Photo Release Form

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A photo release form may be a legally binding document that businesses and photographers should use when they work with models of any kind. It provides the business or the photographer the legal right to use the image or likeness of the image with or without identifying the model. It also includes language that states that the model will not receive any further compensation for use of the image. Because a photo release form may be legally binding, it is important to read it and understand its contents before signing it.

What is a Photo Release Form? 

A photo release form is used to secure the use of an individual's likeness either with or without noting their identification along with the image. This likeness is typically in a photograph (including those taken by amateur photographers). An organization, photographer, or website may use this form in order to ask an individual for permission to use a photo of the individual.

For the photo copyright release form to be properly completed, it must include information about both parties -  the organization that wishes to use the photograph and the individual represented in the photograph. The individual will need to make a sworn statement allowing the organization to use the image. Before it is official, it must be signed and dated. It's often helpful to provide blank spaces, such as "print name" and "phone number," to lead you and the model through the completion process.

When Do I Need a Photo Release Form? 

Photos used for informational or education purposes, such as photos placed in newspapers or textbooks, generally do not need a signed photo release. However, any photograph used in a website, ad, poster, greeting card, brochure, kiosk display, trade show, digital media, purchase by an art patron, or other commercial purpose requires a photo consent form. Commercial purposes include the sale and promotional use of images. This is true even if the photo itself generates no direct revenue. For example, if a photo goes up on a blog for a professional photographer (or even an amateur one), it can be considered commercial use because you are showcasing your work. Whether this interpretation is backed by law varies from state to state, but generally speaking it’s considered a best practice to use a photo release form template in place to save yourself from potential legal trouble.

Strictly speaking, you do not need to use a release form for “fine art” usage. However, since the gap between “fine art” and “commercial use” is ever-shifting, you can’t really rely on this concept at its face value. Further, if you’re taking photos that are risque, for example, nude photos, it’s a good idea to have your model sign a photo release to ensure they likely could not succeed in a lawsuit if they filed one because of your use of the image for a lawful purpose.

Here is a checklist to help determine whether you should use a release form:

  • Is the person clearly the subject of the photo?
  • Can you foresee the photo being used for any commercial use, either immediately or eventually?

If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” you need to put a simple photo release together.

The Ultimate Legal Guide for Photographers

By FormSwift Editorial Team
July 19, 2018


Photographers are often confronted when they’re taking photos. The confrontation may take place between the photographer and private citizens or even with law enforcement. You may be told to stop taking photos or you may be told that you have no rights to photograph the area or the people. You do have rights as a photographer that you should know about. Read this guide and keep it for future reference to protect yourself as a photographer.

Legal Considerations

The General Legal & Accepted Rule for Photography

If you’re in a public space, the general legal and accepted rule is that you may take photos in that area. For private venues or events, you may take photographs provided that you have the permission of the venue or from personnel who organized or managed the event.

Sidewalks, streets, and public parks are considered public venues. If you’re on private property, you should get the permission of the property owner if you’re going to physically be on the property. However, there is no legal issue with taking photos of that private property from a public area.

For instance, while you would need permission to stand in your neighbor’s front yard to take a photo of their prize winning rose bushes. You would not need their permission if you stood on a sidewalk, across the street on a different sidewalk, or if you were in the road to take a photo of that same rose bush. The key that determines whether or not you need permission isn’t in the fact that the rose bush is on private property. It is where you, as a photographer,  are physically located. With that said, it is very important that you abide by any stated legal statutes, ordinances, or rules of the area.

When in Doubt, Get Permission

If you plan to take photographs of anything located on private property, don’t simply rely on where you will or won’t stand. When in doubt, get permission from the property owner. This one small act can help prevent any misunderstandings or objections. If the property owner tells you that they do not want you to take photos of their property, you are legally obligated to respect their request.

Exceptions to the General Legal Rule

Like any rule, there are exceptions. For instance, if you’re touring a military installation, you may be forbidden by base personnel to take photographs. This is to protect national security. It is the same with nuclear facilities, in which case you may not be allowed to take photographs. However, there are some nuclear facilities that do have public areas where they allow photography. When in doubt, ask before taking photos.

Photographing People in Public Places

One of the most reported instances of confrontation for photographers is taking photos of people in public places. Generally, if someone is in a public area, such as a park, you can take photos of them. Yet, again, there is an important exception that you must know. If someone is in a public area, but they’ve taken the initiative to be in an area where they are away from others, they may then have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The creation of that reasonable expectation limits your ability to photograph them. There are some areas in public that automatically create that expectation such as bathrooms, changing areas, and medical facilities. If you’d like to take a photo of someone in an area that may provide the reasonable expectation privacy, get permission beforehand.

