Whether you're an amateur or professional photographer, you're free to take photos and video of people or pets in public and to use their images if the subject isn't identifiable or if the work is for artistic use. Once you use the photo or video for other purposes, such as promoting a product, and the subject is identifiable, you've violated the individual's right of privacy. To use a photo with their likeness, you need to obtain a signed photo release form.
Overview of a photo release form
A photo release form is a document that creates a contract between the photographer and their subject. It allows you to publish a photo without worrying about repercussions such as lawsuits for invasion of privacy.
Standard photo releases, which also cover other works such as videos, may include compensation to the subject of the photo, but often, unless the subject is a model who needs the photographs for their portfolio, the subject usually isn't given anything in exchange for the use of their likeness.
Using a photo release form
Photographers, videographers, and companies that hire such professionals need photo release forms if they plan to use a person's or pet's likeness for selling their product, promoting their website or business, or advertising an event.
The best practice is to use a photo release form in almost all cases unless you're taking photos or video for a news story about a public event, as individuals are not entitled to an expectation of privacy if they are in public. The right of privacy, also known as the right of publicity, doesn't prevent you from taking the photo unless you're photographing someone inside a private home or even inside their car. What the right of privacy prevents is publishing the photo without permission—which is where the form comes in.
Even if you think you'll never publish the photo for commercial purposes, your needs may change. Be safe rather than sorry by using a photo release form just in case you later decide to use the photo or video for commercial use. Having the signed form could protect you from a lawsuit down the road.
How to write a photo release form
A photo release form, sometimes called a model release form, is a relatively simple document that gives you consent to use the subject's image in any way you see fit, including altering the photo.
A photo release form usually includes:
- Name and address of releasor, or person being photographed
- Name and address of releasee, or your or your company's name
- Releasor's consent for you to use their image in digital form or in print-based media
- Releasor's consent for you to alter the work and waiver of their right to inspect the photograph before you use it
- Whether the releasor is getting paid by or otherwise receiving something of value, such as a copy of the work, and whether the releasor is entitled to royalties
- Releasor's consent that the work belongs to you and not to them
- Releasor's waiver and release of all claims, disputes, and lawsuits they may have against you, your agents, and your heirs for publishing the work, now and in the future
- That this agreement is the entire agreement between both parties
- Releasor's acknowledgement that they have read and understood the release and have signed it of their own free will
- Signature of at least one parent—although it is ideal to get both—if the subject is a minor
- Names of releasor and releasee, along with both signatures
- Date the releasor signed the photo release
Photo release forms can protect you from future lawsuits or threats of lawsuits. When in doubt as to how you'll use the photo or video, err on the side of caution and have the subject sign a photo release.