What is a Model Release Form and Why Do I Need One?

This article is not legal advice. It’s based on my personal experience. I am sharing my personal experience with you. You must always seek legal council from a qualified legal representative before going ahead with any decisions on your business. In reading this, you understand this and will not take this as legal advice, or advice of any kind.

Lately, I’ve been shooting a lot of portraits. I’ve done everything from studio portraiture to candid and environmental portraits (my favourite). I have so many photos. So why aren’t you seeing them all? Where are they? Why don’t I just plaster them all over Facebook for the world to see?

It isn’t that easy. Every time you take someones portrait you are creating a representation of that person. You own that image but you don’t own the right to do with it as you will. In fact, from a legal stand point, you need to get written permission to display that photo (even though you took the photo) in a public domain. A public domain can be the internet, a mall, a street and anywhere where people are going to view that image. Sounds like pretty much everywhere doesn’t it? That’s absolutely right. Anytime you want to display the image, you need permission from the person. Anytime you want to display an image of a person under legal age (18 in Australia) you need a signed consent form from parents or guardians to display that image.

This probably sounds like a lot of effort to go to just to show your images in public. In fact it isn’t because it’s offering protection to the person you have photographed. Let’s say for example you have photographed a woman in the park with her dog. You shot it under great lighting, edited the colour and in the end the image looks fantastic. You upload it to Facebook only to find that her ex husband (who she’s been trying to hide from for 18 months due to domestic violence) has just seen the image and now knows where she’s residing. Okay, it’s a dramatic example, but you get my idea.

This is not usually the case. And if it were, you, as the photographer, wouldn’t know about it. Most of the time you need permission to  display a portrait because of respect for the persons privacy and how they want to be represented. Apart from sensitive cases, this basic respect for privacy is the fundamental building block for displaying and marketing portraiture. This is why we ask people to sign a Model Release form. This form is a document that contains terms and conditions regarding the release of the photo of them, giving you permission to display it publicly, whilst you keep full ownership of the image.

Copyright is an extremely important aspect in your Model Release form. Not only does the form give you consent to display the image but it also is an agreement that the image is yours, and that you retain full reproduction and distribution rights of the image. Copyright is an essential part of image ownership and you need to make it clear that even though the image is of a person, it doesn’t entitle them to ownership of the image. This does not mean that they cannot own a print, it means that they do not own your digital image. There is a difference. Make sure you are very clear on the difference before entering into any portrait shoot.

Model Release forms are necessary parts of a photographers portrait business. Not only does it offer the model protection but it allows you to sell, re-sell and distribute that image for marketing purposes. It gives you permission to put that image on your website, Facebook account or anywhere that you want to market your business. Before posting your images of people online, you must have a signed Model Release form. It will save you years of headaches and miscommunication in the years to come. Go to your local photography association or legal representative to help you create one.

This image was taken on Saturday the 7th and the model release form was signed and given to me on the 10th. That meant I was not able to display it until the 10th. Always give a copy to the person and keep the original for yourself- just for your records. If, years later, they forget they signed the form and come back to you ask why their photo is on your website, you can simply show them the form they signed. This means you have a legal right to display the photo in public.

Can you believe this girl was only 14 at the time I shot this image? I had to wait for her guardian to sign it. A minor never has legal weight in signing forms and documentation.

Model Release Form

 This photo is copyright by Amy Roberts. 2014.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (3)

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  1. Gary says:

    Excellent information, thanks amy.

  2. Angela says:

    Do you need a model release form for pets?

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