The Essentials of a Model Release Form Template

So you’ve scheduled a photoshoot with a model and you’re wondering what releases you need. The model release form is essential to protect photographers from liability claims. It’s also required in order to license your work to a third party.

It’s important to know the difference between a model release form and a photo release form. In this article we’ll break down the different forms and give you the most common templates, for free!

We’ve got you covered.

What is a model release form template?

The model release form is a basic contract outlining the agreement or offer between the model and the photographer. A model release allows the photographer to use the photos promotionally or sell the photos commercially.

Always obtain a model release prior to shooting, regardless of whether the model is paid or unpaid. Even if you don’t have any plans to license the photos, an opportunity may present itself well after the shoot. To prevent any issues, get the release before you start shooting on the day. Trying to secure a model release after the fact can become problematic.

What about photography in public places?

In the United States taking pictures in public is a protected right. Privacy is not guaranteed to anyone in a public place. The exception is that you cannot sell a picture commercially without a model release. So, if you took an amazing picture of an ‘accidental model’ in public, get a release signed.

Lifehacker has a great article on shooting in public called ‘Know Your Rights: Photography in Public.’

When photographing groups of people in public, the same rules for commercial use apply if the person in the group stands out in the photo as “identifiable” due to their unique look, dress, tattoos or other distinguishing characteristics.

If the photo is used for anything that can be considered defamatory, offensive, scandalous, harmful or portrayed in a false manner then any identifiable person in the photo can sue you. But only if you did not get a signed release. And you also can’t shoot a group is enjoying a private event in public (i.e. wedding, birthday party etc.) they have an implied right to privacy.

Things you should consider in your model release form.

Let’s discuss two clauses that are often overlooked: digital manipulation and sensitive use. The former should be included in any modern contract, while the latter should be incorporated on a case-by-case basis.

Digital manipulation clause

Digital manipulation is any change made to a photo in post like retouching, for example. Especially when the ‘photoshopping’ alters the model’s physical traits.

I would venture to say that no photo commercially distributed today is without digital manipulation. For this reason, this clause should be included in all of your model releases to both protect yourself and those that license your photos.

Sensitive use

Sometimes you’re hired to shoot a model for a photoshoot with a sensitive topic. The photos or campaign could deal with topics like suicide, racism, sex, politics or religion, etc. Including a sensitive use clause will protect you from any claims raised by the model for loss of work down the road.

Sensitive use cases are naturally subjective. They’re hard to define, and differ from place-to-place. Think globally, and you’ll see the possible variance.However, it’s never a good idea to blanket authorize sensitive uses. Always use your best judgement.

To license an existing photo for sensitive use, go back to the model with an amended release that outlines the proposed usage and get a new signature.

Here is an example of complete language from the folks at the American Society of Media Photographers.

“I understand that the pictures of me will be used in public-service advertisements to promote AIDS awareness. Knowing that such advertisements may intentionally or unintentionally give rise to the impression that I suffer from this disease, I nevertheless consent to this use.”

Language and enforceability

Make sure that your chosen release forms take your specific business and future interests into consideration. You must also take the legislation of your country, state or city into account when drafting or delivering contracts.

See ‘4 Things to Consider before Signing a Film Contract‘ for more information. Always review the contract language with an attorney. Then determine your template and how you will store your files.

Is a model release the same as a photo release form?

The short answer is no, they are very different. The model release is signed by the talent so the photographer can license or use the image.

The photo release form, also sometimes referred to as photo consent form or photo copyright form, is a document signed by the photographer. The signed form is given to the on-camera talent or model and grants them permission to print hard copies of the photos (i.e. portraits, headshots, or wedding photographs, etc.).

Remember, the photographer inherently owns the copyright to all of their photos (unless they sign an agreement that specifically relinquishes their ownership, which is rare). Even if you sign a photo release for printing, it does not mean the client can sell the photo to another party, because the photographer still owns the copyright.

Here’s a another example to illustrate. Let’s say you shoot headshots for a struggling actor. They sign a model release and you provide them with a photo release for duplication purposes. Years later, after a successful show they want to sell the photos as posters on their website. In order to do so, they would need to provide you with a licensing fee or they would be violating your copyright.

