Model Releases For Microstock

One of the most questioned requirements in microstock photography is model or property releases. These can either be the bane of your existence in microstock, or just another step in the process – depending how you look at it and manage it.

My first few months in microstock were littered with image rejections due to inadequate model releases. This was frustrating and time consuming to say the least. However, after some research and multiple attempts at creating an appropriate release I eventually arrived at a straightforward approach which works well. First things first though…

What is a model release?

Remote Control Woman

Whenever you photograph a person and endeavour to sell the image certain legal implications arise. For instance, is the person agreeable to you selling a photo of them? Would they complain if they saw their image used on a billboard advertising a product that they don’t believe in? Do they even know you took the photo in the first place?

Microstock (and all stock) agencies are selling your images to clients and therefore will bear some of the legal consequences if the model decides to sue. Enter the model release. Basically, a model release is a legal document which states that the model consents to being photographed, and consents to the images being sold. It also designates that the model is not entitled to any further payment beyond the initial payment for the shoot. Further, they do not have any say in the way the image is used from that point onward (most agencies will not allow images to be used for extremely sensitive topics, such as escort services etc.) Finally, it indemnifies both the photographer and the agency from any legal action should the model get cranky in the future.

A release is required whenever a person is identifiable in the image. This can be a bit subjective, so the safest course of action is to include a release whenever a person is in your photos, even if they may not be easily identifiable.

A property release is essentially the same, but of course deals with an object rather than a person. It is a legal contract between you the photographer and the property’s owner, stating that you have the right to sell images of that property.

Can I use my own model release form?

Each stock agency will provide their own form for you to use if you wish. However, if you make one up that covers all the requirements for all the agencies then you only need to fill out 1 (or maybe 2 – read on to see about iStock) per model rather than 20. So yes, you can use your own model release form and I strongly recommend this.

The only catch to this that I have found is iStockPhoto. As usual, they are the pickiest when it comes to releases and require a new model release for each individual shoot. For instance, say you take some photos of your friend today in the park. Then you take some more in two weeks time in their home. iStockPhoto will require a separate release for each shoot, and for each model. So my standard approach now when it comes to photographing a model is to get them to sign my own generic release AND and an iStockPhoto release. They seem to prefer using their own release over a generic one, so this is the safest approach to get your images accepted.

Most other agencies are happy to use a model release perpetually. For instance, say you take a photo of another one of your friends today and get him to sign a model release. You upload the release and the photos, and then they get accepted. A year later you take some more photos of this same person. Generally speaking, most agencies other than iStock will be happy for you to just use the same release from a year ago. However iStockPhoto will require a new release even though it’s the same model. As our society gets increasingly more litigious I expect to see other agencies follow iStock’s lead and demand a new release for each shoot. Hopefully I’m wrong.

What should my model release form include?

Amazing HikingThe best approach is to download several releases from the big agencies (like this one from Shutterstock) and create your own release based around their content. Just make sure you include ALL the models details such as address (including country), phone, email etc.

Leave a little space somewhere on the page to include a little photo of the model as some agencies like this (but may not enforce it). Be sure not to include any other agencies logo or name on the release. If you have easy access to a lawyer, perhaps get them to check it over once you’ve finished it.

Specify the date of the shooting period as well as the date signed. You MUST include your own name and signature, as well as a third-party witness. This is a person (not you or the model) who certifies that both parties have signed and agreed to the contract. This person should be of legal age. Also, if the model was a minor then you will need the parents name and signature in addition to the witnesses details.

It’s also a good idea to make the release cover different forms of media, such as photographs and video. That way you can create multiple types of stock assets from the one shoot – and know they will be accepted.

Model releases sound like hard work!

They can be to begin with, but once you have your generic one drawn up and accepted by major agencies like Shutterstock and 123RF then life gets easier. Many of the smaller agencies are not very picky yet with model releases and as long as you attach a basic one it will generally be accepted.

In the end, stock photographs involving people will generally outsell those that don’t. So yes, the effort is worthwhile. Get cracking on that model release and start turning your friends into real-life models!

(Please don’t request my model release, as I have decided not to make it available to the public. I am not a lawyer and would hate to supply something to others that may be flawed in some way. The advice presented above relays the same methods I used to create my release form and should be sufficient for you to create your own. Thanks for your understanding.)