PREFACE: WE ARE NOT ATTORNEYS AND DO NOT OFFER LEGAL ADVICE. WE ARE ONLY SHARING BEST PRACTICES THAT WE HAVE USED INDIVIDUALLY AND COLLECTIVELY AS PHOTOGRAPHERS, ART BUYERS, EDITORS AND PRODUCERS.ULTIMATELY, ONE SHOULD CONSULT WITH COUNSEL. ALSO, THIS INFORMATION APPLIES ONLY TO COMMERCIAL IMAGERY, NOT TO STREET PHOTOGRAPHY, FINE ART OR PHOTOJOURNALISM.
There is an urban legend that adheres to the belief that taking a photograph takes part of ones' soul. I don't know about that, but I do believe that basic etiquette applies at the very least when taking pictures of people, animals, property, etc. that could ultimately be used commercially. In many cases, basic laws involving copyright, rights of publicity and rights of privacy also apply to these uses. At some point in your photography career, you will get a request to either sell, license or grant permission for someone to use your work. Getting releases in order will make that process a lot easier, and, ultimately can increase the value of your work.
First, from the point of view of the law and your of your subjects one is 'TAKING' a picture of the people and things in front of the camera. Asking for permission is only fair. Explaining your purpose and what the image may be used for AND memorializing the conversation in writing solidifies and further clarifies the intentions on both sides of the camera.
Why not get a release? in this digital age, the information attached to the image is as valuable as the image itself. Better to be safe than sorry. One rule of thumb is that if a subject can recognize themselves or the owner can recognize their own property, then a release is needed. We are conservative over here in this regard - recently a model brought her own stunning renaissance gown to a shoot. We had her sign a property release along with her model release just to be on the safe side.
Same with pet owners, home owners, small business owners and so on. You are probably not going to get a release from a big manufacturer or amusement park, so plan your shoot accordingly.
There are so many releases available. One good source that we use and that is vetted by many professional organizations is Easy Release. One can customize with one's logo and tailor usage as needed. Many trade organizations like the ASMP and PPA have releases vetted by their attorneys. Ultimately it is up to the photographer to familiarize themselves with all the language and understand what they are asking and what the release grants AND how the model is being compensated (prints? images? financially?).
A few pointers:
This is very general information and there is a ton more available to you in handbooks for photographers on the web and in your own communities. Better to get a release and make it part of your process. This gives you great control, creatively and professionally, to make your wonderful images!
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