Model Releases versus Non-Disclosure Agreements – Which do I need?

Feb 23, 2016

 Topic: Client Relations, Privacy
Time Investment: 7 Minutes
Suggested Product: Non-Disclosure Agreement


When running a photography business there are situations that will arise, leaving you, the owner, at a loss for what to do. Many times these are simple legal questions that can trip you up if you aren’t prepared with the right information. In today’s Internet-age people get weird about the use of photographs you took of them online and/or for marketing purposes.  It is important for you to have a grasp on the types of legal documents (or contracts) that you may encounter in the course of running a photography business. 

A common question is when a client wants to decline a model release but may take this a step further to wanting a photographer to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

You may be thinking:

So what do I do?

Just not having client sign model release?

Or should I, the photographer, sign a non-disclosure agreement? This depends on what your client is wanting and what you’re comfortable with.

Let’s dig into these two documents and see what works best for your situation!


TheLawTog Tip: Before you sign anything, examine what makes you comfortable. Ensure all of this is discussed prior to any business actions and monies paid.




Non-Disclosure Agreement

Non-Disclosure Agreements, also referred to as NDAs, are confidentiality agreements between two parties. This agreement creates a relationship between parties to protect confidential and proprietary information.  

This document could potentially prevent the photographer’s disclosure of any identifying information or details of relationship with the client.  However, for the actual privacy of the photographs themselves (i.e. not giving Photographer any permission for use of Client’s privacy rights), we recommend the Privacy of Photographs Agreement.



Model Release

A model release form is signed by the subject of a photograph (or in the case of a minor, the parent or legal guardian) giving the photographer permission to publish the photograph as defined by the release.  

Releases typically include use for portfolio, studio samples and other commercial uses. This also releases any claims the model may have to future compensation for use of images.  

If a model release is not signed, privacy laws may not allow for a photographer to post identifying photographs of client on the Internet, or use in other marketing activities. 



So which do I need?

You’re looking at a client who wants their privacy by not having their images published on the Internet, and that may be okay. This would be not a non-disclosure necessarily, but more than likely declining a model release. (See also: What if my client doesn’t want to sign a model release?) Non-Disclosures typically take the relationship with the client a step further making the entire relationship confidential. 

The questions to ask:

  • What is my client truly wanting?
  • Do they want complete privacy without even discussion of who they are?
  • Or do they just not want their images online for privacy reasons? 

Also –

  • Do operating without a model release or signing an NDA mix with your business policies?
  • Or does it hurt your business more to allow a client to decline a model release or have an NDA than not?  

This is something you can now decide, with a better understanding of these legal documents.


TheLawTog Resources (click to view)



Explore more