Posted on August 24, 2011


One of the issues as a photographer or model that you hear about frequently is the “release”. Simply put, the release gives the photographer the rights listed in the release when images are taken of a model or property. Without that release, the use of the photo is limited. For the scope of this entry, we will cover the “Model Release” or “Adult Release”. Some of this will apply to other releases. In the future, I may cover the “property release”.

I also have to put a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, haven’t been through law school, and that you should go to a lawyer for specific legal advice in your particular locality. Something that may be valid in one state or locality may not be relevant to your state or locality. A local lawyer will be the only person who can tell you what you need to know about those differences. The law involved with releases can be complex as a model. As in sports, everyone can have an opinion on a play but it doesn’t matter until the “referee” or “umpire” or “judge” determines it. The same applies to law, but there are only judges. Now that this has been covered, let us get back to talking about releases.

A model release is a form signed by a model granting certain rights to the photographer (or agency or client) to do things to the images they captured of the model or the model’s likeness. These rights include the ability to publish the images in certain ways, a waiver of liability in the image’s use, the ability to modify or change the image, the duration, and any limitations on the use of those images. In some circumstances, the photographer may grant the model rights to print and use the image for personal use (IE-for their book or online galleries). We will get into some specifics shortly. When you sign a release, most people will ask you to sign a “full” release. This grants the person all rights when using the image. Make sure you read your release and make sure that you understand what it grants. If something doesn’t sound agreeable, see if you can get it removed. If you can’t, it is best to get a lawyer involved before signing the form. As a precautionary measure, only sign a release after you do modeling work. This allows you to know what was captured, and if any images need to be removed from release, you can get them added into the release.

The first thing to realize with a release is the difference between types of use: advertising, publishing, and all others. Advertising requires a release – no exceptions. This means any image used to promote a product or service MUST have a release in order for the image to be used in advertising. Publishing is using the image in a book, magazine, or even calendar, and then selling the item with the image on or in it. Depending on the type of publishing, a release may or may not be required. Most photographers, as a practice, will get a release signed for everything they do along these lines just in case they need a release for the work. Last, there is all other types of work. In many places, submission to a contest constitutes publishing. Use in news related work doesn’t require a release in newsworthy events or situations. Usage on the Internet is one of those grey areas – is it or isn’t it? Most photographers will put the images they take on the Internet (and maybe sell them) under the impression it isn’t publishing the image. Even it seems like the Internet has been around for a long time, there are still many cases in the courts determining if putting images on the Internet is publishing. When you go to a photo studio and have images created for your own use, you do not need a release. If you do sign one, know that the photographer can sell and use the images that they captured any way they want.

What are the parts of a release? What are these rights that the model has granted to others?

The first part is the identification section. This holds the information that identifies the real you. Frequently this includes your real name, address, and maybe a witness to say you are who you are. Frequently it has the date and signature block. There should be a section for the model and the photographer.

The next part is the “contract” portion. The contract almost always starts with you agreeing you are older than the age of majority (usually 18 years in most states), have the right to be in a contract, read the release, understand the release, agree to it, and that it will be binding to you and your future heirs.

Next is the “grant” of unrestricted right to use the image or images in any form or use. This means digital, paper, billboard, book, or anything. Frequently, this is tied to the ability to modify or change an image, distort character or form, with your own or a fictitious name. If you are a model that doesn’t want your “real” name known, you will want to cross off the “real” name on the form and have the other person initial this change. The rest of this grants the ability to do any kind of editing to the image no matter what it is, and present you in any light they want. This also allows just a part of any image to be used. Most photographers discuss the usage before a photo shoot. If the image is for advertising or stock, the photographer doesn’t have any control over how the image will be used and can’t say anything about your image’s use.

Most contracts will also release the right to approve the use of an image in its final form. This simply means that any image can be used without your approval.

The last standard part of the contract is a release and indemnification from harm for use of the images against libel, or invasion of privacy. These are rights you have, and are requested to be given up so that the publisher knows they won’t have any problems when using your images.

Some photographers will indicate on the release what the “consideration” that is exchanged between you and the photographer. This states what you are paid for your work. Frequently, it just says “valuable consideration hereby acknowledged”. That is a way of saying it was agreed but not included on the written contract. Be very careful with any release you sign with this on it.

If there are other parts, read them very carefully. You never know what is in one of them until you read it. Remember, there may be rights granted to you.

I hope this entry gives you a little idea of what the model release is, why it is needed, and what it represents. And, always read, understand, and get a copy of any release you sign.

The infamous shameless plug at the end: If you are looking for a photographer for portraits, please take a look at XOIND Studios. More information can be found at XOIND Studios web page.