Client Won’t Sign A Model Release

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Dawn Attebery

If you’ve been active in FB groups related to the photography industry very long, you have probably come across a photographer wondering what to do when their client won’t sign a model release. This article will talk about how to handle that.

But first, let me first be very clear on one thing. I believe you MUST NOT PUBLISH clients’ images on the internet AT ALL unless you have a model release allowing you to do so. This also means that you may not use their images for your marketing in any way, print or otherwise.

Though it doesn’t happen all that often, there are very valid reasons people might not want to have their images on-line. Could be an adoption situation, for example. I’ve also heard that some members of the military aren’t allowed to have images on-line. Or maybe they just really value their privacy. We never know. It’s none of our beeswax, anyway.

The bottom line is this: as professionals, we need to ask them to sign a release. Every. Single. Time. And we need to abide by their wishes. Posting images without a release opens you up for lawsuits, too, and nobody wants that.

If you don’t have a model release, I highly recommend you check out these at TheLawTog. (This is an affiliate link. I’d love it if you would use it, but, hey, no pressure.)

OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to what to do when a client refuses to sign your model release.

In some Facebook groups, I’ve seen people say that they intend to charge clients extra if they don’t sign a release.

The photographer says that she DEPENDS on these images for her portfolio and that, since she can’t use the images, the session is sort of wasted. (Never mind that the client is actually paying for a session and images.)

Here’s what I think: charging clients extra for not signing a model release is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Because it is the client’s right to not sign it. And I think you should not expect ANYONE to sign your release.

Instead, I ask you to change your perspective and consider it an honor when they do sign it. They are giving you a gift, after all. And, honestly, unless you run a boudoir photography business, most people will sign a model release these days. They are used to it. Model releases are everywhere – schools, camps, businesses, churches, etc.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, let me ask you this question. What is the purpose of a paid photo shoot?

I argue that the purpose of a paid photo shoot is for you to provide images to your client. That’s it. Unless it is a free (or discounted) portfolio-building type shoot, where it is perfectly reasonable to expect someone to sign a model release, your job is to provide images to your client. The purpose of a paid shoot is not for you to gather images for your portfolio and marketing. That is a really great benefit if you can get it, but you shouldn’t expect it.

If your prices are so low that having a client who doesn’t sign a release puts a huge dent in your business, maybe you should consider raising prices.

Also, if you are desperate for portfolio images, consider offering a special or a free shoot in exchange for their signing your model release.

Glad I got that off my chest.

What do you think? Be sure to comment below!

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