Written by 6:00 am Photo & Video Business Tips, Photography • 4 Comments

Keeping Your Photos Safe in the Real World

SmugMug’s huge family of photo lovers spans the spectrum, from family historians to high-volume, full-time pro photographers. But no matter what your camera is capturing, it’s important to be sure that the photos stay where you want them, and that your expectations for who gets a copy is met. That’s where we come in.

SmugMug’s huge family of photo lovers spans the spectrum, from family historians to high-volume, full-time pro photographers. But no matter what your camera is capturing, it’s important to be sure that the photos stay where you want them, and that your expectations for who gets a copy is met. That’s where we come in.

Theft Can Happen to Anyone (Even You)

What is theft? It’s more than downloading a copy of a licensed image and using it in a magazine or an ad. While that’s certainly one of the more obvious kinds of theft, it doesn’t always have to involve money. Theft is simply any case of using an image without permission.

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So whether that means someone yanked a cute pic of your dog and used it in a meme without crediting you, or a client swiped one of their wedding images from your proof gallery and posted it on Facebook, it boils down to “theft.”

stolen image

Prints Are Soooo 2013

Years ago, our Support Heroes would answer tons of questions from worried photographers looking to protect their files from being printed without their permission. Times have changed, and while someone making a print of your file is still a real concern, we photographers don’t get as indignant knowing some Random Joe took our image to Walgreens and printed up an 8×10. Somehow, the idea that RJ is using our image on his blog to illustrate a point to his 10,000 followers is way more upsetting.

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What’s our point? We have to change the way we think about image protection. Since the advent of social media, there’s been a shift from protecting large, printable, high-res image files to protecting even the smallest display copy, since the latter is what’s most likely to be shared on the web. And the web is where we feel the most pain when we see our images out there without our permission.

A Primer on Resolution

If you’re relatively new to printing, you may not be sure what people need to get a decent-sized print. We have a handy chart that our print labs have drawn up for us, listing out the minimum pixel requirements for common print types. Here’s a short version: 

Print Size and Pixels Needed

4 x 6 470 x 705
8 x 10 750 x 935
12 x 16 768 x 1152
60 x 20 1024 x 1280

So if you’re worried about someone snagging your photo and turning it into a print without your permission, you’ll have a better idea of what sized file they’d need to have access to on your site.

Of course, remember that different labs may have different requirements, and some people also don’t care so much about image quality, so they may be OK with using a too-small file and a grainy final print.

Watermarks: Our Favorite Feature

We’ll cover some best practices shortly, but we have to interject with how much we love photo watermarks, the little feature that does it all.

Watermarks are graphics (usually text or logo) that overlay part of your images. They’re great for foiling screen grabbers and right-clickers who grab the images they see on your page. Photographers may dislike the idea of obscuring their images, and some viewers may hate this, too. We get it. But when you create a custom watermark that is subtle, looks good, and complements your image, who wouldn’t want to keep it there? 


With a watermark, your name stays put with the image, leaving you free to offer fans the option to share it with their friends, family, and the world.

Best of all, when they do this, it’s free advertising for you. 

Image Protection Best Practices

SmugMug offers pros a full suite of image protection features, and your service may offer something similar. Here’s a few of our top tips for making sure your photos stay in your control while looking good on the web.

  • Fill out that metadata. It’s not a silver bullet, but entering your copyright information into your file’s metadata can still go a long way. Most programs like Lightroom make this a snap to do in bulk, so take advantage of it and enter your name, business name, keywords, and any other info that ties you to that pic.


  • Use watermarks. If you have a logo on your site, that’s a good place to start when designing a custom watermark. But you don’t have to get that fancy – text works just fine, so don’t be shy about including your name, business name, and/or site URL into your graphic. We prefer non-destructive watermarks (applied just to display copies) so that your original file stays clean and your clients can buy prints. And don’t forget to experiment with placement, because corner or edge watermarks look elegant, get their point across, and don’t interfere with the enjoyment of the image.
  • Limit your display sizes. Screen capturing is a very real possibility, especially since this function comes included with most computers, anyway. To ensure people don’t get large, printable versions of your images this way, consider limiting the largest size shown on your site. Also, watermark.
  • Use right-click messaging to your advantage. One of SmugMug’s most popular image protection features is Right-Click Protection, meaning that instead of the “Save Photo” dialog box, right-clicking triggers a pop-up message with a customizable copyright notice. It’s not a perfect solution (thieves can always take a screen cap), but one you should leverage. Instead of threatening them with a slap on the wrist, consider thanking them for the visit and suggest that they buy a print. You’ll always catch more flies with honey!
  • Consider printmarks for physical prints. It doesn’t stop at pixels – you can also ensure that your purchased physical items include your URL, name, signature, date, or logo. This is a great way to add a fine art touch to landscapes or portraits, or for adding your stamp to team photos. Some services may offer this as part of their own package, so don’t forget to check out your options. (“Printmark” is just what we call it at SmugMug.) 
  • Be free with your contact info. This isn’t a protection feature per se, but it’s always good practice to have a no-brainer way to contact you in case your fans have any questions. In your navbar, sidebar, About page, footer, or whatever – you can never make it too easy to send you an email. Whether they want to ask your permission to reuse your photo or if they can’t figure out the checkout process, contacting you should always be painless. Period.

We hope that this post today helped you feel more confident about keeping your photos safe online. Happy sharing!

Tags: Last modified: July 7, 2021