What’s a Model Release & When Do You Need One?

By: Stephen John Phillips - Full-Time Faculty, Digital Photography

May 24, 2018

If I had a dollar for every time a student ask me about a model release, I would be a rich man. A Model release is just what it sounds like… some are more complex than others but it is basically a document that gives you permission to use the photographs that a model appeared in. The big question, is when do you need one? Well, if it were up to me, I would say EVERY TIME and the reason I say that, is times have changed and in this day and age, you never know how or where your images are going to end up.

The form itself is not all that complex and there are countless versions and templates all over the internet that are available for free. You can even add your logo to the top and make it truly your own. Just make sure they cover what you need. (especially compositing i.e. Photoshop ) First off, understand you can pretty much photograph anything and anywhere you want, short of private property and numerous posted government facilities BUT you can’t do anything with the pictures, unless you have a release. Meaning, sales, publication or exhibition, so what fun is that! Unless you are planning on keeping your pictures in a box under the bed, I would strongly encourage you to get one. You want as much possible control over your imagery as possible.

Male model

Let me give you an example of something that happened to me… When I was doing a series of covers a while back for Dc Comics, I needed to cast a young Leonardo da Vinci (complete with long hair and beard) I went to agencies, health food stores, etc. and could not find the perfect subject. At the time, the climate was much more about short hair for men and there were no man-buns! Just as I was about to give up, I remembered my old upstairs neighbor from college. I had photographed him a number of times and with a lot of digging, found the negatives. When I presented the images to Dc, they were instantly sold and gave me the go ahead. Unfortunately, that was way before I cared about anything as trivial as a model release or so I thought. At that point, the photographs were worthless, legal would never run them without one. Fortunately, there is a happy ending. I was able to track him down with the help of friends and the school’s Alumni office and he agreed to sign. So, there he is… twenty years later, complete with a set of wings (with a little compositing magic) on the cover of the comic book.

Bottom line, GET ONE… even if you don’t ever think you will need it and understand that not having it, can cost you not only the project but future earning potential.

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By: Stephen John Phillips - Full-Time Faculty, Digital Photography

May 24, 2018

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