Aaaah… Model Releases! This is probably the Number 1 subject we get asked about by photographers. There is a lot of misunderstanding of when a release is required and what form a release needs to take.

What is a model release?

A model release is a written and signed contract between you and the person you are photographing. It is very important because, once your model has signed a release, you are protected from liability in future lawsuits which that person might file (or threaten to file) against you.

A model release will grant you permission to license your images for advertising purposes, which is where the bigger bucks are in stock photography. Without a release you can’t use an image featuring a person in anything other than newspaper or magazine articles (i.e. Editorial Use). Because of laws allowing ‘freedom of the press’, it is lawful for an image of anyone to be published in a newspaper or magazine article (not advertisements in a newspaper or magazine nor advertorials).

We will generally not accept images featuring people without a release.

In rare cases, we may agree to make an exception to accept non-released images, but we will license these images for Editorial Use Only – i.e. where we only allow magazines and newspapers to use the images to illustrate published content. Bear in mind that the editorial market nowadays yields very low fees in comparison to the advertising market. So your images are devalued (commercially) by not having a release.

Here are some of our top tips when it comes to releases:

1- Don’t shoot first then try to get releases later!

It is always much harder to get a signed model release after you’ve shot your images. We see too many photographers not achieving their earning potential because their images are not released. Sometimes they forget, sometimes they drop the ball, sometimes the model ends up saying no… which is clearly a waste of time and energy. So for your next shoot, first get your models to sign a release and then start shooting. And stay clear of street photography for stock.  We love street photography but unfortunately, ‘Street’ photography styles generally won’t work for stock. In addition, it is a potential minefield due to a key element: model releases. You can read more about this on our “Working with People In Stock” blog post (point 12).

2- Explain to your models what it means to sign a release for stock.

We often receive calls from people who have signed releases (generally when they’ve seen themselves in an ad somewhere) and they can’t remember signing the release. They never envisaged that they’d be seen splashed all over the windows of a nationwide bank. To make sure they don’t get angry when they see themselves in an ad and start calling the advertiser to complain (it happens more often that you think!), make sure you let models know that their images could be used for anything; in an advert, in an article published in a magazine, on a billboard. If they are concerned, reassure them by giving them the link to our website, telling them that our terms prohibit use of images in ways which are considered sensitive – you can read our post about that here

3- If models could recognise themselves, it needs a release!

We get asked all the time what does identifiable mean when it comes to determining if a release is needed. From 17 years of experience our take on this is that if a person could recognise themselves if the image was in some advertisement, then it needs a release. The reason for this is that it takes very little for someone to complain and threaten legal action, and this can be time consuming and expensive to make go away. And it can make you (and us!) look bad to our clients. Through bitter experience we have learned that it is better and cheaper to settle threatened litigation rather than try to defend it, even though the chances of a successful prosecution would be very low. So we take a very cautious approach and we won’t accept images of people without a release even though they are shown from the back or silhouetted etc.

4- Give your model a letter of introduction.

This should explain who you are, your project and includes your contact details, so they know who you are and how to contact you if they have any questions. This is always reassuring.

5- Document the benefits received by the model in return for signing the release.

Some ‘consideration’ or value should be specified on the release for instance: ‘Modelling experience’ or ‘prints for portfolio’ or ‘$100″ or some other value they are receiving.

6- Release for stock only needed one time.

If you do not indicate that the model release is for a specific photo shoot only, or only valid for a specific period of time, then you’ll only need a model to sign a release once to cover all the images you’ve taken of that model. You can also add text such as “this agreement covers any photos ever taken of you (past, current and future) by the photographer” or similar to ensure this is clearly indicated on the model release.

7- Send a PDF copy via email to your models.

So that they have a record of what they have signed. Make sure you save the email so that you have an email trail of sending it to them.

8- Make sure you can find a model release quickly when you need it.

Rename each release according to “Surname_Firstname” (e.g. Smith_John.pdf), file your releases in folders and back your folders up, just in case.

9- If being organised is not your strong suit, fear not!

In our digital age, a plethora of apps have popped up to help you manage your model releases, some better than others. We recommend you use EasyRelease (available for IOS and Android). We are happy to supply custom text that you can use to create a release that we believe gives you the protection under NZ law. Just ask!

We hope this post will clear up some of your questions and get you out and shooting more Kiwi people shots!

Signing off,
The One Shot Team