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The Story Behind That Picture: "Model releases"

By: Thorsten Overgaard


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Many think they need a to get a person to sign a model release if they are in your photograph. That is not the case.


A note on model releases for the people in photographs

In terms of model rights, the category 1 and 2 above differs in the way that any person in a commercial used photograph has to agree with a "model release" that allow the user of the photograph to use it.

Paid, well-paid or not paid, the model has to allow the use of their face or features ("likeness"), and in most cases the calculation of their fee follows the same calculation rule as the photographers: How long, how large publications, how large a size, etc.

Most hired models for advertisement shoots comes with a contracts that automatically add fees for billboard use, television, etc. Like for a photogrpaher, continued use longer than the first agreed period is another fee. I once had two twin girls hired throught a model agency that came for a one hour shoot and was paid for one hour. However, the photo appeared again and again evert month on advertising sent to all Danish households, in television commercials and on outdoor advertisement for years; and each thing was in the contract as something they would get an additional fee for.

For example a doctor that gets a fee of $50,000 for appearing in a television ad is granted another $50,000 if the ad runs again next year. It doesn't matter that he was already paid, and it doesn't matter if it only took him 30 minutes of work to appear in front of a camera.

Apart from people, designs and trademarks also require that you clear their rights if you use them commercially. You cannot freely use a designer chair in an advertisement, and even the lightshow at the Eiffel Tower is copyrighted and cannot be used in a movie, advertisement, etc without clearing rights. .


No need for model release for everything else

In the non-commercial context, the people who appear in a photograph doesn't have to sign any model release. A photo used for non-commercial work does not require model release, permission or payment to people in the photograph. The only reason some photographers think they have to ask evert person they photogrpah to sign a model release is that stock agencies require model release so they can sell the photos for commercial use. You can be your own judge if the fee offered by those stock agencies are fair to you and the model, considering that a micro-stock photo may get millions of impressions worldwide whilst you get $3 and the mode gets nothing.

A model release is not needed from peopel who appera in photos that are used non-comercial, and this also include photo books, books, signed fine art prints, etc.

There has been a few court cases where people in "expensive" or "famous" photogprahs wanted a cut when they saw that the work made a lot of money. They lost. I some cases, as the "Afghan Girl" by Steve McCurry (the then 12-year-old Sharbat Gula photographed in a refugee camp by Steve McCurry), National Geographic set up Afghan Girls Fund to "pay back" for the famous photograph.


To get a perspective on public photos of people, read this article on several cases in New York Times, "Street photography: A right or invasion?"

Is Germany any different?

As far as things stand now, it is allowed to take photos of people in public in Germany, and to publish them for non-commercial use without a model release. A few widespread cases may have given the idea that it is not. In one case a woman wanted a cut for being in a gallery photo and her lawyer referenced a 1907 law that the right of publishing a photo is owned by the subject of the photo.


Country by country

You can see an overview of countries here in the article "Country specific consent requirements" to get into the often very complicated specifics of each country.


My conclusion

I haven't really encountered any problems in any country, though the feeling is different from place to place. People in for example Paris and Los Angeles can have a "tired attitude" to being photogparhed in the street, but eve that is a generality becuase you only notice when it haoppens and easily forget all thefriendly people.

Istanbul is one of the most photography-friendly places I've been, much opposite to what I would expect. Muslims, old, young, beautiful, shop owners ... you name it, they all seem to encourage photographs.

So you can't really tell.

What you can tell is that people who are suspicious to you because you have a camera, or who are agressive if you (seem to have) taken a photo of them. My conclusion is very firm on that: Those are the nuts people.

When a security guard in London comes out of his building to enquire on a public street what a group of people with camera are doing, you are dealing with a nuts person. It's not his street, he works in a building nearby and only saw you because his security cameras are pointed in that direction. He has no right, no business asking. Yet he does. Is he nuts? Yes.

When a person yell "stop photographing my dog, you pervert!" it is not you who is a pervert. It's the person that is nuts. It doesnøt matter if you photographed his dog or not, it's something going on in an antire different reality that is at play.

When a woman comes walking towards you (in Berlin) and yells "Verboten!" because you are photogrpahing boys playing football, it's a nuts (and uniformed person).

When a police officer in Washington tells a photographer "Did you take my photo? You should ask before you take my photo" he is uninformed and nuts. You don't have to ask a police officer to take his photo in public. Especially not if he is sitting on a nice looking motor bike. It's a long discussion, but someone said that the biggest crime in the US is not respecting a police officer, and maybe it is.



