What’s a Model Release in Photography?

by David Em

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A model release is a contract between you and the person you’re photographing. It allows you to freely use their image for your business.

Close-up of a person signing a document.

Why you need a model release

As a photographer, you want to showcase your best work on your website to attract more clients. As you grow, it becomes even more important to protect yourself legally. That’s where the model release form comes in.

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The model release form is an agreement between you and the model, which gives you permission to use the photos for your website, promotion, marketing, or any other place you’d showcase your work.

Having a signed agreement will protect you from a lawsuit that can arise in the future. Be sure to keep all of your signed documents in a safe place.

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Types of releases

The type of release depends on the number of subjects in the photograph and their age. Most model releases refer to a single adult, however, there are minor and group releases, as well.

If there’s a minor in the image, you’ll need a signature from a parent or legal guardian. If you’re photographing a group, you’ll need signatures from everyone in the photo.

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What to include in the form

A model release form can be as simple or in-depth as you’d like it to be. However, there are several things to cover to ensure you’re protected, and your client understands what they’re signing.

Make sure your agreement includes the following:

  • Model name, address, phone number, email, signature, and date signed.
  • Have a section for the parent or guardian to sign. This will allow you to use the same form for a minor.
  • Your name, signature, and date signed.
  • Shoot date, location, and description.
  • A witness or notary is recommended but not required.
  • Details about how the image will be used.
  • Who the rights are released to.
  • How long the rights will be in effect.
  • Information about fees.

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Frequently asked questions

Is a model release necessary?

If you plan to publish the image or use it for advertising, you need to have a signed model release. It’s not required if you’re only going to send the image to your client and not use it in the future.

Can you use a photo without a release?

You shouldn’t use a photo without a signed release because you can get in legal trouble.

What rights do models have to their photos?

Without a signed agreement, models have all of the rights to the image. When they sign the release, they’re giving you, the photographer, all of the rights.


Anytime you photograph someone and think you might use it on your website or for advertising, get a signed model release. Even if you don’t plan on using the images immediately, having a signed release form will allow you to use it in the future.

It’ll protect you from legal trouble because the model is releasing the rights to you. Be sure to include all of the necessary information and contact a lawyer if you need assistance.

More resources:

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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