Model release form VS Contract

March 6, 2020

What is the difference and why do I need it?

Yes, you need it and you also need a contract.

According to wikipedia : A model release, known in similar contexts as a liability waiver, is a legal release typically signed by the subject of a photograph granting permission to publish the photograph in one form or another. The legal rights of the signatories in reference to the material is thereafter subject to the allowances and restrictions stated in the release, and also possibly in exchange for compensation paid to the photographed. A model release is not needed for most photograph publication because of freedom of speech rights (which vary by country.) A model release is needed for publication where personality rights or privacy rights would otherwise be infringed.

In other words, a photographer can post your photo on their website, social media, basically anything they’d like. Are you cool with that? Then it’s not a problem. The problem usually arises when you are having custody battles, family feuds, maybe you are a celebrity, or having a job that is with the government, etc.. You get the gist of it. Usually if you just explain it, and this is not a free or discounted session for a portfolio building, it’s really not a problem.

HOWEVER, this is separate from copyright.

Again from wiki: Copyright is the exclusive right given to the creator of a creative work to reproduce the work, usually for a limited time.[1][2][3][4][5] The creative work may be in a literary, artistic, educational, or musical form.

The number one thing I see clients get confused about is that clients don’t know that they do not own the copy rights to your images. Your photographer does. Your photographer’s information is embedded in each photo. If you would like full copyright of an image, you normally would pay an additional fee plus you should have a written document stating that copyright is transferred to you. Therefore, if you change anything on that photo that you receive, like slapping on a filter, you can be charged with copyright infringement . I know nobody means to do it or do it to hurt the photographer’s feelings. You just think oh, this will look cute and change it. But that is disrespecting the photographer’s original artwork that he or she has produced. Isn’t that why you hired them anyway? For their style? So just be mindful! It’s your photo but the photographer owns it!

Copyright infringement penalties can be civil and criminal and include: Statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per piece of work infringed upon. Civil penalties of up to $150,000 per piece if willful infringement is found. Actual copyright infringement damages and profits obtained due to infringing activity.


Now a CONTRACT is separate from all of the above.

Photography Contracts protect both the photographer and the client. The contract outlines the agreements between the two parties such as payment and deposit details, how much time the photographer will spend on-site and editing, what happens if the event is cancelled, and more. (Info from SO why wouldn’t you want this?!

From my experiences, (I hire at least 1, sometimes 2 professional photographers a year for my own family photos) and below are 3 things I always do.

  1. Never ever put down a deposit without a contract/model release (They may be combined)

  2. Make sure you agree with everything before you sign.

  3. Make sure you read reviews and check to make sure they are in legitimate business. Not just a person with a camera shooting as a side gig.

    **DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer and I am not giving any legal advice. The information above is just copy and pasted from noted sites, and is my opinion as a experienced client myself as well as being a professional photographer. Therefore, I will not be able to answer any legal questions but feel free to contact me about my past experiences.


I hope it was somewhat helpful.

Have a great day! xo K


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