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The Legal Paige - When You Do and Don't Need a Model Release

When You Do and Don’t Need a Model Release

First off, what is a Model Release Form?

A model release is a type of contract between a photographer and the individual(s) that is/are the subject of the photograph. This contract, signed by both parties, gives the photographer permission to publish the photograph as defined by the terms of the model release. Model releases are typically seen for any commercial use of photos. They are also extremely common for photographers who share their work on their websites and social media accounts.

The two most important things to consider when deciding whether or not a model release is needed are (1) if the subject of the photo (an individual) is identifiable in the photograph, and (2) if the image is being used commercially, editorially, or on any publicly viewed forum.


Generally, if you are shooting a public area (like street photography, or landscapes) you do not need a model release. This varies state by state (California’s laws are different for example, because of paparazzi). Always check with the state you are in to find out the exact privacy laws you must follow!

Using Portraits on Social Media

Generally, if you are only sharing photos on your social media accounts, you do not need model releases.

I recommend, however, that you do get a model release from every single client you shoot! Why? Because it is EASY and a great way to protect yourself in the future. Like I say, better safe than sorry.

Pro Tip: Include a model release clause in your photography contracts that allows you permission to use any photos from those photo sessions on your social media account. Because you are already having your clients sign a photography contract, it is super easy and good practice to include a model release clause and talk to your clients about why you included it.

Using Portraits in Your Portfolio or Website Portfolio

Generally, you do not need a model release for photographs you publish on your website portfolio or use in your photography portfolio. There are some exceptions, however. If you are posting these photos on your website in a way that advertises for your business or asks others to pay for your services, you should absolutely have a model release!

Any use of photos that may be considered ‘commercial’ in nature in a court of law should have a model release. Again, better safe than sorry, so I recommend you include model releases if you have any desire to use the photos for your photography business’ advertising or marketing.


Using Photos of Someone as an Advertisement

You definitely need a model release for any commercial use of photos that promotes your service in an advertisement or for marketing. The reason behind needing this model release is using photos for advertising puts you at risk of being sued under privacy laws if you didn’t have the photo subject sign a model release contract with you.

Using Photos in a Way That Could Make Someone Think The Model Endorses Your Business

This is very similar to the point above, but I recommend you get a model release for any photo that could be construed as endorsing your business, even if you didn’t intend for it to be an advertisement. An example being placing text on a photo may not seem like an advertisement to you, but could potentially be considered an endorsement in a court of law. Anytime you enter the gray area with using photos, get a model release!

Pro Tip: Even when you are working with friends and family, get a model release from them! This may seem silly and unnecessary, but in case a family feud ensues, you don’t want your business to be in jeopardy of a lawsuit.


If you have the intention of making a profit from your photography, I recommend you get into the habit of obtaining a model release in almost every photoshoot scenario!

GOOD NEWS IS…. I HAVE A FREE MODEL RELEASE CLAUSE FOR YOU!!! Just simply click HERE and you’ll be able to have a clause that you can easily plop into your photography contracts!


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