Photographer’s Guide to Property and Model Releases

As a photographer you’ll be taking pictures all the time and the likelihood is that, at some point, your photos will include people and property, as these both make great subjects. However, if you want to sell these images commercially, you’ll need a release to ensure that you have the right permissions. This is where things can get a little complicated, unless you fully understand what a release is and what you need to do to ensure you can reap the full benefits of your photography skills:

model release infographic

Model Release Infographic (Via Alamy. Click image to see full size.)

What is an image release?

A release is a written agreement between you and the person you’re photographing, or the person who owns the property you’re photographing, which gives you permission to sell the image commercially. If the image is used in an advertisement or promotion it needs a release but you can sell an image for ‘editorial’ use even if it doesn’t have a release.

What do these terms all mean?

  • Commercial use is when an image is used to advertise, promote, sell, or endorse a product, service, organization or brand. Examples include billboards and print advertising.
  • Editorial use is when an image is used in conjunction with, and to illustrate, a story or descriptive piece of text. Examples include magazine or newspaper features and books.
  •  A model release says the person being photographed has given consent to be photographed and for you to use and sell the images you capture. It doesn’t just apply to professional models or situations where people know they are posing for photos. You should seek to get a signed model release any time that your photos contain images of people, unless you are certain that you will never want to use them for anything other than editorial purposes.
  •  A property release says that the owner of a certain property, such as a pet or a building, has given you consent to take and use images of the property. You don’t need one for public property, such as government buildings (although you may run into problems just from photographing them, for security reasons). But for images of private property—and particularly of objects that are closely identified with specific people—you’re safer if you get a release.

 Why do I need a release for people and property?

  • To maximize the potential to sell your images for ‘commercial use’
  • To sell your images ‘Royalty Free’
  • If a person can recognize themselves in an image. Examples when you need a model release include, crowd scenes, team sports, and scenarios when the face is not visible such as parts of the body, or silhouettes. For a picture of two people shaking hands, where only the hands are in shot, you need two model releases.

 Further Tips

  • Digitize your releases: keep back-up copies, keep them handy, make sure someone else knows where they are in your absence.
  • Get a signed and dated release. Make your releases as broad as you can—you never know where an image may be used.
  • Put a photograph of the model on the release.
  • Ensure you have all releases signed before you commence shooting.
  • Obtain a release for every day of the shoot even if you’re photographing the same model or property.
  • Get a parent or guardian to sign a release on behalf of a minor (under 18).
  • Make sure your releases are in perpetuity (for all time).
  • If the model is deceased you still need a signed release from their heirs if an image is going to be used commercially. Records about heirs are normally publicly available at government offices.

For further information on image releases, see this comprehensive guide to property and model releases.

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