Modelling 101 - Release Forms.

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neolestat's avatar
By neolestat
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A brief overview on Model Release Forms hopefully of use to models and photographers alike.

Photographers; how many times have you had a popular photo or series of photos on display only to have the model contact you saying that a) her new boyfriend doesn’t like her assets being on display for the whole world to see or b) that she has new found respectability and will lose her job if her new employer Googles her and finds her naked all over the www? Either way she wants you to remove her images from your portfolio and in the worse case scenario destroy them.

Models; have you ever come away from a shoot, only later to see the images that you consider the worst of the day and definitely portraying you in a less than favourable light on the www? Have you ever trusted a photographer not to post the nipple slip he inadvertently caught on camera only to later find a less than salubrious crop showing that nipple in all it’s glory?

Yes? Then this article is for you.

The Model Release Form: What is it? A Model Release Form is a legal and binding written contract drawn up between a photographer and model either before or after a shoot detailing where and how the images from the shoot may be used by the photographer.

It does not deal with copyright, or give the model ownership of the images. The copyright by law always remains the photographers unless he issues a separate Image Release Form effectively sharing copyright with a third party. The copyright is never owned by the model unless the photographer shares his. Fact!

In the US and most other countries sharing similar usage laws a Model Release is only valid if the model received some kind of compensation for the shoot. This can be anything of value; A CD of images from the day (TFCD), prints of best of shoot photos (TFP), clothing worn during the shoot, a pub lunch or monetary compensation (a paid shoot). Most Release Forms have a section where the compensation can be written in. It doesn’t have to show the monetary value, only that compensation for the shoot was given somehow.

For Models: Most photographers, especially those just starting out, the intermediates and those working in a sole ownership professional capacity will use a standard form based on the many to be found on the www. The majority of photographers will not have the resources to have a Release legally drawn up by a lawyer on a company or case by case basis. The form will require you to give your ‘legal given name’ not your modelling alias. Your address and probably phone number (a mobile number will suffice here) and a signature and date which means you have legally agreed to the usage terms stipulated against the compensation given. The photographer will usually fill in the location details and details of the compensation given.

For models under the age of 18 a legal guardian must countersign the form on the models behalf.

Models, I cannot stress enough that you read the usage terms. My own usage form is thus:

“I understand that the photographs taken of me during this session can be used by the photographer wholly or in part, printed or electronically in Magazines, Books, Calendars, Internet, Portfolios, Exhibition and for Editorial or Advertising use

The photographs may be used to represent an imaginary person and any wording associated will not be attributed to me personally unless my name is used.

I acknowledge by signing this form and, subject to restrictions stipulated and agreed, that I give
up all claims of ownership, income, editorial control and use of the resulting photographs and
assign all copyright ownership to the photographer and no further payment will be due. Use of the
photographs may be granted to third parties, however the photographs will remain the property of the photographer.

I have read this form carefully and fully understand its meanings and implications. I acknowledge that by signing this form I understand that Andy Craddock has full copyright ownership and the authority to publish the photographs and that I agree with the terms listed above. I am 18 or over.”

Note the usage; It is very open to interpretation and basically allows me to publish anywhere. This is a coverall form and recognises that I need not contact the model at a later date to agree to new publishing terms as I would have to if I only listed internet publishing on the form.

Notice also that even if I earn millions of £s from the images at a later date you cannot come to me asking for further compensation. The compensation given on the day of the shoot is where your income stops.

This is the standard form, the one that most photographers will ask you to sign. Read it, discuss it where necessary, amend it where necessary (for you are within your right to do so) and be happy with your compensation.

Points to be aware of: By signing this form you are giving the photographer ‘full’ publication rights to ‘all’ images on his camera taken of you during that particular session. Yes, even the ‘nipple slips’ that you’d hate to see published. To avoid this, either amend the form by adding a note that both you and the photographer can sign that only those photos that are upto implied nudity or lingerie levels may be published. Ask for a copy to protect your own rights. No nipples or pubic areas may then be published and you have legal rights to call the photographer on it if they are. Secondly, though more time consuming, you may ask the photographer at the end of the shoot to show you the photos either on camera or when downloaded and ask him to delete those that you are unhappy with. If you feel there might be the odd (explicit) slip then you are within your rights to ask to see the images and you have a right to not sign the release form if you believe the photographer is being deliberately obtuse.

By signing this form you are giving the photographer ‘full’ publication rights to ‘all’ images on his camera taken of you during that particular session. Please be aware of those implications from the outset. If at a later date you no longer wish to be a model or have explicit images of yourself on the www, it’s too late. You have no legal right to retract the contract; the Model Release at all. It is effective from the date of signature forever. You cannot tell the photographer to take the images down from the www, you cannot threaten him to take the images from the www or other forms of publishing. All you can do in this case is to ask politely and appeal to the photographers better nature.

