Friday, April 27, 2007

A "Friendly" Model Release

One of my long term goals is getting to the point where I can make some income on the side as a (portrait) photographer if I want to. Whether I'll actually pursue the semi-professional avenue, I'd like it to be open for me. Also, it gives me a long term goal to work towards, and everyone needs something to look forward to.

I'm at that point where I want to start building my portfolio and get some experience photographing someone not related to me. And a necessary part of that is writing up a model release to protect my rights and the rights of my models.

A long time ago in a land far away...

First, a little bit of back story. A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to photograph a stranger (more as an exercise than anything else). Of course, approaching strangers is a pretty scary proposition, but it is necessary skill to get photos since most good photos involve people and I only know about 0.0000002% of the 6.5 billion homosapiens crowding this planet. So, I brought my camera to work with me and spent my lunch break walking around looking for someone bored, not intimidating, and willing to be photographed.

It turned out to be a pretty terrifying experience... until I actually walked up to a young woman (who I'll call Emily) doing homework and asked if I could take her photo. Then it was pretty thrilling. That's the thing, as scary as that first step is, whether in public speaking, riding a roller coaster, or jumping off a diving board, once I'm in the moment the nerves fade away.

Anyway... Emily agreed to let me photograph her so we stepped under a nearby tree, chatted, took some pictures, chatted more, she took some pictures of me (she was also interested in photography, but didn't yet have a camera), and exchanged contact info. None of the pictures were groundbreaking, mostly due to my inexperience. But, ultimately I considered it a success and thought a few of the exposures really captured some of Emily's personality. I asked her if I could post them on my blog, and she seemed hesitant, so I told her I'd e-mail them to her first before I did anything.

Please note that I never mentioned having Emily sign a model release.

So, I got home, processed some of the images, sent them to her, and asked if I could post a description and some of the picture on my blog (without revealing any details). After a week, she got back to me and said she thought she looked 'pale' and did not want me to post them.

Now I was stuck in a position where I couldn't really post the images, and without the images, the description wouldn't be very interesting. Well, I probably could have posted the images legally, but ethically there is no way I can do that. So I put off responding to her and re-editing the images, and put it off, and eventually forgot about it.

You want me to sign what?

So, from that experience, I've decided that whenever I photograph someone not in my family that I may want to use later, I'm going to get a model release that explicitly states the rights of both parties.

The past month or so I've been (gently) asking my friends if they'd let me photograph them or their children and I have a few that are interested. Again, this is all for $0, mostly just experience and to build my (non-existent) portfolio. But I want to write up a model release anyway just to avoid possible problems in the future.

The basics of the release (in plain English, not lawyer-speak) are:

  • I deliver a CD with edited full resolution photos. The model would have full rights to print, post, e-mail, or whatever. But, no commercial use (they can't use them to obtain any payment).
  • I have copies of the (digital) negatives and I'd retain the copyright on the images.
  • I am allowed to use the photos for self-promotion (printed portfolio, online portfolio, or on my blog) but in a way that protected their identity (only first names, or even made-up first names).
  • I am NOT allowed to use the photos for commercial use. If I found someone who wanted to buy rights to a photo or I wanted to submit it to stock, I'd contact the model and renegotiate.
Remember, these are my friends -- it is not my goal to build a stock library with these photos. Mostly it will be their kids and I understand they don't want those showing up on a billboard extolling contraception.

If in doubt, find someone smarter than you.

I was going to write up a legaleze version of above (stealing borrowing from others I found on the web) but decided it might be better to ask around a little bit on the DPChallenge forums to see if I was missing something important. So I'll see what they say, and hopefully draw up some lawyer-speak in the next day or two.

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