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Photo Marketing Tip...

The Myth About "Model Release Required"

Text Copyright Rohn Engh
All rights reserved.

Note: Need the answer to a stock photography question? At our website, you'll find our Bulletin Board, called "The Kracker Barrel." Check it out. Our staff answers marketing questions; fellow photographers and our columnists offer their input and experience. The following is a typical exchange:

Q: In Rohn's book, "Sell & Re-Sell Your Photos," he says in Ch15 under 'Rights & Regulations,' that in most cases you do not need a model release. But I notice that in "The 2001 Photographer's Market," almost every listing says, "Model release required."

Can you submit photos without a release even if they say it is required? Would the photos still be considered for print? - Bill Sheppard

A: Bill, your question is very legitimate, and very familiar. The rule of thumb is that editorial usage (book, magazine illustration) does not require a model release; but advertising, promotion, endorsement usage always requires a model release. It's understandable why there is confusion, when so many editorial photo editors in the Photographer's Market directory, say that they need a model release.

First, it helps to understand it from the photo editor's point of view.

Photographer's Market is published by Writer's Digest, the same company that publishes my two books, "Sell and ReSell Your Photos," and ""

Any photo editor signing up to be listed in the Photographer's Market directory would be well-advised to check 'yes' in the query square that asks, "Do you require model releases?"


There are two reasons for this.

  1. Photo editors do not like to receive an avalanche of amateur photos. By checking the Photographer's Market 'model release' square with "Yes," they figure this can be a preventative measure for them. Their time is valuable.

    It would eliminate the time-consuming and expensive task of returning inappropriate submissions from window-shopping amateurs. And they are correct. Most amateurs are not familiar with their First Amendment rights and the knowledge that model releases are NOT required for editorial use. Photo editors, by stating that they require a release, are in effect eliminating extra work. The pro stock photographers know differently when it's involving editorial usage. They ignore the reference to model releases and submit nevertheless.

  2. Photo editors like their jobs. They choose to work with familiar and well-established stock photo professionals. But they're also always on the lookout for fresh new faces, with fresh material.

Photo editors who advertise in Photographer's Market can eliminate any legal hassle (imagined or otherwise) that might place their job in jeopardy, by checking the "Model Release" square to "cover" themselves.

Here's a secret, Bill. You'll find that photo editors at editorial markets will welcome any non-released photo that matches their current need (when they are going to use it for editorial purposes).

Since photo editors at most publishing houses rarely deal with advertising or other endorsement-type assignments, it's rare that they ever need a model release. If they do ask for a release, it's usually because they are working on a project of a sensitive nature such as drug abuse, mental retardation, sex education, etc. In those cases, it would be appropriate to ask for a model or property release.

You can test this "Model Release question" out by sending non-released images to a photo editor who declares in Photographer's Market that model releases are required. Of course, the photos must be top-quality images to start with, that match the photo editor's current needs.

Rohn Engh, Photosource International.

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