Working with kids and model release forms

Do you plan on publishing photos of subjects under the age of majority? If so, you need a model release form to protect yourself from liability. Here's what that form should contain.

by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

If you're a photographer who plans on working with children, you should know about model release forms for minors. A signed model release form grants you permission to publish images of another person for commercial purposes. This is particularly important when working with kids because of the laws that protect the privacy of minors.

Photographer showing a little boy and girl photos on his camera, while the children's parents sit in the background

When you need a model release form

If you don't plan on using your photos for commercial purposes, you don't need to have your subject sign even a simple model release form. However, if you do use the photo for advertising or business-related reasons—which includes anything that would be considered promotional, even if no money exchanges hands—and the person depicted in the image is identifiable, you need to have a signed photography model release, also called a commercial model release form. For example, if you create an online advertisement for your business and a minor is in the photo, you need a release form for the child.

The concept behind this requirement is that everyone—even minors—is entitled to a right of publicity, which is an individual's right to control their own likeness and to stop others from using it commercially without permission. State laws vary on this topic, so it's important to know the legalities that govern you and your subjects.

Photography for artistic purposes, however, generally does not require model release forms because an artist's First Amendment rights tend to trump an individual's right to control their own image. In Indiana, for instance, “original works of fine art" are exempt from requiring a subject's permission.

Notably, taking photographs at public events or on the street do not require model release forms, so if you are at a fair with lots of children in attendance, you do not need to seek out model release forms for everyone who appears in your photographs.

Special rules for minors

If the subject of the photo is under the legal age in your state, usually 18, you must also obtain the signature of the model's parent or legal guardian. Ideally, you should seek the written consent of both parents on a child model release form to avoid future conflicts between parents regarding the permission to use photographs of their child.

If you have a minor subject, a standard release form will suffice in most instances. The main concern is that the document is clear that, according to the laws of your state, the parent or guardian may sign on behalf of the child.

Standard model release form

A model release form doesn't have to be complicated so long as it communicates the subject's permission for their image to be published in certain ways. Generally, a standard model release form grants the right and permission to use, reuse, publish, and republish content, including images of the minor. The language may include the types of mediums, such as print or online, that are included.

The release also often waives the right of the subject to review or approve finished products related to the content and releases the photographer or organization requiring the release from any liability in connection with creating or publishing the images. An expiration date for the release may be included as well.

Even if you're not sure whether you need a model release form, it's still a good idea to get one—just to cover your bases. If you still have questions, you may want to consult with an experienced attorney or online service provider to make sure your model release form protects you from potential liability related to your photographs.

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Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

About the Author

Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

Freelance writer and editor Michelle Kaminsky, Esq. has been working with LegalZoom since 2004. She earned a Juris Docto… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.