small triangle beneath the top strip and ‘voila’, the white paper background disappears leaving you with a crisp black signature floating against a strange pattern of tiny gray & white squares. They indicate transparency, a good thing for what we are doing. The number associated with adjusting the right triangle should be somewhere in the 240-250 range. Not critical. Click OK.
Choose the cropping tool and crop close to your signature.
Save As your file as a PNG format. Save it onto your desktop where it’s easily accessible. You’ve now created a custom watermark that is your signature in black. It will be fine for watermarking images with a light area where you’ll place the watermark, but in darker images it won’t show well. I suggest at this stage you also create a white signature watermark too.
Open the history palette (Window > History). Select the previous history state titled “Merge Visible”. You’ll see the crisp black signature on the white background again. In the menu bar go to,
Image > Adjustments > Invert. Another voila! Now you have a white signature against a black background. See where this is going? Go back to the “fx” button at the bottom of the Layers palette. Click and choose ‘blending options’. We’ll use the same B&W slider again but this time adjust the tiny triangle on the left, sliding it to the right all the way to number 240. This makes the black background go transparent. Crop close to your white signature and then ‘Save As’ as PNG format once more, naming it appropriately in order to identify the white signature.
These steps produce suitable files for both Mac and PC users to watermark images. If you’re interested in being able to watermark on the fly, away from your computer (i.e. on your phone or iPad) you’ll need a mobile watermarking app. Since I’m an iPhone user that’s what I’m going to discuss. There may well be an Android watermarking app that provides similar features. The iPhone app I’m using is called iWatermark ($1.99 in the iTunes store). Buy and install the app.
Email yourself the PNG files, and save the image into your camera roll. Don’t be alarmed that they may look odd in the camera roll view.
Open iWatermark. First you’ll need to define (create) the watermarks within the app.
Choose any bright photo where the black watermark will show well. After choosing a photo (which photo is unimportant for this step), click Create Graphic Watermark and find your black watermark in the camera roll. You’ll then use Save to store the watermark in the app. Do the same thing again and bring in the white watermark (use a dark image to make it easier to see). In use, once you have selected a watermark to apply on an image you can use the editing menu tools to adjust opacity, scale, etc and move the watermark wherever you want it to appear on your photo simply by dragging.
Here is a fun example of using iWatermark. Last night I went to a good friend’s birthday celebration. While he really is a ‘prince of a guy’, that night his wife crowned him and brought a cake fit for a king as well. Candle light can be so good I grabbed a shot. A wee bit of post processing later (and paying homage to Mel Brooks with the, “It’s good to be the King” quote) I had a great official portrait for the evening. I shared the image with the King and Queen as well as their guests unwatermarked. But when I realized the image would be good for this post which ends up being read by everyone (in my immediate family), I wanted it watermarked. iWatermark stamped it in a heartbeat without needing a computer or Photoshop to do any heavy lifting.
I’m really pleased with iWatermark and hope you’ll find it useful for easily watermarking photos you have on your phone. Enjoy the ease of working away from your computer!
** Update (2/6/7)
A recent update to iOS rendered watermarks created prior to the update inverted following the update. The bug has since been corrected by the software author and a version update of iWatermark thru the iTunes store made available. It is not clear to the end user, however, that the fix requires deletion of watermarks created prior to the update, followed by recreation of the flawed marks. Following their reintroduction they will display appropriately.
Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks.
Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.