What About Children and Accidents?

If you’re trying to take photos of children in a public area or some sort of accident, you may be confronted and told that you don’t have the right to take photos. As long as you’re in a public place, it is almost always legally permissible to photograph:

  • Accidents
  • Rescues
  • Children
  • Celebrities
  • Bridges
  • Infrastructures
  • Commercial buildings
  • Residential units
  • Industrial facilities
  • Public utilities
  • Transportation facilities
  • Superfund locations
  • Criminal acts
  • Arrests
  • Law enforcement

Remember, though, if you’re touring a location and the rule is no photography, you should abide by the rule.

Common Violators of Your Rights

One of the most common reasons people choose to confront photographers is because they’re afraid. For parents, it is likely that don’t know who you are and they don’t want a stranger taking photos of their child despite being in a public area. Law enforcement, security guards, and employees may also try to stop you from taking photographs. Security guards often have no legitimate reason to stop your attempt of photography. Taking a photo of a business is not a violation of a trade secret or a threat to national security. Taking photos of disasters, accidents, or other issues of public interest does not constitute a crime or an act of terrorism. Just remember to stay on public property.

Most law enforcement officials will not try to stop you from taking photographs because they understand that you have a right to do so. However, you may be stopped from entering into a certain area because it could cause an issue for those involved (including law enforcement).

Dealing With Questions and Detainment

First, keep in mind that just like you have the right to take photos in a public area, others also have the right to approach you and ask what you’re doing. Holding a civil conversation with curious members of society is one of the best ways to continue to take your photos while allaying the fears of others within the area. If you are harassed, that’s another matter. Each state has its own laws on the books about what constitutes harassment. Persistent harassment that has no true purpose could be a crime. You do not have an obligation to tell anyone what you’re doing, especially in a situation that seems to be confrontational. Yet, as earlier stated, sometimes a little bit of information can prevent a huge misunderstanding or keep a situation from escalating. For criminal harassment to occur, the behavior of the other person or persons must make you fearful. Keep in mind that there is a standard in place to measure fear. It’s called the ‘reasonable and prudent person’ standard. This standard means that a reasonable and prudent person undergoing the same treatment as you did would have reasonably felt fear. This fear must be for your physical safety, the safety of your equipment, or fear that they may accuse you of committing a crime.

Private citizens have a very limited ability to detain you. If you are detained against your will, you may have grounds to press civil or criminal charges. The grounds for a citizen’s arrest are extremely narrow. Usually, they can only be made in instances where a felony or another crime is being committed in the private citizen’s presence. If a person attempts a citizen’s arrest outside of this scope, they may be subject to charges for false imprisonment.

Private citizens and store owners also have no right to take your equipment, review your photos, or delete photos. The only exception would be if they were able to present a court order. If they take your equipment that could make them liable to face consequences of civil or criminal charges.

Law Enforcement & Your Equipment

If you’re taking photos of something in a public area (let’s say it’s a car accident or a house fire), law enforcement has no right to seize your equipment or demand to review the images you’ve taken unless they have a warrant. Although they may attempt to seize your equipment without arresting you, they cannot look at the images on the equipment without producing a valid warrant. They do not have the legal authority to make you delete any images, either. If law enforcement officials take your camera or your phone, they may be held legally responsible for claims such as coercion, theft, or even conversion.

Legal Remedies

If you’re harassed because you’re taking photographs, you may be able to pursue civil or criminal charges against the other party. Legal remedies mean that the court punishes the other party in some way if they are found guilty of the charge levied against them. The court would hear from all involved and determine if you are entitled to a legal remedy. The remedy would depend on the actual cause of action (the reason why you sued) and the severity (according to the court’s eyes). This list of legal remedies isn’t all-inclusive. It is not a guarantee of how the court would handle your claim. Each case is different. If you have questions, make sure that you talk with an attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice. Anything that you read online or in a book is often just meant as an educational tool, just like this article!

If you’re harassed and detained while taking photos, the other party may be meeting the legal standards for false imprisonment, kidnapping, coercion, or theft. Call the police if you’re being harassed. Ask for an officer and make sure that you get an informational report taken (and get the report number).  

If you’re near a business and an employee of the business harasses you, both the employee and the employer may be held responsible in a court of law. These claims often include assault, conversion, false imprisonment, and violating your Constitutional rights.

How You Can Help Other Photographers

Aside from looking to bring civil or criminal charges against people who harass you when you’re taking photos, there are other things that you can do to bring awareness to this subject and help educate other photographers. These things will also bring this terrible violation to the light of the public. This is important because many people enjoy taking photographs at parks and in other public spots. So, you could use your situation to help others.

