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Business Resources

Property and Model Releases

21st Century Worries: Digital Editing, Sensitive Subjects

In recent years, two changes have come to pass, one technical and the other social. Both require special care in the wording of your releases.


Digital manipulation

It used to be said that “the camera cannot lie.” No one says that Photoshop can’t lie, however. Nowadays it is routine to alter colors, morph shapes and assemble scenes by compositing portions that were separately shot. Your release should state that the subject gives permission for this to occur.


“I hereby release Photographer from any liability by virtue of any blurring, distortion, alteration, optical illusion, or use in composite form, whether intentional or otherwise, that may occur or be produced in the taking of such photographs or in any subsequent processing of them.”

We’ve included a version of the above language in our general Adult and Minor model releases, because Photoshopping has become a normal aspect of advertising photography. But that’s pretty broad language: It allows every conceivable digital effect. Depending on the model’s concerns (and the client’s needs, of course), you may need to accept certain limits on the digital reworking that may be done. For instance,


“However, this compositing or distortion shall be done only by Photographer or by persons working under the direct supervision of Photographer, and it will be limited to images and image components that are photographed on the same day.”

If you need the “however” part and you are using a pre-printed release, you can hand-write the extra sentence, and both you and the model can initial and date the change.


There’s nothing magical about this particular set of limits. If you and the model have reached a different agreement on what may and may not be done, you should write it down in plain language. If it’s a short statement, you can write directly on the release. If it’s long, write it on the back or on a separate sheet of paper, and on the front, put a note that refers to the extra material. (Get the model to sign the extended statement and initial the note.) That way, the deal is recorded and there’s less chance that you will later be accused of doing what you promised not to do.


Sensitive uses

There are certain subjects about which many people have concerns about being associated. Typically, they are subjects related to sex, religion, politics and health. In some cases, appearing in the “wrong” ad campaign can spell ruin for a model’s career. For those reasons, if you are going to use a photograph for any purpose that some people may find discomforting, offensive or even distasteful, you should make sure that your release specifically authorizes that use. Since the nature of that kind of permission is specific, having a general authorization to use images for “sensitive uses” would probably not be effective.


Instead, when needed you should insert language similar to the following, on an as-needed, case-by-case basis, filling in the blanks and changing words like “suffer” to fit your particular situation:


“I understand that the pictures of me will be used in public-service advertisements to promote AIDS awareness. Knowing that such advertisements may intentionally or unintentionally give rise to the impression that I suffer from this disease, I nevertheless consent to this use.”

Your licensing agreements should contain language that disallows using your photos for any sensitive subjects except those specifically identified. You would then grant such permission only where you have a model release that covers that use.


Where to go next

  • If you are shooting places and things, rather than people, you can read up on property releases.


  • If you are curious why these releases are written the way they are, here’s a short overview of the language of law.


  • Cut to the chase: Choose which release is best for your needs.


Next: Using Property Releases