When do I need a Model Release? Photography Tips
Image © Randy McKown

Professional photography is a business and I personally don’t like taking legal risks. That’s why I let every portrait client know up front that I require them to sign a model release.

Even if I have no intentions of licensing the images commercially, I still require them to sign a release. This allows me the use of the images in studio displays, advertisements and any other visual media in connection to our photography studio.

Do I Need a Model Release?

Technically, photos that are used in an editorial format, for educational or informational usage are not required to have a model release. This can include art exhibits, newspapers, educational books, commercial and trade magazines. SnapCanyon is a perfect example of editorial content.

Keep in mind that some non-commercial publishers might still require you to supply them with a model release. It often depends on how paranoid or uneducated the person in charge is – a good reason to always get a signed release.

If you are a freelance photojournalist, selling images to newspapers, you will probably never be asked for a model release. Consumer magazines will have their own guidelines for submission. They may or may not ask you for a model release. It will depend on the specific usage of the image and their company policies.

When is a Model Release Required?

If the photo is used in a commercial application such as a brochure, poster, greeting card, postcards, commercial websites, etc. you should have a signed release. This model release does not have to be given to the client but should be kept on file in the event that a legal request is ever made.

If you are using a stock agency to license images to magazines, designers, etc., they should require or recommend that you supply a release when possible. This has less to do with law and more to do with conducting good business. An image that can be sold to both editorial and commercial buyers will be more profitable over time.

If you think the image has any commercial value at all, make sure to get a signed model release. It’s a good idea to try to obtain a signed model release even when you don’t anticipate the need for one. A photo that you think has no commercial value today might be requested in the future. It’s one of those subjects where it is better to be safe than sorry. If you have the model release, there’s no reason to kick yourself.

Types of Model Release Forms

You will want to have two separate release forms. One for adults and another for minors. In the past, I advised photographers to print some copies and keep them in their camera bags at all times. For most photographers, there’s little need to keep hard copy forms anymore.

Most agencies and publishers now accept digital model releases. These forms are filled out on your smartphone or tablet and the model digital signs on the screen. Search the app store on your mobile device and you’ll find a decent selection of model release apps that should suit your needs.

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