Contact newspapers, magazines (even if they’re just local magazines), and news outlets. Ask if they’re interested in publishing or broadcasting a story that involves the violation of civil liberties. If it happened with a business, make sure that you write a letter (send it certified mail) to the owner, the corporate office, and anyone else who may be interested in knowing how you were treated. This is particularly effective if the store has a Public Relations office. Use the Internet to your advantage. Find social media pages related to the business and let them know what happened. Use your own social media outlets, blogs, and forums to let people know what happened. This isn’t just about a camera and a few pictures. It’s a violation of your civil liberties.

Dealing With Confrontation

As we’ve stated throughout this piece, one of the best ways to deal with confrontation is to stop it before it starts. This means providing short, courteous answers that can help people understand that you have the right to take photos and that you’re not watching someone’s child or looking to rob their home.

If someone does become confrontational or makes you feel threatened, you do not have to engage them. Call the police. Use your best judgment and do what you can to minimize any risk of violence against you or your equipment.

If you or your equipment are threatened, ask some basic questions so that you can record information that can help you protect your legal rights.

  • Ask for their name.
  • Ask for the name of their employer.
  • If they appear to be a law enforcement official, ask if you are free to leave or if you are being detained.
  • Ask for their legal basis for attempting to detain you.
  • If they try to take your camera, ask for their legal basis for attempting to confiscate your equipment.

Photographers in the UK

Photographers in the UK also have the right to take photos in public. Although the laws regarding this are quite clear, there are many instances of photographers being harassed by the police, police community support officers, security professionals, and people who simply don’t respect the rights photographers have to take photos.

Regardless of whether you’re taking photos using a cell phone or a camera, you have the right to take photos. Here’s what you need to know in order to protect your rights.

Photographing People

If you’re in a public area, such as a public highway or footpath, you can take photos for both personal and commercial use. However, you cannot obstruct others or violate any anti-terrorism laws. You also may not violate the Official Secrets Act.

It’s also important to use common sense when taking photos. If you get too close to people, particularly when it’s clear that they don’t want you so close to them, you could face a charge of harassment or breach of the peace. Harassment is defined as a course of conduct (meaning that it must occur at least twice) that leaves the other person feeling alarmed or distressed. Respect other people and their space.

Speaking of people, let’s talk about taking photos of children. There are no laws that say you can’t take photos of children in a public area. Again, though the key is to use common sense. If you seem to be paying too much attention to children who aren’t yours, it could arouse the interest of concerned parents, citizens, or even the police.

Invasion of privacy is a fairly vague subject in the UK. Make sure that when you’re photographing people that you’re doing so from a public area. Of course, don’t use your camera for nefarious purposes. Just because you’re standing in the street does not give you the right to try and take photos of someone in their private bathroom. Much like in the United States, stop and think about whether the location of the person would give them a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Be aware of the Data Protection Act. There’s a small chance that the photos you take in public areas could be subject to it.

One final note about photographing people. If they tell you not to take their picture, then don’t take their picture. While you may have the right to take photos while you’re in a public space, a little bit of common sense can keep the situation from becoming confrontational.

Photographing Places

While you can photograph most places that fall on the spectrum of a public area, you should know that you are not allowed to photograph Trafalgar Square, Parliament Squares, or the Royal Parks. Although you could take photos of inappropriate public activity, use caution. What may seem like an edgy photo that you plan to use in a project, someone else may see as a reason to try to hurt you. Always put your safety first.

Local decisions must also be obeyed. Although you are generally free to take photos in most public places, certain areas are allowed to make their own rules regarding photography. If you were visiting a park and there was a posted ordinance restricting photography, then you should not take photos. If you’re unsure about local decisions, contact the area’s police.

If you plan to photograph buildings from the outside, you can do so provided that you stand in a public space. It is not a copyright violation to take pictures of buildings, sculptures, or other works of art provided that they are permanently in a public space. However, you should still be careful depending on the use of your photographs. Make sure that you read Section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988.

You do not have the inherent right to stand on private property to take photos. Make sure that you get the property owner’s permission before you take photos while standing on private property. This also goes for private property that is open to the public, such as a retail business. If you’re told no or you’re asked to stop taking photos while you’re on private property, then abide by that.

When it comes to railway and tube stations, you generally do not need permission. However, if you don’t get permission from the companies providing the transportation then you may find that you’re accosted and confronted by security officers. If they think that you’re somehow a threat to the safety of the area or people, they may try to stop you. Make sure that you do not try to take photos of areas that make it a danger for people or for yourself. You should also know that you cannot use these images for commercial purposes. To protect yourself and others, do not use tripods and do not use your flash.

