Model Releases – Questions and Answers

[by Judy Herrmann]

In the five years I’ve been moderating ASMPproAdvice, there have been countless posts on model releases.  Here are some of the most commonly asked questions with summaries of the answers.  You’ll find more great info at

1) What’s “valuable consideration” and do I really need to provide it?
Vic Perlman, ASMP’s counsel, strongly recommends including some form of consideration.  Obviously, cash qualifies but so do prints or access to digital files (as a side note, if you provide prints or files, make sure you clearly outline how many you’ll provide, who gets to select them and what the subject can and can’t do with them).

2) I have a great photo that’s unreleased. Can I use it for my website, a mailer, my portfolio, etc.?
The short answer is not unless you’re willing to risk being sued. You should get a release for any commercial use, including self-promotion.

3) Can I use unreleased photos for editorial or fine art purposes?
Art and editorial/news uses generally don’t require releases but there are exceptions to that rule. Vic Perlman, points out that a magazine cover might be considered a commercial use, as could any editorial images from the magazine used to promote the magazine itself, and they should be released.  Fine art images used to promote your gallery exhibit or coffee-table book is also likely to be commercial use.  Even news uses are risky if they cast the subject in a false light, and most photographers don’t have any control over the actual use, once the image is licensed.

4) I’m shooting my client’s employees, do I need to bother getting releases?
Yup!  If any of these people leaves the company under unpleasant circumstances, you don’t want to get dragged into a lawsuit.  Even if they remain employees, you still need releases for commercial uses.  You can ask your client to distribute and collect them but make sure you get copies for your files.

5) How do you get strangers to sign?
Rule #1: Always have releases with you! Other tips: bring samples of your work so they can see you’re a professional.  Tell them what made you want to photograph them. Explain exactly how you plan to use the image, what each clause of the release means and why it’s there. Offer fair consideration. Be professional. Be polite. Be charming.

6) How do you link releases to the subject?
One easy way is to photograph the subject holding the release and staple a print of that photo to the release itself.  I like to put a unique serial code on each release in big letters so it’s visible in the photo. That code goes into a contact manager along with their photo, contact information and notes about the shoot. Entering the code into the metadata of the photos I took makes it super easy to identify the correct release quickly.

Former ASMP national president and acclaimed advertising photographer, Judy Herrmann, lectures and consults on sound business practices for photographers.

By Judy Herrmann | Posted: September 7th, 2010 | 4 comments


4 Responses to 'Model Releases – Questions and Answers'

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  1. My attorney advised me to get releases on all people appearing in my pictures, editorial too. To quote him: “I can’t be wrong.”

    By Joseph Pobereskin | Sep 8, 2010


  2. Concerning item #4. Example. Your client is having the employee/s sign the company’s own photo release. Makes it even more difficult to get one signed as now they have to sign two of them. Photographer still needs his/her own signed. Yes? My thoughts would be yes since the photographer is the originator of the image and unless its a work for hire situation the company’s release is worthless to the photographer.

    By Craig Murphy | Sep 12, 2010


  3. @Craig – sorry for the delay in responding. I wanted to confirm my answer with Vic Perlman before posting. The answer to your question hinges on 2 things: 1) what you want to be able to do with the images and 2) the language of your client’s release.

    If you have no intention of using or showing the images for your own purposes, then you don’t need a release even if you’re not named in the release that your client provides.

    If you do intend to use the images for anything, you either need to have a separate release signed or ask your client to include you as a party in their release.

    By Judy Herrmann | Sep 19, 2010


  4. Thanks much for the reply Judy. Release form signing in corporate situations can be an issue especially when a company is having photography done of employees who might not be so gung ho about it to begin with.

    By Craig | Sep 23, 2010



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