When to use a photo release form

If you take photos of people, places or things and publish them, you need permission. Understanding when to use a photo release form will save you the headache of copyright infringement issues.

by Crystal Everson, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

Photo release forms, also known as model release forms, are used when people, pets and property are photographed, and you, as the photographer, want to publish the images. In this situation, you need to obtain a signed photo release form from the subject of the photo (or, in the case of a minor, the parent or guardian) or the owner of the pet or property featured in the images. A photo release does not give you permission to take the photo, but rather to publish it.

When to Use a Photo Release Form Template

Requirements for publishing images

Anyone is allowed to take photos of anyone or anything in a public space. If the photo is for personal enjoyment, nothing else is required—you don't need a model release form or permission.

If you wish to publish or sell the photo, however, you will need a signed photo release form that documents that permission was given by the subject, guardian of the subject, or the owner of the subject in the photo. Publish means that the photo will be used for promotional purposes. Without a signed photo release form, any promotional and commercial use is prohibited. The essential elements of a photo release form include:

  • Full name of the subject or model
  • Statement that expressly gives permission to use their likeness in any digital media format (e.g., photo, video, website and other web-related publications) without payment
  • Right to digitally alter the image (if applicable)
  • Release of any and all copyright ownership or claims

Three types of photo release forms

You'll need a specific release form depending on who or what is being photographed. Understanding which form applies and keeping these forms close at hand will make the process pain free. Here are your options:

  • Model release form. If an adult is the subject, use this form.
  • Child/minor photo release form.A parent or guardian must complete this form if you want to publish a photo that includes a minor.
  • Property photo release form. To publish a photograph of someone's property—such as a private home, business location, vehicle, flower garden or even a pet—the owner must sign this form.

Photo copyright release forms

When you take a photo, you automatically own the copyright to that photo. However, if you are doing work for hire for a client, the contract might indicate that the client will own the copyright to any photos produced as a result of the contract. In this case, you as the photographer sign a photo copyright release form to document a rights transfer to your client. While this is always an option, it is not common.

Most photographers retain copyrights for all photos they take for clients and their own personal projects. You may give permission, by way of a license, for clients (or members of the public) to reprint, publish and use your photos through a permission to reproduce images form. In addition to permission, the use and reproduction of images owned by someone else usually requires compensation and is governed by a licensing agreement. Where, how and the duration of use are outlined in this agreement.

In short, a photo release form is like a photo publication permission slip. It is better to have a signed copy already on hand, even if publication of the photograph is not intended at the time the photo is taken. This will help avoid possible copyright infringement trouble later on.

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Crystal Everson, J.D.

About the Author

Crystal Everson, J.D.

Crystal Everson was admitted to the state bar of New York and has since retired from the practice of law. She holds a Ju… 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.