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How to Protect Your Photos from Being Stolen Online

How to Protect Your Photos from Being Stolen Online

Image theft is one of the most heart-wrecking things creatives and photographers go through. Pulling up a website and seeing a photo you took being used without your knowledge or permission is a horrible feeling to experience. It not only affects professional photographers, but it also affects all of us at some point.

We go through this when we upload original images on social media, or on our websites and blogs. It is nothing to joke about especially when one strives to provide the best possible visual content for their visitors and followers. Then you discover that some of the quality photos you took are on other people’s profiles or work projects. It’s quite sad.

Unfortunately, this has been happening ever since the internet made it easy to share pictures with so much ease. This is not anything we can put an end to now but we can make it more difficult for people to take advantage of your work and get no credit for it. Here are some methods one can apply to make to protect their images from online theft:

Don’t Share High-Resolution Files

Uploading high-resolution files online is a big mistake. If anyone gets a hold of the resolution file, they can do whatever they want to do with it. It even becomes harder to prove you’re the original photographer as they have a copy of the exact file that you earlier uploaded.

There are a few exceptions such as uploading a high-resolution file but a lower resolution gets displayed to viewers. Websites such as Zenfolio request you to upload the biggest resolution you have so that they can automatically print photos for you that you might sell through your online gallery. However, only low resolution will be showcased to your viewers.

Use Advanced Barcoding

There’s a new service known as Digimarc. This service invented “invisible barcoding” to protect digital photos. When one applies some digital noise to their image, it establishes a unique pattern that is only familiar to one photo. Known as the digital fingerprint of an image, it allows one’s picture to be spread throughout the internet while still remaining traceable.

Being an affordable paid service, the professional package only costs $119 which protects 2,000 photos. Digimarc will search all over the internet and report back to you when it has found your photo being used online. However, there is also a more affordable way of finding out if any other website is using your image through Google services.

Compress the Photos You Upload

Apart from the actual dimensions of the image, one can also reduce the quality of the photo. Using the Photoshop software, head to the “File > Export” menu, select “Save for Web” and export a photo at a JPEG quality of 60%. Fortunately, the image will look pretty good as you can notice there’s not much difference compared with the 90% quality. One is able to create smaller, more compressed files that reduce the chances of them using it effectively as they would with the original one. In Lightroom, reduce the size to about 250kb. The photo will still look great but it will limit the options of those who intend to steal it.

Watermark Images

Probably the most common way to protect your images is adding watermarks to your photos. On a digital photo, a watermark is simply a faint logo or word(s) superimposed over the top of the photo. By inserting a text including your name, company name, website or logo, you can publicly claim ownership of those images and give the impression that they cannot be copied without your prior authorisation.

Many websites use this method to showcase that a particular image is copyrighted and it should not be copied or used elsewhere without the consent of the original website. Watermarking can be an easy process provided you use the right software. However, if you use a watermark that’s too small or faint, anyone can easily crop out or edit the watermark. Here are a few tips to consider when choosing the right watermarking software.

Add Copyright to Metadata

Did you know that you can embed copyright details into the JPEG file? You can do this by simply using a photo editing program to change the metadata. In the Lightroom software under the tab ‘Metadata’ tab in the library. You’ll find a “Copyright” box where you can simply write all the information you wish to include in the metadata.

In Photoshop, go to “File > File Info” and edit it there. This may not be the most effective way to go about it but it also counts. Some websites such as Facebook strip down metadata so as to the compress the image file. Compressing a photo strips the metadata unless one has specified in the options.

Read the Terms of the Website

Always be cautious as you upload your photos to image sharing websites. For instance, Flickr allows one to submit their photo under a Creative Commons license. This gives one some rights and the license can’t be revoked. However, just ensure this option isn’t already enabled as a mistake.


When you find out that your photos have been stolen even after using the above methods, here are some tips to handle the situation.