View Full Version : Portrait project, do I need releases?

12th of February 2007 (Mon), 14:21
A few months ago I began planning and test shooting for a portrait project which I'll be focusing on this year. I'm hoping to create a series of quality, artistic portraits of interesting men and women and my ultimate goal is an art book and some gallery showings.

I was wondering if anyone has dealt with a case such as this and if so, if you could provide me with some advice on what sort of paperwork I need to process, if any. I won't be selling the images (for instance to magazines or as stock photos), but I might sell large prints and, of course, the aforementioned art book.

The people I'll be shooting are "regular folk", not models, just people whose looks I admire and find interesting. I'll be having them sit for some portraits and then the best will end up in the final collection. Obviously, not everyone will make "the cut", but for those that do, do I need signed releases? Would they need to be paid if the collection is eventually published and if prints are sold?

Any advice is much appreciated. I'd rather get the appropriate paperwork completed at the time of the sitting rather than trying to track down everyone again when the project comes to fruition.

12th of February 2007 (Mon), 16:50
I would suggest that you get signed releases and that you divulge the extent to which you plan on using these images. Once you go to a book publisher, they will probably ask you to produce signed releases. Additionally, if you tell your subjects that this is for your portfolio and then turn around and publish a book they may have the right to sue you for portions of the proceeds if you had misrepresented the use. I'm not saying that you would do that but only a word of caution.

Given that this appears to be a large project I would seek the guidance of legal counsel who can direct you on the appropriate wording for the release so that you get the optimum protection. It could very well be different in your jurisdiction than that of where some of us are answering from.

12th of February 2007 (Mon), 21:53
When there is any doubt at all, get a release. There's a sticky at the top of this forum that offers advice on the subject.


13th of February 2007 (Tue), 13:41
In general, you may photograph people when they don't have an expectation of privacy. If someone consents to be photographed, then there is no expectation of privacy.

The use of the photographs can be restricted due to certain privacy rights. The rights for a person to certain kinds of privacy are recognized in most states, but a bit differently for each one. It is, therefore, tricky to know what you can do. The safest approach is to follow the most restrictive one, hence the recommendation to obtain model releases for everyone in your pics. It certainly broadens their potential uses. It reduces the chance of being sued and likely will increase your chance of winning a lawsuit, but nothing is guaranteed.

One of the rights of privacy is known as the right of publicity. It is the commercial appropriation of someone's name or likeness. It happens when someone uses the name or likeness of another without consent to gain some commercial benefit. It usually occurs when a photograph of a person is in an advertisement, so you should get the person's permission to use their likeness in a photo which can be shown by a model release. Permission to use someone's name or likeness is not legally required for an editorial use. The tough thing is determining whether a use is editorial or commercial. But it is not decided by whether the photograph is sold or is given an award.

Some people in photographs sue the photographer despite the lack of legal need for a model release. Consider the recent case of Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew and retired diamond merchant from Union City, N.J. He sued diCorcia for use of his image in a photograph that was exhibited and sold. He lost the case despite it being against his religion to be photographed. In another case, a mother lost a case when suing for the use of her child's photo on a book cover when no release was obtained.

The scenario presented here likely would be deemed a fine art/editorial use, so no model release would be needed.