What Is a Model Release?

A model release form is a standard legal document between the model and the photographer. Essentially, it spells out how the photos will be used, releases the rights over to a client or company, and grants permission for them to be published.

If the model is a minor (under the age of 18 in most states), then the release form must be signed by a parent or guardian for it to be valid.

What’s Included in a Form?

Model release forms vary in terms of content, the level of protection, and legal jargon (some are easier to understand than others!), but you can typically expect basic information like:

  • The creator’s name, the model’s name, and the date the release was created.
  • Who the rights are released to. It is usually the photographer, but can also be the client, ad agency, or another company who wishes to own the photos.
  • How the images will be used. The model gives his/her permission for the photos to be digitally altered and waives any right to inspect/approve the final photo and associated ad copy.
  • Where the images will be used. This can be as vague as “any and all media” or can specify certain types of media, such as print advertisements, digital advertisements, billboards, posters, brochures, greeting cards, etc. It’s best when the release form specifies exactly where your image will be used (magazines only, for example). That way, you know you’ll be paid fairly for the amount of exposure your photo will receive.

The duration of the agreement (how long the rights are in effect for). It is typically one or two years, but can legally be any period of time.

  • Details on the fees paid to the model.
  • The model’s REAL name (and any pseudo names or stage names used), address, signature, and date.

Who Needs One?

A model release form is required when the photo is of an identifiable person and is used for commercial purposes, such as promoting a product, service, or idea through ads, posters, brochures, websites, catalogs, book covers, etc. Even if the photographer snaps the shot in a public place, they still need to ask the model to sign a release form!

Release forms aren’t necessary if the photo is to be used for educational/informational purposes, such as newspapers, textbooks, encyclopedias, or photography exhibits. Still, it’s wise for a photographer to ask the model to sign a release form just in case they wish to use the photo commercially in the future.