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Shooting People for Stock? Model Release Checklist

Many photographers are making significant portions if not all of their income with stock sales. Photographs of people that are authentic and diverse doing interesting things are highly desirable in the world of stock images. Stock sales rely on the old adage of “you reap what you sew.” The more images a photographer creates then submits for stock the higher her or his sales will be. Uploading a few photos once in a while will result in sales although not as many as regular ongoing contributions. Stock creation is a full-time job for some photographers and videographers as well. Using people in stock situations is profitable. One requirement is a solid, industry standard model release. Here’s what you need to know…

The model release

Basically, this is a legal document that the subject of a photograph signs to allow the commercial use of that person’s image. There are other considerations in the release as well. Here’s the wording on the release I’ve been using for most of this century.

“For value received I do give and grant Kevin Ames and his licensees, successors and assigns permission with respect to photographs of me and my property taken at: (Insert location name and address, city, state, zip, and country)

(the “Photographs”) to use,  publish and distribute in any media, now known or hereafter developed, such Photographs and my name without restrictions as to alterations, distortions or manipulations, individually or in conjunction with other photographs, images or text, and for any purpose whatsoever, in perpetuity and throughout the world, and to copyright such Photographs. I waive the right to inspect or approve the Photographs or the specific uses to which they are applied.

By signing this release I warrant that I am at least 18 years old and not party to a contract that prevents me from entering into this agreement and waive all claims arising out of the use, production or reproduction of the Photographs, including without limitation any claims for libel or invasion of privacy or publicity including without  limitation any claim relating to the alteration, distortion or manipulation of the Photographs.”


The model must print, her or his name, sign the release in the space provided and add the date the of the photographic session. If the model is under 18 years of age, her or his parent or guardian must also print their name, sign the release and date it. The photographer should print, sign and date the model release in an area of the form for that information as well.

Photographs of the photographer

Interestingly, photos with the photographer in them have to have a model release for the photographer too. There is no way for someone looking a photo of a person with a camera to know that individual is the photographer.


Witness signatures

It is a very good idea to provide a space on the release form for a witness to print her or his name, sign, and date it. The photographer can’t witness a release for photos he or she has made that it covers. I have my assistant act as the witness. The makeup artist or even the client can be a witness as long as they are not in the photographs being released.

The model release checklist

As I mentioned earlier a model release is a legal document. All of the “t’s” want to be crossed and the “i’s” dotted for it to be as good as possible. I use a model release checklist that I found on the Adobe Stock website to make sure I had all of the bases covered on my release.

Adobe Stock Model Release Checklist

Get the checklist here.

Who needs to sign a model release?

The answer to this one is really simple. If a person in a photograph is recognizable, a release must be obtained to use the image commercially. Stock is a commercial use. A photo of someone who sports a distinctive tattoo but whose face does not appear in the picture still must sign a release for the photo to be considered for stock. A crowd in silhouette is a safe bet that a model release isn’t needed.

Famous pets are people too

Photos of famous recognizable animals like Lassie, Morris the Cat or recent Triple Crown Winner American Pharoh have to be released as well. Treat them as if they were an under 18 model. Print the pet’s name on the model line and the owners signature on the release along with your signature as the photographer and a witness as well. And no, Lassie’s paw print doesn’t count. Pets, strays without collars or tags and animals in the wild are fair game.

A crowd of commuters at the subway station near Freedom Tower in New York City

The people here are unrecognizable silhouettes. Where any facial detail showed, I covered it in black to be absolutely sure that all of the people were anonymous.

About the featured photo

I made the photograph of people on the beach behind the hotel in July of 1994. I have model releases for all of the adults as well as all of the children. It’s handy when the kids’ parents are also some of the models.

Stock agencies will accept model releases that don’t have a witness signature. Today, though, my model releases have signature areas for me as the photographer and for a witness too. Adobe introduced digital signatures as an option for submitting releases on the Adobe Stock Contributor portal using Adobe Sign technology. With Adobe Sign, all you need is the model or property owner’s email address. A witness’ signature isn’t required for the digitally routed form. Filling out the form is easy and doesn’t require the installation of any software.

Photos: ©Kevin Ames

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