Model Releases in Poverty

This blog is dedicated to ‘Carmen’ one of our dear admins here, for inspiring me to write blogs again. Hmmm... Carmen why dont you write a blog soon on 'Cars' & 'Men' inspired by me :P hehe.

Though this blog is mainly useful for Indian photographer, it will also be useful for all photographers in the rest of the world who click the poor and poverty often.

Many times I have been asked by many photographers in India about how have I managed to take model releases from poor people. A recent comment again made me feel this will be a topic very useful on the same issue.

Take a time to browse through my portfolio. Apart from normal models who are either my friends and relatives, you will find a lot of poor people, especially what is called as ‘low-class’ or ‘below poverty line’ status in India. These people don’t have a structure which they call as house, but a permanent location where they stay without a roof. They normally don’t shift their residence as their businesses are area oriented. Some people might be making cane baskets,flags or toys, while some might be working in the same locality as a maid or washing cars.

Now let me explain a bit about the changed lifestyle of these people due to some technological factors which have targeted the rags as well as the riches. One basic thing is about the mobile phone market and their service providers in India. A cellphone which was considered to be a possession of only the rich is now also with the family head of someone who is a beggar. Courtesy – Lifelong Prepaid mobile cards which are available in the market for as low as Rs. 700 (Approx $20). These mobiles have a facility of free incoming calls and the card is valid every 5 years. It needs to be recharged after 5 years for a small amount, hence called lifelong. Now any person can easily afford such kind of a phone to stay in contact with their loved ones or from their employers/bosses.

The above information solves your problem about having the models address and contact number. Though the model might not necessarily have a contact number, their family head or someone who is earning the highest in the family surely has a cellphone.

Now let me speak about how to approach these people for signing the model release. I will take this up step by step –

1.Offer money, something like Rs. 50 for a model or their parent/guardian to sign the model release form. Decide your amount after analyzing the sale potential about what you want to click and also the financial status of the family.

2.We generally assume that people of this class will care the least to read the document before signing. Its not so. They are very aware of malpractices like this one. Even if they are not, its your duty to ask them to call someone who can read out the document to them. It is always good that you are not just right in the legal way but also good at heart. Personally, I don’t like to cheat anyone and if I want to, I tell in face and cheat.. hehe.

3.We also have a normal assumption that these people cannot sign. Many NGOs and Social Service people have taught many people of this class to write and read basic things, at least their name. All these people due to their earlier habit still use thumb impression for signature unless you tell them that they can write their name as a signature, which is a normal practice in banks here.

4.When you go on shoots to a certain place many times, try to befriend the rural people or anyone around. You might never know how will they serve you as a model later. Generally, when I am going around with my camera clicking even an animal, rural folks will gather in fascination to see what is this stupid man clicking? Or rather why is he clicking something that we see everyday. If you talk to them and explain them things they will like it. Now with digicams you can even show them the pictures you took. They might then want you to click their pictures. When they do so, tell them that you click pictures for an agency who sells them. If they still persist, tell them about the model release and get it signed.

5.Many times like in the above case, people argue of what will they get when the photographer and the agency is earning money from their pictures. These people normally never have their pictures clicked good, or rather from the vision we are trying to click them like. You can tell them that they are getting pictures for free. Generally, even after I give money I mail the pictures by post to many of them. And later I started handing them over myself. You will understand why when you see the smiles on their faces.

6.Being in social service or a job that makes u talk to people of any class and kind helps a lot. I am into music as a singer/composer as well as into charity. People of this class have either seen me perform somewhere or just know that this person dances like MJ. That’s enough for me to fascinate them. Due to charitable work, I talk to many people of the lower class for a lot of time.

My charity is more about discussing their problems and leading them to right people for solving it and seldom about handing over money for their needs. This establishes a trustworthy relation between you and them. E.g. There is a huge family each of whom I clicked. They leave on the side of a road here for years. Their business is making baskets of cane. I had once donated them a lot of clothes on a charity concert drive, and had talked to them a lot. When I was passing that place again, I stopped to say ‘hi’ and suddenly realized that I could click them. I explained the situation to a young man who was quite educated about all this. He then told about my requirement to all his family. Eventually, we settled on a deal of Rs. 50 per model and ofcourse donated them a lot of clothes again, but had a legal model release signed finally.

I hope a lot of the information above helps photographers who click poor people. Before ending I would like to tell an experience about ‘smile on the face’ of a person whom you hand the photographs to again.