Models; please note the above. I said ask politely!  Never think that you have the right to ‘tell’ the photographer to remove the images from his portfolio. You don’t. Having fallen foul of this request a couple of times now, I refuse to be told and will only dig my heels in. Especially if you were paid for the shoot. What gives a model the right to be paid a ‘going’ rate on the day only to leave the photographer later with nothing that he can use for the compensation paid? If you were paid, have the decency to offer to return the compensation in full plus extra over for his patience, time and if prints have been sold and can be proved to have been sold, compensation for lost print sales. Understand the implications in the first place.

If you for any reasons you do need the images taken from the photographers portfolio for any reason, approach the photographer politely stating the reasons and hope that you can at least come to a compromise. You will often find that a compromise works for both parties and is usually the better solution. If you model under your legal name and don’t want topless photos turning up in your workplace for example, consider modelling under an alias and ask the photographer to change names and keywords on all electronic documents to that alias thereby leaving the photographer with his images intact and you being safe from being Googled.

Photographers: By reading the above, if you previously had no clue as to what a Model Release was for, you now have an overview.

Whatever level of photography you work to, if you shoot a model one on one or in a group shoot and she is recognisable from those photos obtain a signed Model Release for the model or all of the models involved. For each session. Even if you shoot a model or models on a regular basis you will need a new Release form for every new shoot.

I would also now advise to go one step further and obtain a photograph of the model holding a valid photographic ID; a passport or driving license and attach this photo to the Release form when filing it.

Please do file the form and not keep them jumbled in a stack of paper. They are a legal document after all and you have a right to protect the models data and private information. (I believe that in the UK, especially if you are a company or a studio this information falls under the Data protection act and as such you have a legal obligation to keep this information safe). Remember also that the Release is the only proof you have that the photos were yours and taken legally if the model decides at a later date to cause difficulties by asking that you destroy all images of her or that you have shown images of her that she feels are too explicit for the usage terms given.

Most serious publishers will also require a Photo ID now as well as a signed Release Form from the model and it makes sense to obtain it at the time if you decide to publish or are asked to publish in a serious medium. From my own and from other photographers that I talk to experience, obtaining the Photo ID after the fact is nigh on impossible however well you thought you knew the model.

As much as this is only a very brief overview of a legal document as far as I understand it, there are far more detailed explanations to be found by doing a Google search. Also there are forms to be downloaded from various sources if you do not already use one.

Please feel free to put me to rights or expand upon the information here if I have missed a valid point or misunderstood the law myself.

As always, whichever side of the camera you work on, be safe and have fun!
© 2007 - 2021 neolestat
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slephoto's avatar
Sorry, this article also shows grave ignorance of both US and UK law (I DO know a bit about UK release law), which I caught early on just from skimming the opening & seeing that you didn't note that in the UK a release is not only often unnecessary but can also actually HAMPER a photographer, plus the oft-repeated and generally untrue statement about US releases usually requiring compensation... in point of fact they only do in a few states, and then only for certain types of use.

I could go thru this article & rip it to shreds, but I'd say you're better off simply scraping it & finding some good resources (the ASMP release tutorial would be a good starting point for US law) and re-doing it when you have a better grasp of the facts & laws involved.
kissthefuture's avatar
Thanks for the article :) Its really cleared a lot of stuff up for me. Though i have one question - you said "a Model Release is only valid if the model received some kind of compensation for the shoot" - although what if the model has just started out, or is modeling as a favor to the photographer and doesn't want any payment in return? Does that mean it isn't valid at all?

I have a friends band that are interested in me doing some promo photos for them for their website, i agreed to do the shoot for free as i am only an amateur photographer, and then the band can purchase the any photos and rights to use them afterwards if they wish of me, with myself keeping the copyright. As in theory the models (the band members) won't be gaining anything from the shoot if they don't buy any photos, does that mean my model release forms won't be valid? As really, the Models should be hiring me for my services, not the other way around? (I hope that doesn't make me sound big-headed) If you get me :)

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this :) Thank you!
EveryNextDream's avatar
Sorry for jumping in here, especially since your comment is from a couple of weeks ago, but I read your question and I think I can help :)

Basically what you're doing is shooting photos FOR the band (yes, they are 'hiring' you and not the other way round) but one of the conditions of this is that you can use any of the images from the shoot as you wish to promote your own work. Whether you want to give the band members final cut is up to you. You could probably just use the images anyway whether they wanted you to or not, but I hate the idea of a client being unhappy with images that I use to promote my business and I'm sure you'd feel the same.

