Photography, Model Releases, and Advice

Table of contents:
1) When is a model release required?
2) What you should know about model release forms
2a) Why do you need a model release?
2b) Permission and compensation
2c) Legal issues
2d) Advice for photographers
3) Portfolio advice for models

1) When is a model release required?

Let us discuss when a model release is required by using to the following table:

Is a model release required? Type of Photgraphy
Yes Catalog Photography - This is steady work (as contracts can last several weeks) but it is normally the lowest paying type of photography for both the photographer and the model. Remember that in this type of work the product always comes first. The model is strictly in a secondary or supporting role, and generally should never be more "noticeable" then the product. Some fashion photography falls into this category.
(Please Read Note 1)
Editorial Photography - Usually this means taking photographs for a specific purpose, such as for a story in a magazine or web site. There is considerable room for the photographer to demonstrate their skill with type of work. The photographer must try not to get sidetracked. The photographer may be taking pictures of almost anything: a landscape, wildlife (nature), a home, a family, pets, or a person or persons.

Note 1: You do not need a model release when the photograph is being used for educational or illustrative purposes. This covers most non-advertising applications (e.g., documentaries, newspapers, textbooks, some magazines, and some web sites). Nevertheless, a photographer should obtain model releases if possible. This is because the photographer may want to use the photograph(s) for other purposes in the future.

Yes Commercial Photography -   Generally this refers to "real world" environments and situations whether "staged" in a studio, or shot "live" on the street of a major city or country pub. Most advertising photography and some fashion photography would fall into this category.
(Please Read Note 2)
Studio Photography - Many people are familiar with this type of photography. The photographs range from weddings and family portraits to baby pictures and those "glamour" photographs that are popular with certain women. Some studios also offer some video capability, such as filming weddings and converting video tapes between different formats (normally so family and friends overseas can view the tapes). The photographs should be taken where the customer is most comfortable. This can be at a location provided by the photographer (such as a studio) or the customer (such as their home).

Note 2: Normally the photographer does not retain any rights to these types of photographs and they may not be reused in any way. However, the photographer could offer compensation (normally a decrease in price) in exchange for the signing of a model release, which would give the photographer rights to the photograph.

2) What you should know about model release forms

2a) Why do you need a model release?

A model release is a legal document (a contract) signed by the person the photograph was taken of. This person is called the subject. By signing the release, the subject gives his or her consent to the taking of the photograph by the photographer. A photographer needs to obtain a model release from their subject(s) when:

· The photograph is going to be used for purposes of publication (to include digital/internet media), advertising, or trade. A recognizable subject who has not signed a model release for the photograph(s) in question has clear grounds for an invasion of privacy suit.

· The photograph is going to be altered digitally. This is important when the photographer intends to add and/or alter elements of the image (e.g., adding a fantasy background and/or fairy wings to a photograph of the subject(s)). To further protect the photographer, the model release should state that the subject(s) consent to the digital alteration of the image.

· The subject might suffer embarrassment or ridicule as a result of the photograph's publication (e.g., an injured or handicapped person, or an emotional situation)

You do not need a model release from the subject(s) when the photograph is being used for educational or illustrative purposes. This covers most non-advertising applications, such as photographs for documentaries, newspapers, textbooks, some magazines, and some web sites. Nevertheless, a photographer should obtain model releases from as many of their subject(s) as possible. This is because the photographer may want to use a photograph(s) for an unforeseen purpose in the future. For reasons of liability, a photograph with a model release will have more marketability than one without.

2b) Permision and compensation

Many people are unfamiliar with model releases. They see a legal document and are reluctant to sign it. The photographer should be diplomatic, explaining to the subject (s) that they are only getting their written permission to take the subject(s) photograph. Sometimes the easiest way to get a reluctant person to sign a model release is to offer them compensation of some type. 

While money is the most common form of compensation, compensation does not have to be money. It can take the form of giving the subject(s) copies of prints and/or slides, photography lessons, studio sessions, and so on. By offering compensation the photographer demonstrates to their subject(s) that they are acting in good faith by trying to establish a business (professional) relationship. This normally places the subject(s) at ease. 