Don't discuss and don't delete

Don't discuss with people. When someone asks, "did you just take a photo?" say "Yes" and stay where you are. If you were walking away, keep walking away but answer politely and firm. For some reason a "Yes" closes the discussion. So don't go down the road of "yes, but ... " or "ahm, why?" or start a discussion. Did you take a photo. Yes you did. It's amazing how the truth and fact simply ends whatever it was.

Nobody has the right to ask you to delete a photo. Don't get into the discussion and only (pretend to) delete if the guy is much taller, very angry and is holding a knife. Some times it requires a "yes" as in the above. It has nothing to do with the photo or the eventual consequences of publishing it. You are dealing with a nuts person who insist you delete a photo for reasons a 8 hour discossion wouldn't make clear. Either walk away, or if you like, show it, prss a button so the screen flickers to the the next photo and say "ok!" and leave as it was the smallest thing in the world.

Should you have deleted a photo on you rmemory card, you can always recover it with software. If it's worth it.









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Till then, I hope you enjoyed todays Story Behind That Picture and it made you think about the value of your photographs in more than one sense, as well as your responsibility to create them, preserve them and make them available.

As always, feel free to mail me at with comments, suggesting and questions.


A warning: I have also had a few cases where people have asked me waht to do when they signed up to be photographed in a bikini for some tabloid in their teenage years long before anyone thought about the internet. As those photos may appear online, you are suddenly confronted with the question if that is on. It usually is, but just as often you can talk to the photographer and he would understand.


