The Myth About Model Release Required

Rohn Engh

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As an editorial photographer, in most cases you do not need a model release. “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? -William Schledd


A: William, your question is very legitimate, and very familiar. The rule of thumb is that editorial usage (book and magazine illustration) does not require a model release; but advertising, promotion, endorsement usage always require a model release. It's understandable why there is confusion, when in spite of this, 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 feels they’re well-advised to check ‘yes’ in the query square that asks, “Do you require model releases?" Why? There are two main 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 can eliminate much time-consuming and expensive work reviewing tons of scanned images and CD's and processing and returning inappropriate submissions from window-shopping amateurs. And the editors have a legitimate case. Most amateurs are not familiar with their First Amendment rights and the fact 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 what's what, concerning editorial usage. They ignore the reference to model releases and submit their photos, with or without model releases.

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, from photographers who have educated themselves on what photo editors need and expect.

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, William. 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 particularly 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, and the content must match the photo editor's specific needs.

If a photo editor balks and does ask for model releases, even though it's for editorial usage- indicates the editor is a newcomer or inexperienced. Cross him/her off your Market List. There are some photo editors, too, who are not aware of their First Amendment rights. However, there are more than enough professional photo editors whom you can deal with who are aware of their legal rights - and have legal counsel to protect them (and you) if a model release question should ever come up.

Publishers fiercely protect their First Amendment rights. A policy of actually requiring model releases for publication could reduce the flow of quality photos coming into their publishing houses, which would greatly reduce their output, and might even put them out of business.

We deal with dozens of photo editors daily here at PhotoSource International, from small regional magazines to national book publishers. Rarely do they ever ask for a model release. If one does, it throws up a red flag to us as an indication that the photo editor is new to the field of publishing and might not know, not only their rights, but your rights as well. We avoid publishing photo requests from such an editor.

Learning your rights is one of the benefits of following the messages in the Kracker Barrel. I've met competent photographers who were unaware of their rights regards model releases and other legal issues, and consequently took years before they got squared away and took the step to begin publishing their photography. If you and others reading this message have, up to this point, because of confusion, essentially relinquished your First Amendment rights, I hope I've helped you to regain them. - Rohn Engh (Photographer’s Market, F & W Publicatations, 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati OH 45236. Phone: 1 800 289-0963. )

Rohn Engh, veteran stock photographer and best-selling author of “Sell & ReSell Your Photos” and “, ” has helped scores of photographers launch their careers. For access to great information on making money from pictures you like to take, and to receive this free report: “8 Steps to Becoming a Published Photographer, ” visit


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