The Model Release Policy What effect does an unrecognisable or recognisable shot have?


Model releases are not very often the first thing on someone’s mind when a model shoot is brought up.  Regardless of your intentions, when you take a model shot, it’s important to know whether or not a model release is necessary.  

Simply put, a model release is a contract signed and agreed upon by a photographer and a model before a model shoot is carried out.  The purpose of this is to provide legal protections for models, photographers and anyone else involved in the licensing of the product.  This contract is necessary depending on a number of things.  Will the photo be published and used commercially?  Is the model recognisable?  If so, a model release is required, and should it not be provided for every model in your photo, you could risk facing legal repercussions. 

But what effect does being able to recognise the model make?  Here are the tricky details about recognisable and unrecognisable models in photoshoots.


Why do you need a model release?

The contract itself provides a photographer with the right to use any photographs taken of the model (that session) for any editorial trade, advertisement, or any other manner.  Should the model decide to make a claim for the use of a photograph, this contract can be presented to nullify the claim and support the photographer’s use of the picture.

Without a model release, the model can at any point take legal actions and force you to stop using their image, likely also suing you.  It is, therefore, suggested that regardless of the contents of your photograph if the intent is commercial then you should get the model to sign a model release for the sake of safety.


Model release


When is a model release absolutely necessary?

Like we previously mentioned, there are a number of things that affect whether or not a model release is necessary.  The overarching dependant regards the commercial intent of the photograph – if a photograph is to be used to promote eCommerce, to be placed in an advertisement or a designed travel brochure etc., then you will need to consider using a model release.  If the photo will not be used commercially, then a model release is unnecessary.  In this post, we’re going to focus on the recognisability of the model.

As you might have guessed, if a subject is recognisable, then you will definitely require a model release.  If the subject is unrecognisable, then you won’t.  Unfortunately, the definition of what makes someone identifiable in a picture isn’t exactly clear.

What makes a model identifiable?

  • If their whole face or enough of their face is revealed to the point where you can identify a model, they are considered as recognisable and therefore should sign a model release.
  • An image of someone’s partial silhouette where enough features are still visible makes someone recognisable, therefore they should sign a model release.
  • Body features are visible which can be used to identify someone.  This includes tattoos, birthmarks or any other body marks like scarring.  Anybody close to the model or anyone who encounters this model could therefore recognise them from the picture, therefore a model release should be signed.
  • Any uniforms worn, such as a work uniform or a school uniform, may be used to identify a model, therefore a model release should be signed.
  • An image that clearly shows someone’s work, such as a distinctive piece of art or a named novel, could be used to identify someone, therefore the model should sign a model release.  Similarly, if there is a recognisable object on the photo, someone may be able to identify the model’s identity.
  • An address or location might be used to identify a model, therefore a model release should be signed.

Some of these points might seem surprising at first, but you can understand how any of these features might be used to recognise somebody.  Picture a unique feature on your body, perhaps a tattoo or a mark.  If an image of that were to go out into the world and a family member or friend (maybe even a stranger in the street, if your marking isn’t that discreet) saw it, they would easily connect that picture to you.

A model release should be used in any of these scenarios as the model might be recognised by a number of people.


Model release agreements


What doesn’t make a model identifiable?

  • An image where the persons face isn’t visible, where there are also no other body features or definitions available would not require a model release as the person would not be recognisable.
  • Full silhouettes or blurred images where none of the model’s features are recognisable would not require a model release.
  • A closeup of a certain area, for example of lips for a lipstick advertisement, would not show enough of the model to make them recognisable, therefore it would not require a model release.
  • Extreme long shots where a person cannot be identified would not require a model release.

None of the scenarios above would show enough of a person to make them recognisable to anyone, including close friends and family.  A model release, therefore, does not need to be signed as the model should not be able to be hindered or hurt in any way by the use of any photographs in an advertisement.

By keeping these points in mind, you should be able to work out whether or not your model is recognisable and if they need to sign a model release.  Once again, if you’re uncertain or might use model shots for advertising in the future, it’s always safer to use a model release no matter what.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your model photography, take a look at our portfolio for professional headshots and fashion shoots.

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