For a long time, I’ve watermarked my photography and worried that people might steal my work, but following Trey Ratcliff’s lead – I’ve changed my mind for the better.

First things first!

The feature photo for this post is one of my top 5 favorite shots from my recent trip to watch SpaceX launch their 9th contracted commercial resupply Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station and land the first stage of the Falcon 9 back in Cape Canaveral, Florida – both of which happened successfully!

The feature, taken in Pisgah National forest looking east about 15 minutes after sunset, had these beautiful blues in the mountains and I had to make a picture of the moment.

Now back to the story:

Trey Ratcliff is a well known landscape, travel, and HDR photographer and in 2013 took the road less traveled. He decided to stop using watermarks and began offering his everyday photography under a creative commons non-commercial license, and he slowly began to grow.

I have read his story explaining why he doesn’t use watermarks before, and thought: “That’s crazy. People on the internet are just going to rip your images and do whatever they want with it.”

That was just it – I never realized it until now, even after reading his story explaining the idea.

I thought like a parent, I needed to keep a watchful eye over each and every share of my work.

People were going to share it around – and they are going to have to attribute you in doing so. Yes there are going to be people who:

  • just download it, use it as their wallpaper, and forget about who took it forever
  • download it and do nothing but look at it or show it to friends
  • take it, print it themselves, and hang it up on their walls

and people who steal it. sharing it without attribution. Which can usually be fixed with a quick email, comment, message, or tweet.

But I like to think that the vast majority of legitimate companies looking to use your work and individuals that stick around to follow you for more, aren’t going to steal it – they’re going to buy prints from your site and share with attribution.

His main reasons for doing so that I took a genuine interest in, are:

  1. Watermarks look ugly and get in the way of the art that is the photograph.
  2. I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without. I can just share my photos.
  3. NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun.
  4. My own reason, and a big one here – It takes forever, and when I am back in school at Purdue, I won’t have the time to pick a black or white or top corner or bottom corner watermarking for a picture (sometimes even hundreds of pictures when I shoot sporting events)

and lastly Ratcliff notes:

4. There will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff but it’s not the end of the world.

“These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting “perfection” in your online strategy is an illusion.”

-Trey Ratcliff

The best part about releasing your imagery under a creative commons license, is that it opens the door to more sharing. By no means am I expecting things to happen instantly, but inspiring sharing in this day and age, I think, is the right path to take.

I can’t remember a time where I have denied someone the request  of sharing my work with credit, most of the time on social media. Several times, people have asked to share my works and either because of the delay in me responding to them to approve, their interest in doing so has passed, or whatever other reason it may be – there was a door of permission in their way of sharing and I don’t want there to be one anymore.

I too have decided to release all the works I have taken personally in the creative commons domain.

I have chosen a Creative Commons Attribution – NonCommercial – ShareAlike 4.0 International license, which sounds complicated but works very simply.

With this announcement, you are now essentially free to use my images for whatever you want, as long as it’s not used commercial, and if you edit/photoshop/remix, you share alike. Meaning if you download one of my pictures and photoshop/edit/remix/etc, that you share your creation inspired by/using my work – you share with the same creative commons license I do, allowing people to use your creation for whatever they want, as long as it’s not used commercial, and if they edit/photoshop/remix, they share alike – and so on and so forth.

Of course, getting paid for using your works is nice, but right now I am at a time in my life where I have no dependents and am not required to make money by doing what I do – I just really enjoy creating and want to continue sharing my work with people that follow me.

Recently, I have restructured how I write my stories and where I post my photos online and have been asked frequently of recent where prints are available.

My main website which I built using WordPress, tmahlmann.com where you are reading this post right now, is where I post my photo stories/blogs/etc.

My photography website, built with SmugMug where I used to post my stories and made prints available through, is now a subdomain of this website and prints/downloads of all my work can be found photos.tmahlmann.com. Hope that clears things up! 😃

Releasing all my works in the creative commons domain, I have decided to also setup a Patreon page where if you choose to, you can support me monetarily – helping me obtain better camera gear for my creations.

Some might ask if the decision to release my imagery in the Creative Commons domain was a long drawn-out decision or one that was made quickly, and to be honest – I thought for about a day or so on it before making my decision. It really was a no-brainer after thinking about it long enough.

A commenter on Trey’s blog said it best:

“I think most of the people will be able to recognize your work without Watermark. The photo itself is the signature of your work.”

Arnab Dutta

All my images will continue to be available in full resolution on my photography website in the creative commons domain, even if you choose not to support me on Patreon.

I think it is quite humbling when someone wants to share/edit/remix my work, so I want to inspire more of it by doing this.

A short example:

Late 2014, a good friend of mine at Purdue asked to paint a version of my lunar eclipse photo I took earlier that year.

What resulted was beautiful – and I hope more things like this come in the future, because it is quite humbling to see your creations spark ideas in someone else’s mind for a creation of their own.

Painting 3 Final

Artwork Credit: Barb Onder Karl

Here is my image that inspired the painting:

astrophotography; moon; lunar; lunar

Lunar Eclipse – October 8th, 2014 – Credit: Trevor Mahlmann | www.tmahlmann.com

I am thankful for the following I have made online by creating, and all in all, I am excited for what’s to come in the future. Thanks for your continued support on social media and on this blog! Here’s to more creating!

Note (as of today):  If you still see watermarked photos still on my website, please know that I am still working to replace them with the correct version. If you do order prints of a watermarked image, know that they will be replaced before your order goes to the lab. Thanks for understanding.

Here are 10 of my favorite works of mine that are now available for download thanks to Creative Commons!
 June 9th, 2016

June 9th, 2016

Instagram TMahlmann; Twitter TrevorMahlmann

Time winding down – July 2nd, 2016

purdue; university; bell; tower September 2nd, 2015

September 2nd, 2015

purdue; university; engineering; fountain September 19th, 2015

September 19th, 2015

July 26th, 2016

purdue; aamb; all; american; allamerican; marching; band; parade; 500; festival

May 28th, 2016

Chicago; bean; cloud; gate; the April 9th, 2016

40 minute exposure at The Bean – April 9th, 2016

500; IMS; Indianapolis; Indy; Motor; Speedway Indianapolis Indianapolis

Start of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race

CRS; CRS7; Rocket; Rockets; Space; SpaceX; X June 28th, 2016

SpaceX CRS-7 launch to the ISS – June 28th, 2016

“I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
-Robert Frost
And as always, if you have any questions, give me a shout!