In my 15 years as a professional photographer, I’ve always insisted on having my model releases signed off before I start shooting – particularly when there’s paid talent involved. That way, both my client and I are legally protected and everyone knows where they stand regarding ownership of the photographs before the first frame is shot.

For those unfamiliar with the world of professional photography, it is the photographer who owns the images under international copyright law, unless otherwise agreed to. In my case, I license my images to tourism authorities to use for promotional purposes, with very few conditions attached.

In all this time, it’s never been an issue….. until a recent assignment.

Allow me to pass on a lesson to any photographer keen to travel this road.

As usual, I despatched my standard model release (the same one Getty Images uses but with my name on it) to the two models well before the shoot started, making it clear in my correspondence to the talent its signing was a pre-requisite for the assignment. But when we caught-up in the destination ready to start, only one of them had signed the release. The other said she’d provide it “shortly” and,  having just met, I had no reason to doubt her word. But, as the four day shoot unfolded, I became increasingly concerned, reminding her daily to the point of it becoming uncomfortable for everyone involved in the shoot if I persisted. But to no avail.”You have nothing to worry about,” she kept insisting, “You will have it by the end of the week – I promise.”
As you might guess, that proved not to be the case and I was subsequently informed through my client via her management agency that unless I agreed to re-issue the model release with modifications that impeded on my rights as the photographer, it was never going to happen.

Despite the fact the photographs were of little commercial interest to me, it was personally disappointing but, more importantly, it reflected on me professionally as my client needed to be made aware of the impediment which I’ve always believed was my responsibility to prevent. Still, I reasoned, it could have been worse. I could have captured the best photographs of my career and never been able to use them without the talent’s consent or my client may have been prevented from using the photographs altogether (apparently, the agency has given the tourism authority permission to use the images, though still no agreement has been signed).

In hindsight, it was my fault; I should have ensured the release was completed beforehand or, having sensed there was an issue, I should have suspended the shoot until it was resolved. Instead, I acted in good faith and I was let down.

The bottom line: No exceptions; Get your model release signed-off before the shoot starts.


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A successful promotional photograph starts with knowing what you want it to say and who you want it to appeal to - before you even bring the camera to your eye.




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