Model Release and Why You Need to be Getting Them Signed.


This post goes out to all those new photographers that are working with and shooting models. Are you getting your talent to sign a model release? If the answer is “no” then I ask you why not? And maybe you’re asking who should sign a release and who should not sign. This is a very valid question. For me the answer is; if it is a paying customer that is not a model and this customer is coming to me for a private photo session; let’s say for example a standard portrait shoot. I am capturing images and selling them prints. No, this person is not going to sign my model release… Unless of course I decide I want to use some of their photos on my website or in some way as to advertise my business. If I use those photos in any way, shape, form or fashion I get a release signed end of story.
Now let’s look at another scenario. I want to do a personal photography project where I need a model/s and maybe I’m paying the talent for their time or maybe it is a “time for print” shoot and the talent is going to also use those images in their portfolio. Either way they are signing a release. Let’s look at a few more situations. I have a customer come to me that wants a commercial shoot for advertisement purposes and this project requires the use of model/s. The models are being paid for their time and they must sign a release. Now here is something a little different and this is just me and how I handle the situation. Example; I see a person hanging on a street corner. Maybe this guy or girl has some very interesting quality and I would like to photograph them. I know that if I like the images and I decide to use them in my Photoshop work more than likely at some point the images will end up on my website or on social media. So if this is the case then “yes” I will ask this person to sign a release. But… yes there is a big “but” here, I will compensate them in some way and it may be as simple as buying them a cup of coffee, lunch or just flipping them a twenty dollar bill. I never always use to think this way; however I did come to the realization that it is only fair that if I use their image I should in some way compensate them.
So, many times other photographers tell me that they feel uncomfortable asking people to sign a release and I will tell you “yes I’ve been there and I too have felt that feeling.” However after much consideration of the consequences for not having talent sign a release and listening to Ed Greenberg of the I came clearly to my senses and changed the way I think about model releases. I’m not going to go into all the minor details about this, but let’s look at a few problems as I see it.
1. That model release gives full permission for me to capture images of the model and edit them as I see fit. It also gives me permission to post to my website and social media and it gives me the right to be able to submit the image/s for publication. So as you can see I have the control over the images.
2. It protects me should the model ever change her mind and say “hey I don’t like those photos and I don’t want you to use them anymore.” Without a model release she could say “he didn’t have my permission to take those photos.” But that simple little model release is going to keep everybody honest.
3. The release also helps prove that “yes” they are my images should someone else try to claim the images as their work. Look at it this way; if you own a car you have a title or document that proves you own it, if you own a house then surely you have a deed to the house. So the model release and your saved RAW files prove those images are without a doubt your images.
So I have just touched on three basic but very important points as to why you need a model release. Imagine that test shoot you did with that model that really knocked it out of the ball park and you came away from the shoot with amazing images fit for publication… and you do not have a model release. Sad times indeed.
Now I don’t know what will work for you because I am not you, but I will tell you how I approach the model release situation. First and foremost every model knows they are signing a release before they ever actually talk to me. Why? Because I have it listed right in my profile on any modeling website I have a profile on. If I find the model any other way I make it known they have to sign a release within the first few minutes of the conversation. I don’t bring major attention to the topic of the model release but I let them know it is standard operating procedure for what I do. Basically I am as honest as possible and after all I have nothing to hide. This is part of my personal nature, I am honest, open and upfront about everything we are going to do. I never spring a surprise on a model at the last minute; if I did I would not feel professional about it.
Now at the time of the actual signing, which by the way I usually do before the shutter ever, makes the first click. Shoots can be tiring or maybe very exciting and if you wait till the end the model is running out the door and you don’t have a signed release. So first things first, we sign a release. I always give plenty of time for the model to read through. Sometimes I have even taken the time to read it to them in a jovial but serious way. It is something to break the ice with a model I have never worked with before. I wouldn’t do this with everybody, but in times when it felt right I did read it and we had a lot of fun with it. Now I will tell you one thing that really works at setting them at ease and that is in an honest manner. I tell them that the model release they are signing is going to protect both the model & the photographer. (Note; I use and app on a mobile device to do the whole release process.) Here is how I say it as I hand my tablet to them. “Ok so here is our model release that I need you to sign. Please take time and read it over and if you have any questions I’ll explain it in detail.” As the model is looking I say “in a nut shell this release simply states that you gave me permission to capture images of you today and edit those images and it also gives me control of the photo in the event someone else should try to claim it.” Then I shut up and let them read for themselves. Because I’m using an app on a mobile device I have already gotten their info prior to arrival and the release is all filled out and waiting to be signed. I make sure I have a stylus handy so they don’t have to scratch out a signature with their finger nails. With a stylus they are actually able to make their normal signature. The app then sends the signed release as a PDF and as an image to the model’s email and to my email. Once that is done I say “let’s shoot.”
So just to recap a bit here, I feel my biggest asset in this whole situation is that I am open and honest with them. No hidden secrets and this makes anybody feel comfortable. Openness and honesty with a big smile will get you a long way with a model. After all I know it is not my look that is getting me there lol. Now when I started using model releases I did the whole paper thing and it was a pain in the butt. So now I use an app and there are several apps out there that work great. I think I paid $9 for the app but it was well worth it.
One last thing… model that is a minor. Yes one of my most favorite models to work with is a teen model so her mother signs her release. Now I shouldn’t even have to say this but I will. “If you are shooting with a minor you should always have at least one parent or guardian present at the shoot and on set 100% of the time.” Matter of fact in most states it is against the law to not have the parent present. My teen model most times has her mother & father present and we have a lot of fun. Her parents fully support her in her modeling and she is so blessed. Never shoot with a minor without the parent on set, be professional & ethical about what you do. Most of all get the release signed and play it safe.