Do you find there are many grey areas when it comes to knowing when and how you should use a release? If so, this article is for you!

To help photographers better understand the complexities of publishing images we’ve highlighted some useful reminders that will help guide you to the right decision and avoid some common mistakes when filling out release forms.

When selling stock images, you need to be aware of the limitations of how an image can be used if you don’t provide a release. Rather than asking yourself if you need a model release, its better to consider the benefits of having one! Buyers want to avoid any legal liability and so are less likely to publish an unreleased image for an ad campaign. Not supplying a release means people will be less likely to license your image, which means you miss out on your revenue. In fact, as many of you already know, we cannot accept any images where the buyer is at risk of legal liability, so releases are an indispensable resource for you as a photographer!

The girl poses in the studio with a sunlight
If you are setting up a shoot and the images lend themselves to advertising or promotional purposes, you have to get a release. Not only professional models need to sign a release, friends and family members also have to give their permission to publish their photos for commercial purposes.

Friends having fun at party

Even if you photograph a detail from a person or only a body part, we require you to supply a release. What’s considered as “unidentifiable” is a subjective interpretation and often the subject of a claim. For example, people with special marks on their body, like birthmarks or tattoos, will recognize themselves instantly.

Hands close up of young tattooed man portrait in Shoreditch. London.

You can find three release templates to download for free in the Fotolia contributor area or on the Internet. Now, it’s a matter of using them and filling them in correctly!

Take care not mix up the 3 documents and to use the appropriate releases for your subjects. There are 2 different model releases, one for adults and one for minors. If your subject is under 18 years old, try to get both parents to sign the release, which reduces the risk that one parent will try to revoke the consent given by the other.

Your name and the models names and ages have to appear on the form and be legible i.e. written in capital letters.

Business worker signing the contract

Don’t forget the signatures! We need the model and the photographer’s signature. That sounds obvious but under certain circumstances, some tend to forget the basics. For example if a mother is taking photographs of her child, she has to fill her name and to sign twice: as the photographer and as the parent! Or, when photographing a group, a football team for example, you need the names and signatures of all the players! The trainer cannot sign for the whole group.

Mother, child and camera

Also, you need a model release when you take a photograph of a printed image of someone, like a printed face on a t-shirt or photo portraits on a wall, an image within an image per say.

The name of the photographer on the release must be the same as the account holder name. It cannot be your partner or one of your family members. Companies and agencies have the right to have different photographers, but then, the name of the company should always appear next to the photographer’s names. It might sound simple and easy but many releases submitted are improperly filled in, rendering the image invalid.

For now, a reference image of the model on the release is not obligatory but could become necessary in the future.

Female brunette tourist photographing architecture of an italian city.

When submitting photographs that contain clearly recognizable places, buildings, or other property, such as pets, automobiles, or artwork, you are required to fill out a property release form and have it signed by the owner of the property. Do not assume that photos of public buildings and historic locations can be used without a release. For commercial use, it is necessary to seek a property release from the entity that owns or manages the property.

restaurant with fireplace

Be aware to avoid places or situations filled with many recognizable trademarks and copyrighted objects. You might have a model release for your model but you don’t have one from the company that owns its cell phone, sneakers, and beverage. In this case you will have to remove any copyright trademarks or names of venues/property from your image in postproduction.

To conclude, never rely on verbal permission when taking photos. Obtain the signed release and keep it on file. A model release is the only legally binding document that insures models, photographers and image users are all aware of what has been agreed to.