What if my client doesn’t want to sign a model release form?

Oct 29, 2013

Topic: Contracts, Releases
Time Investment: 5 Minutes
Suggested Product: Model Release Forms


Client sends an inquiry.  You respond excitedly.

They pay the retainer/deposit. Just waiting on contract.

You think all is good – then the client throws you a curveball.

They are questioning the model release form.

What do you do? Let’s check out what a model release is, when you need one, and how to deal with this situation to help yourself and the client!


What is a model release form?

A model release is a legal document signed by the subject (or in the case of minors, the parent/legal guardian) that provides the photographer permission to publish and use the photograph as defined by the terms of the release.  Model release language typically includes permission for use of photographs in portfolio, studio samples, blogging, website use, and other marketing uses.

Model releases can be combined with the photography contract and be delivered digitally for efficiency and ease.


Do I always need one?

Not always but when in doubt get one! As social media and the Internet becomes more common, so does the need for professionals to step up to the plate and help safeguard client’s privacy.  So you don’t always need one but it is a good rule of thumb to get one if you can!  There are exceptions for not needing a model release – find them here.

You do not need one for the client to post on their own social media.


What if a client doesn’t want to sign the release?

Guess what? You’re the business owner – you have multiple options!

  • Don’t require one  – You CAN do business without one.  The downfall is you may not have the appropriate permissions to share for promotion.  It is important to weigh the potential for referrals or the requirement of portfolio work.

As photographers, we need a portfolio to market ourselves right? Sure!

But consider this, is it worth losing X dollars and potential referrals for 2-3 portfolio photographs?  Maybe! Before jumping to be hard pressed to require a model release – brainstorm some ideas that you may be able to grant a no-release session to a client – for example – model calls that do require a model release to help fill the void in the portfolio.

  • Offer an amended or limited release – A good middle ground is to offer an amended or limited release.  Inquire as to the client’s reasoning behind declining the release.  Is it due to a career position? (Such as federal agent, politician, etc.) What about custodial or legal issues?
  • Have them sign a Privacy of Photographs Agreement

Here are some options to offer to a client in response:

  • Print only publication – such as for product examples and print portfolios
  • No releasing of any identifiers (names, location, etc.) on social media or website platforms
  • Stick to your policies – If you do not want to honor a “no release” client request – then don’t!

Keep in mind – each situation can be different for each client, such as allowing one to decline and not another.


Rules of thumb

  • Contract ALWAYS, Model Release MAYBE

You can always have a contract without a model release, but you should never operate by having a model release without a contract.  A model release by itself is only the client providing permissions (as outlined in the release) to the photographer and does not outline any other duties of either party- such as copyright, payment (if any), completion schedule, etc that are found in the confines of a contract.

  • When in doubt, get a release!

The whole “easier to ask forgiveness instead of permission” does not apply here!!

  • Don’t advertise it

If you waive the release then reserve this for private communications between you and client.  In order to preserve model release on other clients, it is best to not advertise that you may waive or amend the release.



You can go to a local attorney to draft one for you or snag your own lawyer drafted, photographer approved drafted model release here. Be extremely careful copying another’s release or downloading from the internet. See: Why Sharing Contracts is Bad for Your Biz.


Explore more