• Austen Hunter

Photographers: Why You NEED a Model Release

It's a document that should be in every portrait photographer's carry bag. I'm talking about the essential Model Release form. Learn the importance of the Model release in this quick little breakdown.

A model release form is something that every photographer should be familiar with - especially if you are planning on making money with your photography. For those of us who are just starting out in our photography business, this is something you will want to get used to using now rather than later, as I will assure you that it is only a matter of time before an issue will arise over how you chose to publish someone's image you captured.

If you’re an amateur photographer who just likes to publish your creative works on your website or Instagram, chances are you will get by just fine without a model release. However, having one is always a good idea as it does two things:

It sets the expectations - By reviewing and signing a model release, it sets the expectations for the outcome of the shoot. Your model will know exactly how you plan on using their image, and having these expectations known by your subject beforehand is good communication. It reduces the chances that they will come back to you later and ask you to take a photo down for one reason or another.

It also protects you - if that moment happens, you are protected from civil liability because your subject gave you written permission to use their image in that agreement.

Let’s talk photography business 101 for a moment. While you rarely need written permission to photograph anyone, you do need permission to publish the photograph for commercial purposes. It’s not limited to licensing an image to a stock photo website either, commercial purposes can also encompass how you can use an image on your website or marketing materials.

As a portrait photographer, I am ALWAYS using people’s images to promote my business in one way or another. Some common examples of what would count as commercial use for your business would be using an image in advertising campaigns, brochures, coupons, and product packaging.

I had to learn this lesson the hard way when I used someone’s image on a coupon I created for my business. It was a friend of mine, and because of that, I didn’t think I needed a signed model release. Way later when I was designing a coupon for my business, I thought the image of them I had captured would go nicely with my design.

When they saw the coupons I had made they told me they felt uncomfortable with me using their image. That was something I didn’t expect, and all those coupons I spent money professionally printing had to be swapped out, which resulted in a loss for my business. The worst part is that it could have all been easily avoided had I just explained to them what their image may be used for and had them sign a model release.

I know if you’ve never done it before or just like to shoot for fun it can seem very awkward and complicated to ask people to sign a release before you get your photoshoot started, but it’s actually a very thoughtful thing to do for the person you’re photographing. Lay out the expectations of what you’ll be using their images for and ask them to sign if they agree with that.

A model release should be a key component of your photoshoot workflow, and it’s going to potentially save you from lot of headaches. Every release should outline what the images may be used for and who owns the right to their distribution. There are plenty of templates you can find online and customize for your business. I got mine here at SLR Lounge.

That's the model release in a nutshell! I hope you enjoyed this little write up. When I'm going to a photoshoot, it's the one thing I don't leave my house without, aside from my camera!


Austen Hunter


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