Why Identifying People In Shots Is Important

Want to enter a competition with a shot of individuals you don't know the identity of? Read this first.

Posted 25/Sep/2012 - 9:27AM

Peter StevensonPhotographers take thousands of shots in their attempt to capture the perfect image and it stands to reason that sometimes they won’t know the identities of all the individuals in those shots. What are the rules if you find that such an image turns out to be one of your best and you want to use that image in a competition or put it on your website? Peter Stevenson, Director of professional photographer’s insurance specialist InFocus Insurance discusses a recent case and explains why all photographers should take note...

In a recent case in America, amateur photographer Mo Gelber captured an amazing shot of a couple kissing whilst in handcuffs outside a court, flanked by two officers. He chose to enter the image, which he named Last Kiss, into a competition.

It stood out straight away to the competition organisers, who loved the photograph but in order to take it any further, they asked that Gelber seek permission from the people in the photo – the officers and the couple. He managed to track down the police officers with relative ease as they were wearing name tags. They were both happy for the photograph to be entered into the competition.

The identity of the couple would not be so easy to find.

The photographer took to Facebook, asking users of the social media platform to identify the couple so that he could ask them to sign model release forms. After searching, the woman in the photograph came forward and confirmed who she was. The man captured on camera, however, was still in jail accused of various charges including making graffiti.

The twist in the tale is that the woman in the image won’t sign the form until her sweetheart is set free.  The photographer now has a race against time to get the release forms signed before the competition closes.  Let’s hope all his detective work pays off!

What are the rules?

It’s difficult to determine when exactly you do need to get a model release form signed and when you don’t. I advise all photographers to err on the side of caution.

Generally speaking if your photograph shows an easily identifiable person and the person or part of that person is fully or part of the main subject of the image and you intend to use that image for commercial purposes in the future, then you should definitely get a model release form.

The commercial reason could be any number of things. It could be that you plan to use the image on your website to publicise your work or you plan to enter the image into a competition, or that you intend to sell it on to a photo agency. Whatever the reason, if it is to have a commercial benefit, then you must ask the subject of the image to sign a release form.

One of the principle reasons for getting these forms signed is to avoid claims of a Breach of Privacy. In this case you could understand the couple being sensitive to the publication of pictures showing them being arrested so it was a wise move to seek approval.

Too many think that when they take a photo, they are free to use in whenever and wherever they like as they own the copyright. This isn’t the case. If you take a photo and want to use it in the future you should make sure the subjects have signed model release forms. It’s best to do this as a matter of course to save the scramble for permission at the last minute. Even if the people in the image verbally give you permission, this may not be enough. It’s always best to play it safe and cover yourself, especially if you don’t plan to use the images until some time later.

The form can be very simple and there are various templates you can download from professional photography websites. It should detail any fees being paid and the agreed usage. Keep a copy of the form and give one to everyone featured in the image. If there’s a modeling agency involved, make sure they have a copy of this, too.

There have been a number of high profile cases in the press of images being used without permission and as much as publications need to secure the permission of the photographer, the photographer has a duty to seek agreement from the model.

About The Author


Infocus Photography Insurance

Infocus is a leading provider of insurance for photographers in the UK with more than 20 years experience.

Their insurance product is tailored for UK photographers in association with Hiscox, the award-winning insurer. Their aim is to provide quality of service and breadth of cover to ensure that everything you value is protected.


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