Friday, August 31, 2012

Business Day Thursday: Answering the Mystery of Model Releases – When You Need Them and When You Don't

Good Afternoon Everybody,

DAZ Light setup1I know this is a Business Day Thursday post and it almost made it up yesterday.  I wanted to polish it up a bit more so I held off until today to post it.  I can't believe that it's Friday already. The week has been flying by. In addition to the regular workload at the studio, I'm also preparing for a big wedding this weekend and I'm also getting ready for Photoshop World in Las Vegas next week. I'm really looking forward to my wedding this weekend because I'm going to be giving my new lighting set up a real run for the money. If these little Canon speed lights work the way I hope they do, I will be amazed! Up to this point, all my testing indicates that all systems are go and that the new set up should work just fine. But, just in case I have any problems, I'm toting a complete set of the high-powered Quantum's along with me to be sure I have all the bases covered.

I'll have my top team on the job for this weekend's wedding including a visitor, Michael Houlden, from just north of Toronto, Canada. Michael attended my Spring Master Class and asked if he could join me on this weekend's wedding. Hey, the more the merrier. But, tagging along is not all he's going to be doing. While Nicholas is covering the peripheral events of the wedding, Mike is going to be my light man – it should be a great experience for him. I smile as I say that because with my new lighting Michael’s job this weekend, I suspect, will not be too difficult. I'll fill you in on all the details next week.

Photoshop World 2012bI'm also preparing for my three programs that I'll be giving a Photoshop World in Las Vegas. Even though I've given the programs before, there's always room for improvement. It'll be fun to catch up with our old friends  and also get another taste of Vegas. We fly out early Monday morning – Labor Day – so we can be there for the start of my Pre-conference Wedding Shootout Tuesday. We're quick in and out this year because we have to be back in town for a family wedding on Friday evening. That's going to make for a rushed week but, as LaDawn often can be heard saying; “Welcome to Ziser World!”

That's the update for today everybody – let's get on with Business Day Thursday.

Business Day Thursday: Answering the Mystery of Model Releases – When You Need Them and When You Don't

In my image of the day post on Tuesday, “Let’s Dance The Night Away” [link] one of our DigitalProTalk readers raise a question about model releases for this kind of an image. After I read the comment, I began to wonder about the importance of model releases myself. In my studio we have every wedding client sign a model release – it's part of the wedding  agreement that our clients sign when booking us to photograph their event.  In our agreement, the wording is quite simple and straightforward. Before the client signs our agreement, I review each section of the agreement and specifically point out the fact that they are giving us their permission to use their images in our marketing and promotions.

The clause reads like this:

"4.  It is agreed that rights to exclusive use of negative and/or electronic media  material and reproduction therefrom are reserved in David  A. Ziser Photography, whether for display, publications, or otherwise."

It Won't Make You Rich, But It Might Make You Famous!

I call it my "It won't make you rich but might make you famous" clause.  I mention to my clients that we may use their images in my blog or on our website or in various printed pieces  that we might design in the course of our normal advertising campaigns. I also let them know that I will notify them anytime that we use their photographs and be happy to get them copies of the publications in which their images may appear. This has happened several times over the years, particularly with our local city magazines. In fact, our clients love it when their photographs appear in these kind of publications. And, it's good advertising for us as well.

DAZ QuantumOccasionally I will get a call from one of my sponsors asking if they can use some of my images in their marketing pieces. Whenever we receive this kind of request, I always check back with my clients to be sure that it is okay that I use a a few of their images for national ad campaigns. Without hesitation, they always agree. If you recall, when I asked them to review the "it won't make you rich but it might make you famous" section of the agreement, this is the part that might make them famous ;~) Anyway, it doesn't happen very often but when it does, my clients are thrilled to be part of it and happy to know that their photographs are featured in a national trade publication or in national marketing and advertising promotional pieces.

Get The Model Release In Writing!!!

MallSo, you can see that model releases are very important at my studio. And I need to tell you that the model releases need to be in writing as well.  Several years ago a good friend of mine who runs an extremely successful studio asked his client if he could display one of their family portrait images as part of a small display at a local mall. The mother was thrilled that there image was going to be featured in the mall display and gladly gave verbal permission to my friend to exhibit the photograph.

It turns out that the father was not so accommodating. He called my friend and questioned him about the image being displayed at the local mall. My friend explained that he had the wife's permission to exhibit the photograph. The father quickly countered by asking, "Was that permission given in writing?" My friend answered, "No, it was a verbal okay to use the photograph. The father quickly objected and said that since there was nothing in writing he wanted fair compensation for  the use of his family's image in my photographers friends marketing.

To make a long story short,, because my friend didn't have written permission." It cost him $4000 in expenses to accommodate the irate client. It's a hard lesson the learn but, we really do need to be prudent when we display client images.