Then, once you have processed the images and shown the proofs to the band, they choose which images they would like to use and agree payment terms with you based on what they will use the images for (eg website? flyers?) and in what quantities (eg are they having a run of 5,000 CDs pressed?). It may be worth including something about what happens if the band get signed. Do you want them to be able to hand over your images to a record company? Would this require payment?

It doesn't have to be complicated. Get all all your conditions down on paper, get the relevant signatures and ensure that both parties have a copy, signed and dated. Try to keep your documentation concise and written in 'normal' language as far as possible.

I'd be happy to note or email you a copy of my TOS/release form for music-related clients if it would help.
kissthefuture's avatar
Thanks a lot for the info :) and yes it would help a lot if you would be able to e-mail me over a copy of your release form of music clients (my e-mail is so i can have a read through and see what i need to write! I've been having a look at the tutorials and things on here about release forms but haven't so far seen one that really covers shooting for bands...
So do i need a general model release form first for when im photographing the band, then do a form stating the terms of use afterwards if i sell them, or would you suggest doing just one release form including the terms of use of the pictures, so its all sorted before i take the photos? If that makes sense?
Thanks for the help! :)
ArtPhsyc's avatar
I'm terribly new to the photography world in the sense that people want to use my work. I really can't appreciate the article enough. Would it be terrible of me to want to take your form and amend it to my own needs, you've done such a wonderful job wording it. If not I understand and this definitely gives me somewhere to start.
jedi23's avatar
Thanks Andy for this ( and the other contributors )

I've now re-written my "contract" and am much happier with it.

farenellphoto's avatar
This is a really good article.
nighthawkpm's avatar
Great article - Yes very few understand the Model Release. I know your article is based on the law of the land. But, I total disagree with what photographer think is there right. They take to much ownership away from the model without which the image could not have been made. But as a photographer, I do agree that I should be compensated if I agree to take previously approved images off my portfolio, or agree not to publish images due to the model having second thoughts. So I basically make a contract allowing an us both to agree on images can be publically displayed or sold (retaing copyrights) with profit sharing. Plus I retain the right to edit any image before the model displays it. The ideal that copyrights of images and instantly the photographers is so arrogant. Try that with most other things and it would be grounds to be shot. Many native tribe are said to have thought a photo took apart of them, stole it. I basically agree that the model owns the image as much as the photographer and it must be treated with respect. A release giving the photography the right to do with the image as they please without any responsibility or input by the Model is totally disgusting to me. If one took from you an item and used it against you, even if they just slandered you have the right to seek damages in court. Why is it any different in photography? I would never sign a release and so I only write model contracts. Yes I may be standing alone and foolish but my ethics and morals does not allow another stand. Like it is said, “You have to stand for Something, or you Stand for nothing at all”.
neolestat's avatar
Kevin, you're right in the fact that this is an article based on law not ethics but while I agree with some of your points I disagree with others.

Someone DOES have to own the copyright, the photographer is that one because of the artistic merit of his work. If a model sat for a traditional artist would she be entitled to part ownership because she posed for it or is the painting owned by the one with artistic merit?

Just as you say that the image could not have been made without the model likewise without the photographer she would have just been standing there posing to herself.

I give each model the chance to review the images before she signs the release and then I ask her to read the release before she signs it. There are photographers and there are photographers... She came to me because she likes my work, I am the artist, it is my responsibility to create, I give her pose artistic merit by composition, lighting and colour. A good photographer has as much artistic merit as an artist working in traditional media.

To further fuel the argument, a good photographer working on a TF* basis puts in much more time than the model... Why should the model if she just came for her own portfolio be involved in profit share or further compensation? By law, her compensation was the final images she received... They are legally considered payment.

If a shoot lasts four hours, at the end of that four hours the models job is done but a good photographers is just beginning:

I don't know what your workflow consists of but for me... Setup the studio, pick up the model from the station, coffee, talk through the shoot, shoot, take the model back to the station, download the images, sort the images for the first time, sort the images again, check the images one last time, post process, back up images, back up to a separate drive, burn the images to CD, mail the images. Four hours for the model. At least twelve for me for a good shoot.

I'm not going to argue ethics with you... we all have our own pov. But, from the professional photographers pov... I am the artist employed by the model to make her look as best I can. There are far more pretty girls out there than there are 'good' photographers, if the model wants a mediocre image let her go to a mediocre photographer who doesn't understand the ins and outs. If she comes to me, I own the copyright.

Arrogant? Maybe! Professional? Very! Complaints regarding my own ethics, respect and professionalism? None!
nighthawkpm's avatar
I was not trying to be disrespectful to you but like you say I am entitled to my own point of view. Basically you do not see my point of view. To me someone is not entitled to assume the full copyright of a work even if it is a traditional artist - why would an artist need a model if it is not a combined effort.