Compensation is not required for a model release to be legal. What is required is that each subject consents to the terms contained in the model release, fills out the form fully and legibly, and signs the document. The model release contains a statement that the subject is of legal age to sign the contract. In most parts of the Unites States of America, this age is 21. If the subject is a minor, a parent or legal guardian must sign on their behalf. If there are several subjects in a photograph, you must obtain a release from each one. Always check local laws to insure you are operating legally.

The photographer should file their releases in a neat and organized manner, so that they can be quickly found if needed. Some photographers attach a copy of the slide, negative, photograph, or CD-ROM disc to the model release. Care should be taken as some media has a very short storage life. (Depending on temperature, humidity, and lighting conditions, some negatives/slide films will be useless in under 10 years, if not sooner!) I prefer to scan a picture into the computer and store in onto a somewhat more permanent media such as a CD-ROM disc in addition to having a print/slide copy. Consider obtaining fire/theft insurance and/or keep a duplicate set of your most "critical" images stored in another location - and I do mean in a different building altogether. Over the long term, this can be a good practice.

2c) Legal issues

Model releases guard the photographer against most legal complications, but they still have to be careful. Released pictures can still result in lawsuits:

· When they are used in a tasteless, offensive way. Regardless of having a signed release, this is a legally dangerous situation.

· When the use of the photograph is clearly malicious.

Libel is a problem more associated with writing than photography. If a published photograph(s) is accompanied by a caption and/or descriptive text, a misrepresentation can constitute libel. A photographer must be factual when they submit a photograph for publication. This way, if an overzealous editor uses a different caption/text from what you, as the photographer supplied, you shouldn't be sued. The truth is a complete defense against libel.

2d) Advice for photographers

· A photographer should keep their model releases in their camera bag, so they will always be available.

· The photographer should have a pen or two handy. You would be amazed how many times a photographer will forget a pen…

· If possible, get the model release signed by the subject(s) before taking a photograph. People tend to have second thoughts.

· Signed model releases should never be thrown away just because they are old. A photographer never knows when they must produce a signed model release to win in court.

· Check with an attorney who specializes in this legal area if the photographer has any questions about a particular situation. It is better to be safe than to face a suit for invasion of privacy or libel.

· The photographer should expect to pay (and an adult model should expect to receive) at least twice the typical hourly rate for lingerie modeling and at least three times the typical hourly rate for nude modeling. By "typical rate" I mean an average hourly rate for a geographic region. It is cheaper to work in some parts of a country than it is in others. You can usually get a feel for an area's hourly rates by contacting local advertising and/or modeling agencies. Models with any type of "name" recognition can usually set their own rates (within reason).

· Stay out of legal trouble! - When hiring minors as models the photographer must take the time to become familiar with any applicable labor laws in the geographic area you will be working in.

· Customize the portfolio to your client's needs. Keep it small but focused. If your client wants business attire, do not send in swimsuit photographs and landscapes!

3) Portfolio advice for models:

You should have a large selection of photographs in your "personal" portfolio. When applying for a job, create a focused "mini-portfolio" that demonstrates to the photographer that you can give them what they are looking for. Stay focused! If the photographer wants hand models for a ring catalog, do not send in a foot picture.

These types of photographs are typical in a model's "personal" portfolio and are used by the model (or his or her agency) to create a focused mini-portfolio when applying for work:

Portrait Camera Angle: Frontal
Profile (from the side)
Cropped to: Face (close-up)
Head and Shoulders
1/2 body (waist up)
3/4 Body Camera Angle Frontal
Profile (from the side)
Cropped to: Mid-Thigh
Full Body Camera Angle: Frontal
Profile (from the side)
Cropped to: Full Body
Hand Camera Angle Varies
Cropped to: Hand
Foot Camera Angle: Varies
Cropped to: Foot
Eye Camera Angle Varies
Cropped to: Eye

Additionally, there are normally many poses, several outfits, and different lighting conditions for each camera angle in this chart.

To give you and example of this using a typical female model and the chart above:
The model may have Full Body, 3/4 angle photographs in an evening gown (with one or more standing poses in natural light and artificial light and one or more sitting poses in natural light and artificial light), a swimsuit (dry with one or more standing poses in natural light and artificial light, dry with one or more reclined poses in natural light and artificial light, then perhaps various photographs with a "wet" look), and so on for everything from an Irish sweater to business attire.

Yes, it is a lot of work to establish and maintain a great modeling portfolio! This is one reason why some models (and their photographers!) sometimes choose to specialize into a specific type of work.

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