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Photography Rule on Getting a Release when Snapping Candid Shots

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/24/2011

Learn when you need to get a model, property, or pet release for candid photography. There are different rules for releases depending on the use of the image. When in doubt, get a release.

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    Property and Model Releases

    There are basic laws and rules regarding model and property releases. The foundation for needing a release has to do with an individual's 'right of privacy' and defamation. With property, defamation is not an issue, but there are still property rights. Recently, the courts have included the 'right of publicity.' This has more to do with an individual's business value. Anytime a photographer snaps a picture, there is the question of rights and whether a release is necessary.

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    Type of Rights

    There are four categories for rights:

    1. Right of Privacy -- This is the right of a person to be left alone in their daily lives. This does not apply to images used in news reporting or social, political, and economic commentary, according to the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).
    2. Property Rights -- Property in this category is an object that a person is closely associated with. This would be something their identity would be associated with. This could be a home, car, pets, or other personal property. This is a complicated area of the law has few precedents that allow for definitive guidance.
    3. Right of Publicity -- This is a relatively new area of image rights. The right of publicity is used mostly for famous personages. Because public figures may gain much of their income from the use of their image, it protects the business identity of their image, according to Editorial Photographers (EP is an association for news and media photographers).
    4. Defamation -- This has to do with how a person is portrayed. If they are portrayed maliciously, falsely or with intent to damage their reputation.
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    Candid Photography Release Requirements

    When is a release necessary when the photographer is taking candid photographers? There is no hard and fast rule on when a release is necessary. Here are some questions to ask about the type of image and usage that can help guide the photographer on whether a release is necessary.

    Inspect the candid photograph and the people in the image and ask the following questions:

    1. Can the people/person be easily identified by anyone?
    2. Is the photograph going to be used in any publication that is an advertisement? This is interpreted broadly by the courts, be wary.
    3. Will the photograph be used in any corporate or business publication or purpose? This means brochures, cards, fliers, and anything that promotes the business.

    If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, then a release is required. If still in doubt after answering any of these questions, err on the side of caution and get a release.

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    Tips for Getting a Release

    These tips are for getting releases from people in candid photography, not models or other paid individuals.

    • People like to know where their picture is going to be used. Be as specific as possible and more often than not, you will get a signature.

    • Have a pocket model release already filled out with your information. This makes the process easier and quicker.

    • Get the full name and address of the individual.

    • Get a witness signature.

    • Give out your business card with the release, this makes the whole process more professional

    • If you give the person $1 as a monetary payment for the use of their image, it will be stronger legally because they received compensation for the usage. Specifying a compensation of an exchange of value is necessary for a contract to be complete. That value can be anything from a print, tangible goods, or a promise to publish the photo making the person renown, according to ASMP.