What About Trespass or Obstruction?

If you obstruct the free passage of others on highways, bike paths, footpaths, or other public areas, you can be charged with a criminal offense. So, make sure that you’re in a public area and that people can easily move around you. As long as you do that, you’ll be within the law.

Trespass means that you’re on private property without permission from the owner. If you’re told you may be on the property but that you may not take photos, then keep your camera in its bag. Do not take photos. Otherwise, that can be seen as trespass. Private property owners, security officers, and other officials can use “reasonable force” if you’re thought to be trespassing. So, it’s important to get permission and to follow any rules laid out for you.

One of the best ways that you can stop a potentially bad situation that could result in a charge of obstruction is to simply move if people say that you’re in the way. This can also help you avoid being charged with breach of the peace. Another easy way to avoid these charges is to get and wear a photojournalist pass around your neck on a lanyard.

Can Your Photos Be Deleted?

Another common question from UK photographers is whether security or police officers have the legal authority to take their cameras and delete their photos. You are entitled to protect your photos. Security officers may not delete images off of your camera. Although some police officers may attempt to take the memory card out of your camera, they have no right to delete your photos. Think of it this way: if you were taking photos of a criminal offense or if you committed an offense, those photos would be evidence. They shouldn’t destroy evidence.   

Anti-terrorism in the UK

Earlier we mentioned anti-terrorism in relation to photography. Because of an increase in terrorist activity around the world, photographers find themselves confronted more often while taking photos of monuments, bridges, and power stations. Usually, law enforcement will attempt to cite either the Official Secrets Act or The Terrorism Act 2000. Make sure that you remain calm if you encounter law enforcement and politely answer any questions that they have about what you’re doing. You could even allow them to go through your equipment bags. However, always remember that they do not have the legal right to seize your camera. There are police-press guidelines that law enforcement should remember, and that includes the fact that if they delete your photos, they could face criminal charges.

Let’s Talk About Copyright Law

One of the most common complaints from photographers is that their work is often stolen or used without their permission. Here are a few things that you should know about copyright law. This list isn’t all-inclusive. If you have questions about copyright law and whether or not your rights were violated as the owner of a photo, please consult with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights.

Someone uses your photo on their website without your permission. This is a common violation. Sometimes it happens simply because people don’t know that they shouldn’t use it. People will look up images online and think that because they’ve found it online, that they can use it.

  • The first thing you can do to combat this violation is to ask them to take it down and let them know that you own the image and you did not give them permission to use it.
  • Sometimes, website owners will say that they didn’t do it…the web designer did it. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Your photo is being used without permission and you have the right to ask for it to be removed. If they refuse to remove it, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against them.

It is a violation to use a photo without permission even if the use doesn’t have any monetary value. Infringement of a copyright doesn’t depend on whether or not the use resulted in someone making money. It’s still an infringement to reproduce, display, distribute, or create a version of the photo without your permission. If your attorney establishes that an infringement has occurred, the law states how much you are eligible to receive.

It is a violation to use a photo without permission even if no copyright notice is posted with the photo. As soon as you take a photo, you own the copyright for it. There is no requirement that states you absolutely must post a copyright notice with the photo. Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid this is to post a copyright notice with your photo. However, even if it isn’t present, it is infringement if someone else uses it without your permission.

Unknowing infringement is still infringement. Much like in every other area of the law, ignorance is no excuse. Even if it was an honest mistake or simply not knowing as discussed in the first point, it’s still infringement.

Using only part of an image. There is a legal doctrine that is known as “fair use” and one of the elements of the doctrine involves using only part of an image. Yet, that’s not the only requirement to meet the fair use doctrine. Fair use applies only if the partial image use is “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.”

You were a hired photographer. Most people believe that if they hire a photographer that they, and not the photographer, owns the copyright to the photos. However, unless the photographer is an actual employee of the client, the client does not own the copyright to the images. If you are a contracted photographer being paid to take photos, you still own the copyright to the photos that you take on behalf of the client.

Credit was given, but no permission was asked. Being given credit for your work is a step in the right direction, but if the person displaying or using your photo didn’t ask for your permission, it’s still infringement. Legal liability still exists.

What About DCMA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) can be quite complex. To learn about your rights as a photographer, you should speak with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property (copyrights and trademarks).


Whether you treat photography as a hobby or it's your profession, we hope that this guide will serve as a helpful resource. Additionally, if you ever have any questions about specific legal documents, feel free to check out our Legal Forms Library.

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Sample Photo Release Form


Sample Photo Release Form

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