You should have. I know this, I preach this, I’m supposed to know better. But what happened yesterday?
I got an email from the editor of one of my magazine clients. She’s working on a piece about interior design and her writer is one I’ve worked with in the past. The writer said, “Steve and I did a story a few years ago and I think he’s got some shots that would work well for this.” The editor asks to see the shots and if there’s anything there that will work for her she’ll pay my stock rate to use them. Great!
I pull the job from the archives, start processing the images into low res versions for a web gallery, and realize that I’ll need a property release since these are images of a private residence. No problem, I always get one. Go to the filing cabinet, open the job jacket and… no release. Then I remember this job, the homeowner was out of town and wasn’t present at the shoot. I had planned on faxing the release down to her in Florida (where they winter) and putting it my files. Obviously I never did and now it’s come back to bite me to the tune of a couple of hundred bucks.
Note that strictly speaking I didn’t need a release the first time around since it was an editorial story specifically about the interior designer. The homeowner gave us specific permission to use the images of her home for this story. In the case of the resale of the images though, I don’t feel comfortable putting those images out there without some sort of paper trail backing me up. After all, the home owner didn’t ok this publication.
The rules governing when to get a release and when not to are not always clear, so for that reason I always get one when I can, even if that particular job doesn’t require one. The manta being “When in doubt, get a release.” For model releases, the conventional wisdom is that any person that is recognizable needs a release. One of my stock agencies requires a release when any part of a person is showing, even a fingernail (ahh, lawyers!) Property releases are generally required when shooting identifiable private property. I always have stacks of releases in my camera bag, in the glove box of my car, stuffed into jacket pockets, etc. I’ve gone as far as putting pdf versions of my releases up on my web server so I can pull down extra copies while on the road if need be.
ASMP has some great articles and sample language for both property and model releases here.
Steve Buchanan is a commercial and editorial photographer located in Maryland. His work can be viewed at www.buchanan-studios.com