How to administer your photo & model releases

Once you have locked the language and format, you’ll want to have your releases readily accessible. It’s up to you whether you print hardcopies or use an electronic format.

Prep your paperwork ahead of time

Have your models sign, before they even go into make-up. If a model refuses to sign after a day of shooting, the work is lost. Print multiple copies if you are using paper. People make mistakes and often need to start over.

Remember to bring extra copies when going out into the field. You never know what you may capture unexpectedly. Make sure you can release the photo, in case you do get something ‘great’!

Make sure all information is legible

The wording of the release is important, but so is the information that is captured. Always make sure that all the models info is easy to read — especially when it’s handwritten.

Because phone numbers change more often than emails addresses, we collect emails addresses on our provided release templates. If you don’t require an email address on your releases, add it today.

Or just download one of the provided releases, below.

Associate each release with the photos from the shoot

You’ll need to know which releases cover which photos, sometimes months, years or decades after a shoot. The best practice is to keep the thumbnails or proofs from from the shoot with the release in your files.

Consider creating electronic files

A lot of photographers scan the original and manage only electronic files. Plan to retain copies of every executed release indefinitely. For greatest ease, make the proofs and release a single electronic document. That way when someone wants to license a photo from you — you’ll know exactly which release to send.

Utilize email to establish a record

Always countersign, scan and email a copy to the model after every shoot to generate a legal record through email trail.

Make email your preferred method for all communications. That way you create a permanent record. And you have a signed copy you can reference if your computer or backup ever crashes.

Organizing your release forms & documents online

StudioBinder makes is easy to keep important files associated with the original project. You can keep your model release and photo proofs together in the same folder or document.

It’s really nice to have your documents clearly organized, accessible from anywhere and at your fingertips. Learn more about production management and document storage in the cloud.

StudioBinder is Free to Get Started.

Licensing your work to a third party

Licensing fees are generally a percentage, based on the overall proposed distribution. The greater the reach, the higher the licensing fee is overall.

When licensing your photos to a third party, the other party may provide an agreement. If not, include your own language in your invoice. Whether you supply the contract or not, it’s a good idea to have an attorney review any documents prior to signing.

Here’s a great ‘4-part guide on Pricing for Commercial Photographers‘ from our friends at Fstoppers. The final piece is a comprehensive article on licensing and will provide sample licensing language.

Talent or Model Release Form Download

Just remember, shooting people in public is allowed without a release, just not for commercial use. So if you want the most options to sell the photo, have them sign the a simple model release form.

For the reasons discussed earlier, we’ve included a digital manipulation clause in our model photo release form template.

Download PDF

Simplified Model Release Form

This simple model release form is a shorter version of the above. This is a great option when requesting signatures from people in public as the language is not intimidating.

Download PDF

Photo Model Release Form for Minors

If you are shooting a minor, you must have atleast one legal guardian available for approval. There are restrictions for shooting with subjects under age 18. In the U.S., meals, breaks and hours are tightly regulated. If you are unsure, contact your permitting office for requirements when shooting with minors or children.

Download PDF

Photo Release or Photo Consent Download

Provide this release to grant the client with permission to print copies for a model’s book, comp and zed cards, or websites. A signed photo consent form is required by all professional print shops when the customer is the model and not the photographer.

Simple Photo Release Form

The simple photograph release form template with no requirements or restrictions.

Download PDF

Simple Restricted Photo Release Form

This is a release with restriction requirements (i.e. watermarking, website or photo credit).

Download PDF

We love to provide resources and templates to photographers!

Just please remember, this article should be construed as informational, not legal advice. StudioBinder does not provide or offer legal advice to its readers. StudioBinder, its editors and authors will not be held responsible for any legal issues the reader might encounter based on the subjects found in this post. As always, we recommend you consult a legal expert for advice on release forms and agreements. This disclaimer assigns you, our readers, all responsibility for your own decisions.

We hope this article is helpful in providing a better understanding of model and photo release forms. Make sure to also check out our free booking sheet template. Our booking sheets organize info like paperwork status, contact details, rates, availability, kit fees, props and much more.

Do you have any tips you want to add? Please share in comments, below. Questions are always welcome.

Originally published at on June 5, 2016.

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