Model Release (Forms, Come on!)

If you’ve followed my two previous posts, I may assume you have a desire to dabble a bit in portrait photography.  What makes a better model than family, right?  Not so much.  Try taking a non-cooperative 3 year old and sitting him in front of a camera and explain emotion.  “Sit here, move your chin up, but don’t move your neck. Now, turn your body at a 45 degree angle, back straight, lean forward a bit and now give me your ‘Magnum’ look!” Don’t MOVE!!!!  Get back here Mister!  Yeah, who hasn’t had that nightmare.  “Daddy, I just want to watch cartoons!”  Uh huh…

Seriously, portrait photography is a desire you have.  You have seen so many photos on Facebook that professional photographers took and you decide you want to try to emulate those looks.  But, word of caution; take things slow.  Do not think you mastered an image just because lighting is perfect, model had a great pose, you had the best angle, or settings in camera were perfect and badda big, merit image.  I will admit I was impatient.  I wanted to get out there and make money fast.  Well, that’s not what this business is about.

The business of photography, be it hobby or professional, is the art of the image.  How you captured a moment in time that someone or an entire family will cherish for the rest of their lives and generations after that.  So, let’s not be in such a hurry, okay?  You’ll know when the right time to move forward, or out of the nest.  For the meantime, photography is a lifelong learning process.  You do not learn everything there is and go out and do it.  So, let’s get to it.

After the last post, you are ready to encounter a full-fledged photoshoot with designers, makeup artists, lighting assistants, set builders, and more?  Not quite.  Photography and portfolio building requires building relationships.  The reputation will build with the more people you work with.  We all have a friend who is very photogenic.  I want you to ask that person if they wouldn’t mind allowing themselves to be photographed.  You don’t have to perform a full-fledged photoshoot, just an informal process taking into consideration all the settings you learned previously.

(REMEMBER: Shoot in RAW!)

First thing you want to do is what I stated above, find a willing friend.  The next thing you’ll want to do is have them sign a model release.  “Whoa!  What?  I have to get all legal with a friend now?  That will ruin our relationship.”  No, having a model release will allow you to use those images for your purpose of marketing and protecting you from unnecessary lawsuits “if” a friendship turns south for any reason.  It is an essential permission slip.  You will need it for any shoot you want to set up.  If you are under 18 years of age, also shooting someone under 18 years of age,  and following this blog, you will need a model release signed by parents.

Where do I find this model release form?  Can I just Google it and copy and paste?  Certainly you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it is a LEGAL document.  Also, Google will not have a state-specific model release available for you.  (Each state does have its specific laws.)  The best place I can think of to get any legal document, would be from  TheLawTog Contracts.  Even signing up for new releases can get you a free contract.

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This is an old contract, still relevant information.  My logo, at least the majority of it, has changed to something more mature.  But, I digress.  There is standard language that protects a photographer.  You may annotate there is no pay involved and used for portfolio purposes only.  You will NOT sell the images without the knowledge of the model.  You have the right to publish any and all photos in blogs, magazines, books or other online resources.

You’ve gotten your friend to agree to sign a model release.  It really isn’t as difficult as I make it out to be.  I’ve never had anyone refuse to sign one.  Now, while this model release allows you to do just about anything and not require any permission beyond the signature to manipulate the photo or use it for what you want, I ALWAYS send a cursory email to the model asking if they mind.  I do not care just about my own well-being, but that of the models I work with.  It isn’t always about me.  I KNOW, it has taken me a couple years to get past that line.


During a not too long ago headshot and portfolio builder with a local hair stylist, I was able to ask a friend, Courtney, if she would be willing to have her hair colored and styled while I capture the work for said stylist.  She agreed and in return for this effort, I provided all edited photos from the shoot to her for her use.  That was my compensation for Courtney.  It is called “Time for Print” or TFP.  Some refer to it as trade for print.  Either is fine.  She provided her time and I provided her approximately six fully edited photos.

Not all model will agree to such agreement.  As a photographer, please do not expect it.  The rule is normally whomever contacts the other first, is offering payment.  For instance, if I contact a friend to perform a photoshoot, it is my responsibility to name the compensation.  I will preface most efforts that I do now as an informal shoot because I am taking 2017 off from my business.  Again, I digress.

My rule of thumb when contacting potential models is always be email.  That is the only proof out there that will show the sequence of thought, brainstorming, or coordination efforts.  When emailing models, be respectful.  It is not a dating effort.  It is a professional effort.  Most models are on Facebook or Instagram because it is all about the “likes” right? Wrong, it is all about the art of the image.  You are collaborating with people to create art, not babies.  Do not treat this profession as anything other than art.

The fastest way to ruin your reputation and your business is to flirt with any or every model that seeks you out or vice versa.  Please, this business is not about you, but our efforts as a collective.  We pass along and learn the art of photography.  If in doubt of how you should conduct yourself with models, you probably should not be in the business.  There is such a designation of “GWC”, which means a guy with a camera.  That is NOT a good designation to have.  AND, it gives the rest of us a bad name when trying to establish relationships with models.

If you are a model reading this, please feel free to comment on what else photographers should do to earn a professional relationship with you and how to keep it.




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