Tip of the Week: When is a model release required?

Model release

If you feel a little unsure or confused about when to include a model release with your images, you are not alone. So, what exactly is a model release, and when do you need to supply one?

A model release is a legal document that needs to be filled out and signed by the photographer, the model (or the model’s parents if the model is a minor under the age of 18), and an independent witness. Handwritten signatures are required on all model releases.

You will need to supply a model release to indicate that the person you are taking a photograph of has given their consent for you to do so, and for you to use it as a commercial image. If a person is recognizable in your photo, then you need a model release. This is not only applicable when the person is facing the camera and their face is visible, it also applies to a person whose back is turned to the camera. Hairstyles combined with clothing can make a person recognizable.

We often receive images of people with no model release attached at all, or images of body parts that do have a release attached when it is not a requirement.

You do not need to supply a model release if your image only contains certain body parts; for example, legs, arms, hands, feet etc, unless those body parts have a recognizable feature such as a tattoo. Examples such as these would require a model release:

Back view on handsome traveler hipster girl with backpack and hat walking in forest among trees

Athletic young woman showing muscles of the back

Romantic couple in Paris near the Eiffel tower

Tattoo Arm

Images such as these below, which contain only body parts, or silhouettes where features cannot be distinguished, require no model release at all:

Environment Earth Day In the hands of trees growing seedlings. Bokeh green Background Female hand holding tree on nature field gra

Running sport fitness man. Close up of male legs and shoes. Man

Business hand shake with Chart sheet on meeting table

Freedom concept, Silhouette of happy person raised arms on bicycle in natural scene, Birds fly on beautiful sunrise or sunset sky

It may be tempting to think you can photograph strangers walking in the opposite direction at a public park, or a forest track, as long as their backs are turned to you, but this is not the case, they will require a model release unless they are extremely far off in the distance and completely unrecognizable. A good rule of thumb is to view your photo and think, "If this were me, would I be able to recognize myself?"

Hopefully this article provides some clarification. Happy shooting!

Photo credits: Siri Wannapat, Forkosmos, Ljiljana Turinski, Ekaterina Pokrovsky, Anutr Yossundara, James Kelly, Viacheslav Krisanov, Oleg Shipov, Sarayut Thaneerat.

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April 01, 2019


Thanks for sharing. This will help save time.

March 20, 2019


Good information, thank you!

March 20, 2019


Thanks for the information. What about old photos ? I found a very old photo in a book and would like to submit it. I also have one of my aunt whose long dead . Can they be submitted ? Only editorial ?

March 19, 2019


Thank you.

March 17, 2019


Very useful article, important information for those who start photographing and selling images!

March 14, 2019


Thank you for helping clarify what is often a problem.

March 14, 2019


Useful! Thank You Tamara!

March 13, 2019


Some photos are only ever going to be editorial; try getting model releases from 5000 people on Bondi Beach!

March 13, 2019


Thank you very much. I will certainly apply your advice. Best regards.Ivana

March 12, 2019


Thanks for the clarity on the issue. I was surprised once to have a photo rejected of a hiker walking down into the Grand Canyon. Even though it was his back, the model release was still required. But I suppose "better safe than sorry". Thanks! William

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