What Happens If I'm Already Famous?

Peter FramptonSeveral years ago guitar legend, Peter Frampton, was being married in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Yes, that Peter Frampton.)  Because of Mr. Frampton's celebrity status, all the arrangements were very hush – hush. One Saturday morning I got a call from a bridal consultant friend of mine who mentioned that she was  working  on the celebrity wedding but couldn't divulge the name.  She asked me if I might be interested in photographing the wedding. My curiosity was certainly piqued.  Eventually she told me that the secret celebrity was Peter Frampton.  I was thrilled to get the opportunity to bid the job.

I inquired further as to what happened with the other photographer Mr. Frampton had booked. She explained to me that Mr. Frampton had requested the other photographer to not publicize any of the photographs from the wedding. The other photographer insisted that since he was the official wedding photographer he had every right to publicly display the photographs anywhere he wanted and to use those photographs in all his marketing campaigns.  Mr. Frampton felt otherwise and pulled the job from that photographer.  That photographer, BTW, is no longer in business.

For me, I always try to accommodate my clients’ wishes. I set up an appointment to visit with Mr. Frampton and his fiancée while they were visiting in Cincinnati. We had a wonderful visit and he loved the photographs and albums I presented. I also knew that  I too would like to show some sample photographs of Mr. Frampton's wedding.  I approached the subject a bit differently though. 

My request for permission to use the photographs went something like this:

"Mr. Frampton, the vendors involved in your wedding are all thrilled and honored to be part of this wonderful event. A few of them have asked me if they could get copies of a small number of the images, say three at most, from your wedding to use in their marketing materials. In fact, I too would like your permission to use a few of those photographs as well. I promise you that I will not plaster these photographs all over Cincinnati, Ohio on every billboard from here to Columbus Ohio. What I would like to do is ask permission to use no more than six photographs very discreetly in some of our low-key marketing initiatives and our studio sample albums." 

He quite graciously agreed to my request and also honored my request to share a couple of images with the key vendors involved in his wedding. I think what he sensed was a fact that I was respecting his right to privacy and not overstepping my bounds in using his celebrity status to further my ambitions.  I have to admit, I used a couple of those images in one of my sample albums and that was as far as my usage went with Mr. Frampton's wedding images. We got some great images and Peter loved everyone of them!

I think it always comes down to respecting your client. We have to remember that when our clients are hiring us to photograph their wedding there doing more than that. They're honoring us by asking us be part of this very special day in their lives. It is incumbent upon us to respect the honor they bestow upon us.

Too many photographers are only in it for the quick buck - too bad. I think we always have to remember that the photography business is so much more than that. Our success is built upon the professionalism we bring to each and every job that we photograph. Our success is built upon the respect that we pay our clients and all the guests present at the wedding. Our success is based on the fact that we really acknowledge the fact that we have been honored with our client's booking us for their event.

But back To The Original Question

Let's Dance The Night AwayBut, I still haven't answered in question from our DigitalProTalk reader. Here I am, at another photographer's wedding, taking a shot or two that the photographer was setting up. Did I need a model release for that image? My research tells me that I was in the clear. Let me point you to an article that I think is one of the best that I've read on the subject of model releases. Here is the link right here.

Anyway,  Below is an excerpt from the article which shows that I am in the clear in obtaining the model release for my blog post.  I've highlighted the section that applies.

Model Releases and Privacy

No legal discussion would be complete without an exception. If you are invited or hired to take pictures of someone, say for a wedding or studio shot, the resulting images are protected by privacy laws. You can’t sell those photos EVEN FOR EDITORIAL USES without a model release. Much like attorney-client privilege, the established relationship between you and the client creates a responsibility to safeguard privacy.

This can create a strange situation, because this responsibility applies even in public places where other people might take pictures of your clients at the same time. Since they don’t have an established relationship with your clients, they CAN sell their images editorially without a release while you can’t.

The bottom line is this:  A model release protects you and your client.  It clearly outlines the photographer/client arrangement and client compensation when it comes to using the photographs for commercial purposes.  So, if you plan to use your client's wedding images in your marketing promotions, always get a model release and always get it in writing.

Hey gang, that’s it for me today.  I’m still twirling with activity getting ready for the big weekend and our trip to Las Vegas, NV.  Have a great rest of the week and I’ll see you at Photoshop World in Las Vegas on Tuesday!

Adios,  David



  1. One point that is almost always overlooked in these matters is, in the U.S at least, even if you're in the right, you can always be sued. See: - meaning you have to hire a lawyer to defend you in court. A good follow-up article could be, "Will business insurance cover the costs of a lawsuit?". (If you're in the right)

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