Thorsten Overgaard, August 4, 2015






Thorsten Overgaard's Leica Article Index
Leica M cameras:   Small Leica cameras:
Leica M10   Leica Q full-frame mirrorless
Leica M10-P   Leica CL
Leica M Type 240 and M-P Typ240   Leica TL2
Leica M-D Typ 262 and Leica M60   Leica Digilux 2 vintage digital rangefinder
Leica M Monochrom Typ246 digital rangefinder   Leica Digilux 1
Leica M Monochrom MM digital rangefinder   Leica Sofort instant camera
Leica M9 and Leica M-E digital rangefinder   Leica Minilux 35mm film camera
Leica M9-Professional digital rangefinder   Leica CM 35mm film camera
Leica M4 35mm film rangefinder    
Leica M lenses:   Leica SLR cameras:
Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica SL 2015 Type 601 mirrorless fullframe
Leica 21mm Leica Super-Elmar-M ASPH f/3.4   Leica R8/R9/DMR film & digital 35mm dSLR cameras
Leica 21mm Super-Angulon-M f/3.4   Leica R10 [cancelled]
Leica 28mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica R4 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE f/1.4 and f/1.4 AA   Leica R3 electronic 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leicaflex SL/SL mot 35mm film SLR
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95    
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 and f/1.2   Leica SL and TL lenses:
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f//1.4    
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0    
Leitz 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 "rigid" Series II   Leica R lenses:
Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25   Leica 19mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4   Leica 35mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 75mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 60mm Macro-Elmarit f/2.8
Leica 90mm Summarit-M f/2.5   Leica 80mm Summilux-F f/1.4
Leica 90mm Elmarit f/2.8   Leica 90mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leitz 90mm Thambar f/2.2   Leica 180mm R lenses
    Leica 400mm Telyt-R f/6.8
Leica Cine Lenses:   Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica Cine lenses from CW Sonderoptic   Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/4.0
History and overview:   Leica S:
Leica History   Leica S1 digital scan camera
Leica Definitions   Leica S2 digital medium format
Leica Lens Compendium   Leica S digital medium format
Leica Camera Compendium    
The Solms factory and Leica Wetzlar Campus   "Magic of Light" Television Channel
    Thorsten von Overgaard YouTube Channel
Photography Knowledge   Thorsten Overgaard books and education:
Calibrating computer screen for photographers   Thorsten Overgaard Masterclasses & Workshops
Which Computer for Photographers?   Lightroom Survival Kit (Classic)
What is Copyright? Advice for Photogarphers   Lightroom Presets
Synchronizing Large Photo Archive with iPhone   Capture One Survival Kit
Quality of Light   "Finding the Magic of Light" eBook (English)
Lightmeters   "Die Magie des Lichts Finden" eBook (German)
Color meters for accurate colors (White Balance)   "The Moment of Impact in Photography" eBook
White Balance & WhiBal   "Freedom of Photographic Expression" eBook
Film in Digital Age   "Composition in Photography" eBook
Dodge and Burn   "A Little Book on Photography" eBook
All You Need is Love   "After the Tsunami" Free eBook
How to shoot Rock'n'Roll   The Overgaard New Inspiration Extension Course I
X-Rite   The Overgaard Photography Extension Course
The Origin of Photography    
Hasselblad/Imacon Flextight 35mm and 6x6 scanner   Leica M9 Masterclass (video course)
Leica OSX folder icons   Leica M10 Masterclass (video course)
    Leica M240 Masterclass (video course)
    Leica Q Masterclass (video course)
Bespoke Camera Bags by Thorsten Overgaard:   Leica TL2 Quick Start (video course)
"The Von" travel camera bag   Street Photography Masterclass (video course)
"Messenger" walkabout bag    
"24hr Bag" travel bag   Thorsten von Overgaard oin Amazon:
"The Von Backup" camera backpack   "Finding the Magic of Light"
Leica Photographers:    
Jan Grarup   Riccis Valladares
Henri Cartier-Bresson   Christopher Tribble
Birgit Krippner   Martin Munkácsi
John Botte   Jose Galhoz
Douglas Herr   Milan Swolf
Vivian Maier  
Morten Albek    
Byron Prukston   Richard Avedon
The Story Behind That Picture:   Thorsten Overgaard on Instagram
More than 200 articles by Thorsten Overgaard   Join the Thorsten Overgaard Mailing List
Thorsten Overgaard Workshop Schedule   Thorsten Overgaard on Twitter
    Thorsten Overgaard on Facebook
Leica Forums and Blogs:    
Leica M10 / M240 / M246 User Forum on Facebook   Heinz Richter's Leica Barnack Berek Blog
Jono Slack   Leica Camera AG
Steve Huff Photos (reviews)   Leica Fotopark
Erwin Puts (reviews)   The Leica Pool on Flickr (blog)   Eric Kim (blog)
Luminous Landscape (reviews)   Adam Marelli (blog)
Sean Reid Review (reviews)   The Leica User Forum
Ken Rockwell (reviews)   Shoot Tokyo (blog)
John Thawley (blog)   I-Shot-It photo competition
The Von Overgaard Gallery Store:    
Hardware for Photography   Von Overgaard Ventilated lens shades:
Bespoke Camera Bags and Luxury Travel Bags   Ventilated Shade for Current 35mm Summilux FLE
Software for Photography   Ventilated Shade E46 for old Leica 35mm/1.4 lens
Signed Prints   Ventilated Shade for Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH
Mega Size Signed Prints   Ventilated Shade E43 for older 50mm Summilux
Mega Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade for 35mm Summicron-M ASPH
Medium Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade for older 35mm/f2 lenses
Small Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade E39 for 50mm Summicron lenses
Commisioning Thorsten Overgaard Worldwide   Ventilated Shade for Leica 28mm Summilux
Thorsten Overgaard Archive Licencing   Ventilated Shade for current 28mm Elmarit-M
Video Masterclasses   Ventilated Shade for older 28mm Elmarti-M
Photography Books by Thorsten Overgaard   Ventilated Shade E49 for 75mm Summicron
Home School Photography Extension Courses   ventilated Shade E55 for 90mm Summicron
Overgaard Workshops & Masterclasses   Ventilated Shade for 28mm Summaron
Artists Nights   Ventilated Shade for 24mm Elmarit
Gallery Store Specials   Ventilated Shade E60 for 50mm Noctilux and 75/1.4

Above: Professor of Pop, Ms Sheila Whiteley (1941 -2015). Leica M9 with Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0.

© 2012-2015 Thorsten von Overgaard.



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Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M f/2.0
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4
Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25
Leica 90mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0
Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leitz Cine lenses
7artisans 50mm f/1.1
Leica Digilux 2

Leica M10
Leica M10-P
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Leica M 240
Leica M 240 for video
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Leica M-D 262
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Leica M 246 Monochrom

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Leica SL2
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Leica R9 dSLR
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Leica Q2
Leica CL
Leica TL2
Leica Sofort
Leica S digital medium format
Leica X
Light metering
White Balance for More Beauty
Color Meters

Screen Calibration
Which computer to get
Sync'ing photo archive to iPhone
Lightroom Survival Kit
Lightroom Presets by Overgaard
Capture One Survival Kit

Capture One Styles by Overgaard
Signed Original Prints by von Overgaard
The Story Behind That Picture
"On The Road With von Overgaard"

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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

Feel free to e-mail to for
advice, ideas or improvements.


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