You make the statement "Just as you say that the image could not have been made without the model likewise without the photographer she would have just been standing there posing to herself." I but does that make capturing the models likeness and sprit less valuable? - I do not think so.

I was not sending a personal attack and I did not say you were doing anything wrong in terms of the law or your ethics. I just would never sign a document that signs away all my rights while the other is without any responsibility for their actions. Sounds like a dictatorship or a monarchy to me. They are given total control with no rein on their power or responsibility for the impact on the model. A starting model today is basically is forced to sign it as that is the only way they can get work. Try a model release with many professional models and you would be laughed at. I agree that "A good photographer has as much artistic merit as an artist working in traditional media". But the way I see it is both also share the responsibility to be respectful to the model and their likeness. Why does the artist have the right to be free to use the image in any way they want if it is a likeness of the model? That to me is treating the model as an object of ownership not a human being.

I agree that a good photographer puts in a lot of time to produce an image, but how much time does a model spend in the gym, with her hair, with her skin, and learning to be herself in front of a camera? Plus why should a photographer not share the a portion of the value of the life long use of the image? In TF it was not paid for it was traded for! If the photographer uses the image for more than for their portfolio (as the model) why should they not get a part of the net profit after the photographer gets a fair share? I did say that I did not agree to the law of the land. But this country was started by people and changed by those that spoke up against the status quo. Three words ... "Boston Tea Party". I disagree with the current compensation ethics. In most cases where the model does not promote the image and her popularity is not part of the value of the image, yes at the end of those four hours the models job is done. By why would the responsibility of the artist to the model be given no more consideration?

I did not devalue the amount of work a good photographer puts in. But the image can haunt the model for the rest of her life - did you consider that?

I'm just saying I have a totally different angle that you do not let yourself see since it is hidden in the "your professional ethics of photography". Sort of like labeling all Congressmen "Honorable". I agree that we all have out own point of view. But I disagree also that someone less than 5' 6" or overweight cannot be a highly paid model when they only represent a small portion of the population. So your term "professional photographers pov" is far to gross. You state "I am the artist employed by the model to make her look as best I can." If you are the employee not the model why do you think you should share the profit versus the other way around? I agree that there are a lot of pretty models of both sexes out there but a model does not have to be pretty to produce a powerful image - you should understand that. It is the models ability to project emotion that has the real value. I just said what I think the model deserves not what the professional photographer's standards allow.

The definition of "Professional" has little to with ethics just think about lawyers and Congressmen. I did not make this a personal attack - I do not know your arrangement with your models and if you and they agree that is up to two adults. I just think that just like child labor, non union labor, and sweat shops was the rule of the land "professional photographer's" need to take a long look at there profession before basing their operation on the law of the land.
ringofscars's avatar
Great article! We're working on holding our first group shoot and this article really helps with putting everyone's best interests at the forefront of our planning :)
neolestat's avatar
Glad to have been of help :D
MacNapier's avatar
Very good information explained in layman's terms. I did a "cut and paste" of your entire post and slapped in a Word doc for reference.
Many Thanks,
neolestat's avatar
Thank you very much! :D
Alt-Images's avatar
This is one of the best , even handed, explanations of the model release form that I've seen and I was pleased to see that you mentioned that it can be amended by the model.

The only thing that I would add is that it is better to get the ID inspected and the release signed before a shoot, just in case there are any undisclosed age issues!!! That way the model will also be aware that if he/she doesn't want to see something in print then they ought not to pose for it!
Lochai's avatar
Wonderful write up.

Thank you, now I have a great resource to send new models to.
enonorez's avatar
Would you mind sending me a word doc of your contract also. My email address is

TheRealNeix's avatar
Very informative and helpful. I will look for a release form when I start working with models.

icedance4ever's avatar
wow, I had so many questions and you just about answered them all! thank you sooo much for posting this! I've been pondering upon this very subject for the longest time and didn't know where to get the info. :hug: when I get my own model release form,...would ya care if I used your wording? You covered everything! (atleast that I could tell!)
neolestat's avatar
Glad I could help! Note me with your email addy, I'll send you the word doc, all you'd have to do is change my name for yours :D
icedance4ever's avatar thank you!!
nolakha's avatar
Very Very Informative:clap:
RavensEyeArt's avatar
Thanks for the article.
crestmultimeadia's avatar
Nice job. I'm looking forward to trying some portrait type photos in the future. Do you have any samples? If you do I'll host them for you if you like and you can link them wherever you want. I liked your last article on modeling ettiquite too. Very informative. Thanks for sharing your experience!
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