Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review – A Digital Photographer’s Guide to Model Releases

This weekend I was out shooting in cold weather. Very cold weather at –20c (-4F) and luckily, on one-day, bright sunny skies and no wind. I did bring my beaver tail snowshoes but the snow depth was only about 6-8” in most places and I decided to just hike around in my big boots. I was hiking up to a rocky knoll that has a 40km (25m) view of the surrounding area. I was hoping something would show up. While I do stay in a nice warm cabin when not outside I don’t quite have the amenities (computer) to really see if I got any decent photos.

That is why I decided to do a review of a book that was related to photography during the quiet times when I was by the fire.

But first, a photograph since this is a photography Blog

disposable film camera and negative scanned

This is a 21 foot stitch-and-glue method sea kayak (Tred Avon) I built then my son and I are off the coast of Maine on the Maine Island Trail in the early 90s.

In hindsight, since I didn’t plan it that way (maybe subconsciously) but the paddles, right rock face and the background islands all create visual directions to focal point which is the positioned kayak.

A Digital Photographer’s Guide to Model Releases

While in Chapters bookstore one time for my regular routine of “grab a hot drink at Star
Bucks and a magazine or photography book” and sit at Chapters for a good read, I came across this book and decided to buy it.

As yet I haven’t had experience with model releases or other photography related licensing requirements but I do have almost 20 years experience with government contracting and therefore by extension contract law and particularly with rights and liability needs.

The book is written by Dan Heller, a renowned photographer with many years experience who has a blog Dan Heller.

Early on, Dan does a good job of explaining that law is not a mathematical formula applied to any situation but rather legislation and legal ruling may have overlapping coverage under model releases and therefore competing needs.

He actually explains this way better than I can.

I will briefly describe the 7 Chapters in the book.

Part 1: So everybody’s doing it. So what is right?
This chapter provides a basic overview of the model releases within the many photography usages as well as people’s misconceptions about the facts.

Part 2: What’s a model release?
This section describes, in layman’s terms, the legal structure (parts) of a model release and most importantly ties in the three views that impact a model release (Subject, Photographer, Publisher).
It addresses who is responsible for having and obtaining these model releases and it also discusses litigation that may arise from the different views.
Also how to think about the subject when running a business.

Part 3: Understanding Use
This section goes into a good amount of detail on defining what photo publishing means and an understanding of the various ways photos are used, such as editorial, fine-art and art work, commercial, satire and how the photographer acquired the image. Also, self-publishing and self-promotion.

Part 4: Analysing the Need for Model Release
This section helps you walk through the process of deciding factors and needs for a model release as well as analysing the risks for possible usages of a photo. It examines different obligations that arise from how the photographer obtained images and then ultimately conveyed related information to the publisher.

Part 5: Dissecting a Model Release
This section provides guidance on who owns photo (work-for-hire, commercial shoot, freelance) - your own model release and pitfalls with boilerplate templates. The creation of a simple release.

Part 6: Dealing with Photos as Properties
This section describes the legal need for, and many usages of, model releases for other than persons, such as buildings, trademarks. It provides guidance on how these objects can be used within photos and what situations require a model release for property.

Part 7: The Business of Licensing
This section helps you decide in your business life on when is feasible to obtain model releases


Because of the nature of this subject, and as Dan clearly articulates, it is not practical to give little tips on model releases here. There is a whole set of context that surrounds the need for a release that it is important to understand the guiding principles before you start interpreting an idea into your different situation.

The book as a whole is well written in every day language and provides many examples from the every day needs of photographers. It provides an adequate understanding of this very complex subject.

It won’t negate the need for a lawyer in complex or risky circumstances, but will help you understand better when such a subject matter expert is needed. It won’t make you an expert on the subject, as this whole field is just too complex.

As a photographer, Dan has included very many photos of every day people out and about across the whole globe. Many of the chapters have references to court cases that help to demonstrate issues. Dan brings a lot of practical experience to the many nuances of writing, obtaining, and using model releases.


Price $36 CDN, $33 US
272 pages

I would guess that about ½ is wording and the other are images with little sticky notes for emphasis of key thoughts.

If you plan to submit to stock images site or undertake commercial and even wedding photography then I would recommend this book as providing a good and well-rounded guide on the subject of Model Releases.

I enjoyed this book and will keep it as a reference on this subject. There were even a few paragraphs that I used the highlighter on.

Niels Henriksen

I have not received any monies or gifts from the author or any business related to publishing or distribution of the book.

1 comment:

Keri said...

Thanks for the review and recommendation. I had not really thought about the complexities of model releases but it seems like this is valuable information to have should I start to work with models.

Also, I love the kayak photo :)


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