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What a Watermark Can Hide

If you already purchase stock photos and this explanation's like "Duh 101" to you, just skip the initial paragraph and go right for the grody pictures!

I purchase stock photos individually to use on book covers, at work for ads, or whatever graphic design needs I might have. iStockphoto is great, because you'll pay probably $5-10 per photo rather than hundreds per photo if you went through regular pro-channels. You can even download poor-quality watermarked photos to use in your layout to see which picture you want to end up buying. It'll say "iStockphoto" in whitish letters over the picture, but you can see if it'll work in your layout or not. (This is also good for showing to a boss, since they can't usually visualize something by you just describing it, not without a creepy sci-fi connection to your brain.) The watermarked images are called "comps." (I did have one client that was going to publish their brochure full of comps, but luckily I gave them the brush-off because they were stupid and irritating.)

(a closeup of the comp)

So I got to working on a layout last night and downloaded three different comps, and one image was vastly superior to the other two once I got to working on it. I finished the layout with that image in mind, then went back to iStockphoto to lay down my 5 or 6 bucks and buy a high-quality version of the thing.

I download the photo, plunk it into my design, and I'm like, "OMG, the model has a SCABBY COLD SORE. And he's MADE OF NOSE HAIR."


I look back at the comp and realize I couldn't have noticed the cold sore, even if I'd been really looking at it hard, because the watermark had covered it!

Well, I'd been laboring away on my design and that was the picture I wanted, cold sore or no, so I just layered effects on it so you couldn't see the cold sore anymore.


It still irks me, though. Didn't the photographer notice? Why would he submit a photo to a stock house where his models had cold sores? I'm thinking of writing a review, but I'm not usually a big review writer. I wonder if I have a little "you get what you pay for" going on here. I realize $6 isn't expensive, but still, if I pay $6 for a photo, I don't want evil surprises on it.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 29th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)
Seriously, email customer service. They'll refund you for it, most likely. We went through this with a client, (I don't do graphics at all, this is all third hand) but apparently the watermarks had covered significant things on numerous photos (food book, so you can imagine how iccky that could be) and rendered them unusable. They wound up with a refund.
Feb. 29th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
Hey, why didn't I think of that? That's perfect because it addresses my main annoyance which is, "I paid $6 for a pic with a cold sore on it???" without me going on a public forum and making a big spectacle out of myself by leaving a nasty review.

I'm not big on nasty reviews, as evidenced by my weepy post of a couple days ago.

I'm trying to imagine the food photos and what the watermarks covered. Things like rot and bugs and stray hair.
Feb. 29th, 2008 01:14 pm (UTC)
There was hair on one, I remember -- that's what started the whole diatribe. The other stuff was more discoloration or the image was vaguely obscene, if viewed with cynical eyes -- but they'd position the logo part of the watermark so you wouldn't pick up on that.

It can't hurt, right? You can always ask.
Feb. 29th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
the image was vaguely obscene
Bwa! I totally want to see that photo. And probably write stories about it.

I don't think the watermark was positioned to purposely hide anything in this case. I think an automated program just plunks the watermark in the center when the comps are created. I'm presuming that both the photographer and the reviewer at iStockphoto just didn't notice the cold sore because they weren't looking specifically at that model's mouth, zoomed in, like I was.

I just sent a support ticket asking for a refund. I'll report back what they tell me :D
Feb. 29th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
cbpotts has already covered all the issues with this pic, but it made me think of another thing; how totally airbrushed all modeling pics are. People are really scary in the wild!
Feb. 29th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
"People in the wild" has me thinking of Gorillas in the Mist. I can just see "wild people" emerging from alleyways and doors. Wait, that's more like Dawn of the Dead.

One thing I really notice when I watch a film set in the 1970s or earlier is how dark teeth are, naturally. Everyone's got a bright white set of teeth nowadays. Except me. I worry about tooth sensitivity and I'm too cheap to get a professional whitening.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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