Why You Need to Use Model Release Forms
Don't be an idiot; use model release forms.
It all started off like just about any other shoot with an aspiring model.
My friend was new to the photography world, and he was hoping to improve his portfolio. He found a willing model who was down for TFP online, they met up, and they did a shoot.
The photos turned out well. Really well. In fact, they turned out so well, he decided to sell them to a stock photography company for $300. It seemed like a great idea.
Until the model sued.
She claimed that she would have charged a price if she had known the photos would have been sold. The two ended up in small claims, where my friend ate all the court fees while losing the first profit he had as a photographer.
This story seems pretty extreme, but it's a good illustration of why every photographer should use model release forms. Here's what you need to know before you commit to a photoshoot with a model.
The business of photography is one where a lot of people can get ripped off. Models could be taken advantage of when it comes to photos being sold. Photographers could be taken advantage of when it comes to wages and portfolio benefits.
A model release lets models say that they agree to the shoot, lines out what you are paying them, and explains who keeps the rights to the photo. By getting everyone on the same page, you all win. Plain and simple, you need to use model release forms.
It's important to remember that there are bad people in this industry.
The problem with the photography industry is that it's difficult to nail down a person's reputation here. There are a lot of con artists who will book models, avoid signing a release form or contract, take the shots, and bail.
Or, they may be clients who decide that the photographer's prices are too high. To avoid paying, they'll claim they never signed a form or they will try to renege the price.
These people don't always look sketchy. They can be anyone! It's up to you to protect yourself (and your business) from potential con artists. If you get fleeced, the release will be what allows you to pursue legal action against them.
Model release forms can also help prevent jail time.
We've all heard about photographers who have shot underage models in suggestive poses. Many of those photographers end up being investigated or even sued because of their decision to do so—and some even end up being on the nightly news story.
Sometimes, teenagers lie about their ages to get modeling gigs. So, you might not even realize that you're dealing with a teen until it's too late. Model releases are crucial for this purpose.
If you're a photographer, it's crucial to check ID for the age of your model. If your model is underage, it's even more important that you use a model release form that has their parent's signature, plus an agreement to have a parent chaperone them during the shoot.
Not doing so can cause you serious legal problems.
A model release form is an affordable, legally binding contract.
The biggest reason why you should use model release forms is because they protect you—legally. A release form is legally binding the moment the model puts pen to paper.
A simple model release form template can be found online. Heck, you can even find free model release form offers or learn how to write a good photographer's contract right on Google. You really have no excuse!
A photographer without a release will have a hard time proving anything in court. Conversations on email can only do so much. A release form, on the other hand, literally releases you of many obligations.
This means it protects you in court, without you needing to hire a lawyer to read over it. That's a lot of protection for a very low price.
It's also a matter of professionalism.
Even if you're not working with professional models on commercial photography shoots, it's a good idea to use model release forms. Photographers use these forms, even when they are being paid by clients to do the work.
Wedding photography, in particular, is famous for its release forms. Along with protecting both entities on a legal ground, it's a subtle way of saying, "Hey! I'm a professional! You can trust me."
A lot of photography clients will walk away if they notice you don't request signatures.
Model releases protect your ability to profit without lawsuits.
My friend learned this the hard way, but you don't have to. If you intend to sell your photos for any reason or even publish them, a model release form will establish, that and also clarify exactly what you're paying the model.
Should the the model demand more money, the release form will clearly state she doesn't own the rights to the photos—and the case will be immediately closed.
This is particularly important in street photography.
Street photographers who want to capture elegant strangers would be wise to carry a stack of releases with them. Knowing how to take the best street photography portraits means knowing that some people may not take kindly to having their photo taken, while others may adore it.
If you are looking to sell the shots, carrying model release forms can help prevent a lawsuit—or an altercation. I should mention, some people *really* don't like having their photos taken.
If a model or client doesn't show up, a release form will allow you to collect partial payment.
Model release forms are also used to help collect deposits and discuss the terms of refunds. This is, of course, assuming you write clauses in your form that explain what happens if a client doesn't show up to a scheduled shoot.
If you've ever wasted time waiting for a no-show client, with no chance of making that money back, this is a good enough reason to use a form.
Many professional models won't shoot without one.
Let's say you finally book a professional freelance model for your next stock photoshoot. Great! You didn't bring a release. Not so great—she walked off the set.
Why did this happen? Well, it's possible that this is a modeling mistake they made at least once, and they were burned because of it. Models want to have release forms as much as photographers typically do. A photographer without a model release often has ulterior motives, or may be blacklisted by agencies. Releases show you have integrity.
It's just a good idea.
If you still don't want to use model release forms when you shoot, I don't know what to tell you. These things are here for a reason, and they can help you make the right decision as a professional photographer.