I was on a vacation on a hillstation called mahabaleshwar. I was walking in the market when I came across a poor father and daughter selling corn. I told them that I would pay them for their pictures which they readily agreed to, but what they never expected from me was to send them their pictures. I visit this hillstation often so I decided to hand those to them personally. When I did, they were so overjoyed. They started requesting me to eat some freshly cooked corn from their cart. I initially say ‘no’ because they were giving it for free. Later I agreed realizing the situation that his son didn’t know all this. The father said that he will get the freshest corn for me stocked in his farm, and started running. When he was not there, I asked the son the price and gave him the money. The man later realized that I had already paid. Same happened with this cute boy you can see here. I found him in a village where I go for my yearly rituals. I gave him a lot of chocolates when I clicked him. Didn’t pay but got model release signed, because the villagers there respect me as I have donated computers to a school there. This year I went back again with an envelope of his pictures. His mom was almost crying when she saw them. Sadly I couldn’t meet the kid himself due to time constraints.

I hope you all have such heartwarming experiences more than money in any business you do. They will bring a smile to your face when you are ‘grey n’ old’ more than any kind of money would 



Photo credits: Nikhil Gangavane.

Your article must be written in English



Yes. I hope it helps you Rajhans. I have discussed the problem with DT admin many times in past and they have been very helpful with issues like tribes.


Hi Thefinalmiracle

Sorry for late reply. But this is a great article. Extremely useful for photographer like me with lots of photos of people who r under poverty but can not load here because I have no MRs. I hope DT understands our problem.



I am glad you found the blog useful. Wish you luck and success with your travel photography in future :)


Summer 2007 I traveled everywhere in China. My best photos are of children and the elderly in rural towns as well as some of the monks and Tibetan children. I am sad to say that these images will remain in my archives due to the lack of release forms.

Thanks for the insight, next time I go somewhere I will have the release forms with me at all times! you never know.


Thank you. But I really haven't understood what you mean apart from the words of appreciation.


good nice meets you .Welcome to my blog. The hope has you to like


The easier way to do it till DT officially gives chinese MRs is to type an identical copy which is translated and show it to them to read. Incase they need to confirm you can always look around for a person they trust knowing english. This happens here too. But I am sure that these days you can find 1 person knowing english among 10 in any part of the world


It's a long and very useful article which gives me many tips! I am a photographer in China, the problem I am encounting is most of models can't understand the MR document in English, I hope DT can provide a MR in Chinese. Another trouble is most of models are too alert to sign it, although you spend 10 minutes to explain it.


You are welcome!


thanks for the tips


Thank you. Wish you luck with your future photography that will expand a lot due to model releases.

Keep a watch for my next blog. There is something more that you might not wanna miss. God Bless



Hey Thanks Serban. You are reading it so late?


A very nice story, thanks for sharing.


U R Welcome :) Wish you the best for your new shoots ;)


Good information here... I have always wondered about this type of situation and generally have avoided taking pictures of people as a result. This will help me overcome that barrier. Thank you!!!


Now that you know how do I get model release signed, get your gear ready and shoot! ;)


Hey Rui. Thats so nice of you. Regards & Best Wishes


Thanks Robert!


Thank you for your kind words Brenda!


Thank you David. Thats great that you've been to India. The next time you come, come to Maharashtra and I will show you around :) Cheers!


It really helped...i was wondering how does he get model released signed from these guys...!!!! thanks for posting this....!!!


Thank you so much for your beautiful contribution.
In fact, this is one of the most useful articles I've ever read here at DT.
But beyond your evident sense of honesty, professionalism and willingness to help, this was also a very handy tip when considering local cultures.
Thank you very much.


Thanks for the great article. I am about to go to Mexico and found this extremely helpful!


Beautiful images, great to read such a great tip! Thank you, and thank you for your kindness :) You are an inspiration


Good work sir. Your pictures take me back to India - I've been three times. Mostly in Andhra Pradesh... always a part of me left behind when I leave. I've only gotten a few of my India photographs approved here on Dreamstime - perhaps more in the future.


Thanks a lot Maigi!


Hey Nikhil, I don't have words... I love the way you look at people and world around you. You have a great soul. Thank you very much for your article and please continue to write them, they are always mind-freshing to read. Thanks!


Thank you for the words of appreciation. Its really an honor to have feedback from a respectable person like you. :)


Thanks so much for this information. It is useful to anyone traveling in rural areas of the world. I appreciate that you emphasize and show respect to your subjects. These people have hard lives and it is good that your images can bring that to light in order to help in charitable causes.


o.k! thahks a lot...

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