Experienced models are familiar with model releases (perhaps more familiar than you are) and will expect your request to sign the papers. Others may be surprised by such a request, and you may need to do some explaining, or even some bargaining, to get the signature. There are no sure-fire techniques that work every time, but we offer a few strategies in the spirit of information sharing.
Elsewhere, we note that it is often useful to give out your business card and offer to send a print if the subject will sign your release. And we suggest using the “pocket” release for shooting in the field — it’s short and unthreatening.
It’s for stock
A lot of times, people will ask how you intend to use their picture. The more specific you can make your answer, the more likely that they will sign your release. Except, of course, you often don’t know all the possible uses. But you can say that you are shooting “for stock” and explain what that means. If you work with a stock agency, tell your subjects its name and web address. Tell them that the images may or may not ever be licensed, that you find out when and where the photos are used only after the fact. It can’t hurt to add that you get but a small fraction of the license fee.
The celebrity release
If you photograph performing artists and celebrities for purely editorial projects, you don’t need a release. However, you do need consent for any commercial use — and that includes self-promotion, such as showing the images on your web site or in your portfolio. Rare is the artist who will sign a broad model release, though. A bit of creativity is called for.
“I have had the opportunity to photograph several music artists this past year for major music magazines. These have been editorial assignments; the artists have already agreed to be interviewed and want their photos to accompany the article. Everybody is agreeable to the use of the photos, and the magazine and the artist do not require or desire me to interject a model-release issue.
“I introduced a ‘Celebrity Release’ on one of the assignments and secured a signature from the artist. I modified a basic model release to specify the publication and that initial usage, and added a usage for me to use the photos in my own self-promotion. I intentionally did not include a broad unlimited release, believing that it would be rejected by any artist’s management.”
Timothy H. Wright
The Wright Studio
It is not enough to get the signature on the release. You also have to be able to produce the signed paper when it is required. It will be required if you ever have to defend yourself against accusations of wrongdoing. In addition, many licensors insist on getting a copy of the release along with a copy of the photo, because they might someday have to defend themselves. You need a reliable filing system.
Here’s a tip from a Baltimore photographer that could make your system work better:
“After any shooting session in which I use a model I have used previously or might use again, I make thumbnails of all the images and print them on the bottom or back of the release, or on separate pages which I attach to the release. That way, if I shoot the model again and have a second release, I can quickly see which images are covered by which release.”
Where to go next
We provide several alternative releases for our members. Which one is best? Find out here.
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