Photographer Model & Property Releases: Do You Need Them?

Model & Property Releases: Photos of employee and yarn weaving machines at West Coast Trimming by Noella Ballenger

Interior of and employee at West Coast Trimming in Los Angeles, California

A model or property release is a legal form between the photographer and the person you are photographing or the person who owns the private property that you are photographing – pets and objects associated with a person are considered private property. It is a document that needs to be signed before you use the image in any publication. But there are lots of myths about them, strong reasons to use them and some equally good reasons not to use them.

One of the major considerations in the use of a release is how the image will be used. If you are going to use a product to advertise in any way, then a release is needed. Commercial use is defined as any media where money exchanges hands. Editorial use is defined as an image that is used to illustrate a news story, public event or any non-commercial text. For example, magazines, newspapers, features, commentaries, and books fall into this category.

If the person’s face is identifiable or there is a depiction of recognizable private property, then a release is needed in most circumstances. And, when you are photographing an identifiable person or private property and are not sure of its ultimate use, it is a good idea to ask for a release.

If you plan on photographing some public buildings than a release is not needed unless that building is copyrighted and then a release must be obtained for publication. None of this means that you can’t photograph those structures, but you can’t publish the photographs without having a problem with copyright laws unless a release is obtained and sometimes that also means a license and a fee. Some examples of copyright buildings are British Royal Residences, the Empire State Building, Graceland in Memphis Tennessee, Disney Studios and Theme parks, the Seattle Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower Lights in Paris.

You don’t need a release for photographs in your own portfolio. This would be an example of an artistic collection and not a published work. If that portfolio is published online (and posting images online is another form of publishing) then the way the person is posed would determine the need for a release. For example if they were holding a product and seemingly promoting that product, then a release would be needed. If the photo was used in a promotion piece advertising the skills of the photographer with the aim of attracting clients, this could be considered advertising. This area of posting images online is a “slippery slope” and again usage needs to be the prime consideration and releases for that specific usage would be the best protection.

These are general guidelines and certainly there are many good reasons to have releases whenever it is possible and necessary. Many publishers and stock agencies insist on them before they will accept the images. And while some might consider them unnecessary, every now and then someone will take exception and without that consent form, the photographer is legally unprotected. If there is even the slightest question in my mind about whether or not a release is needed, I opt for the release.

NOTE: Keep signed copyright agreements forever. You never know when you may need it in a court of law.

To get more detailed information on both model and property releases, check out the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). There are a multitude of articles to which you can refer.


There are certainly more complex forms you can use, but these basic forms should work for you. Always have them packed in your camera bag, so you don’t miss out on a photo opportunity. And it is ALWAYS a nice gesture to thank a person by offering to send them a copy of the photo or photos via email, CD or printed version.

Permission for Photographer: MODEL RELEASE

For valuable consideration received, I hereby grant to Your Name/Company Name Here and his/her legal representatives and assigns, the irrevocable and unrestricted right to use and publish photographs of me, or in which I may be included, for editorial, trade, advertising, and any other purpose and in any manner and medium, to alter the same without restriction, and to copyright the same. I hereby release Your Name/Company Name Here and his/her legal representatives and assigns from all claims and liability relating to said photographs.

Name (print) ______________________________________ Date ___________________

Signature _________________________________________ Phone _________________

Address __________________________________________________________________

City _______________________________________ State _________ ZIP ___________


by Noella Ballenger
All Photos: © 2012 Noella Ballenger. All Rights Reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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