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Understanding the Model Release Form

written by: Mayflor Markusic•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/30/2009

What is a model release form? When should a photographer use a model release form? What's the difference between a model release form and a pocket release form? These questions and more are answered here.

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    When should a photographer use a photo model release form?

    The standard photography model release form is a document that is needed by a photographer each time (s)he uses photos for commercial purposes and these photos have recognizable faces of people. The photo model release form is essentially a legal agreement that obtains the consent from these people to have their pictures displayed publicly. The person in the photo allows the photographer to earn compensation from the said photo. Does this mean that a photographer needs to have copies of this form tucked into his camera bag all the time? Does a photographer need a model release form each time he takes pictures of his nephews?

    The photographer model release form is only for photos used for commercial gains. For informational or educational purposes, there is no need for this legal document. For example, for pictures that will appear in educational books, trade magazines, and newspapers, a photographer no longer needs this document, even when the pictures have recognizable faces of people. There is also no need for the model release form when the pictures are displayed in museums and photography exhibits. But if the pictures are used for greeting cards, catalogues, postcards, brochures, corporate magazines, posters, advertisements, websites, CDs, trade shows, and other commercial purposes, a photographer will need a signed adult model release form if there are recognizable faces on the pictures. If a photographer hasn’t decided beforehand if the photos will be used commercially, it is recommended that a model release form is used, just in case.

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    Legalese of the Model Release Form

    There are many photography clubs that provide a photography model release form template. Thus, it makes it easy for a photographer to obtain and customize one. But, it is also important that the photographer understands the contents of this legal document. Some of the key terms to understand include the following:

    • Assign – This refers to the person or company to whom the photographer has sold the license or rights to release the photos in public. The photographer may still retain the rights to the photos, but licenses a company (the assignee) to commercially use the photo.
    • Consideration – This refers to the compensation or anything of value that is given to the person whose face is recognizable in the photo. The compensation is given in exchange for the rights released by the person.
    • Images – The generic term for the photos, this can be in photographic film or digital recording.
    • Model – The person in the photos whose face, likeness, and form are recognizable.
    • Media – This refers to all modes, forms, channels, and vehicles in which the photographer utilizes the image. It can be print, film, digital, television, electronic, and other methods already known or will be invented.

    Below is an example of a model release form.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    model release form 

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    The Pocket Release

    The model release form has a short version, which is known as the Pocket Release. Photographers sometimes prefer this version because ordinary people with little professional modeling experience are more inclined to sign the agreement. This version is shorter and there is less legalese involved. It is also more convenient to carry around because it can be placed on a small index card. But the protection coverage of the Pocket Release is less than the full model release form. The decision to use which version depends entirely on the situation and the needs of the photographer. And whichever version is finally chosen, it is important that it is kept in a safe place.

Protect Yourself as a Photographer - Legal Aspects to Consider

This article series is about the legal aspects that a photographer must think about when (s)he intends to make a business out of photography. Including information on legal documents, such as the model release form and photo contracts.
  1. Legal Documents that a Photographer Needs
  2. Understanding the Model Release Form
  3. Photographing Underage Models - Model Release Forms
  4. TFP Contracts with Aspiring Models