Photo Release Form: What It Is and When do You Need One ?

What is a photo release form?

A photo release form is a legal document that gives permission for you to use a person’s image in a photograph, video or other visual representation. It’s important to understand that even if a person agrees to be in your photo, they can always change their mind and sue you for using their likeness without permission.

People are often confused about the difference between a model release form and a photo release form. Model release forms are typically used when you want to use someone as an actual model for your product or service (for example, if you’re advertising a clothing line). A photo release form is used if you want to depict people in action (for example, if you’re making a documentary film). Both can be difficult to get signed by inexperienced subjects who are unaware of the importance of signing them.

When do you need a photo release form?

  • You’re taking photos of people, places, or things in public. You can take pictures of people in public if they are out in the open and are not trespassing on private property. You can take pictures of public buildings, streetscapes, parks and other places that are open to the public.
  • You’re taking photos for commercial purposes. If you’re selling something, whether it’s a product or a service, and want to use photos in your advertising materials, then you will need to get permission from each person who appears in those photos. This is sometimes referred to as “commercial photography.”
  • You want to use the photos for editorial purposes only (i.e., if you are an editor/journalist). Editorial means that someone else wants to publish your photographs or video footage in a news publication or online site (this does not include personal blogs). It does not include advertising materials such as flyers, brochures or posters unless they are part of an editorial publication (for example: a newspaper article about your business might include a flyer with your business information).
  • You want to use pictures of people on your website or social media pages.
  • You’re using professional models and don’t have signed releases from them (or their parents).
  • The person is recognizable in the photo and could be identified by others as someone they know (this includes babies). You may need to blur out faces if someone isn’t comfortable with the idea of being recognizable in public places or events where they’ve agreed to be photographed.
  • You’re taking photos of someone else’s artwork and plan on selling them online.
  • A friend wants to submit an image of you for their website or social media account but only if you sign off on it first.

What Is Included in a Photo Release Form?

The following is a sample of the most common provisions found in most photo releases:

  • Name of photographer(s) or company making use of images (and address if applicable)
  • Name of person(s) whose image(s) are being used (and address if applicable)
  • Description of type of media that will use photos (print ads, magazine articles, etc.)
  • Description of how photos will be used (e.g., print ads only; no website usage allowed)