One of the first truisms I ever learned about stock photography was that images with model releases usually earn twice as much as non-released images.
Now I’ll admin that was a loooong time ago, so I’m not sure whether that’s still an accurate number, but with so many amateur images in the market… and so many buyers wanting released images for non-commercial uses as well… my guess is that the ratio is even higher.
So it should really be a no-brainer for most photographers… make it a habit to ask for a release every time you shoot a frame with an identifiable person in it. (And it probably goes without saying… if you’re not shooting a lot of those, look for more opportunities!)
The problem for most of us is, no one likes to ask for a release…
Some of us are just shy. We like to hang back and observe, and while ‘people’ make interesting subjects, there’s a certain appeal to not having to actually engage with them. Sound familiar?
Talking to a lot of photographers, it seems the other biggest ‘fear’ is that the person might ask for payment, resulting in an awkward conversation.
And of course some might just say no.
So realistically, the worst that could happen is you have a 30 second conversation and walk away without a release.
Compare that to the best possible outcome… walking away with a released image that could potentially earn you tens of thousands over it’s working life… and this really is something we should all get good at!
The good news is, digital cameras make this so much easier than it used to be. And with the simple system below and a little practice, any photographer should be able to walk away with a sign release 70-80% of the time.
First of all, we’ve got some ‘pocket’ release forms in the Archives section of the Members Area.
These are quite simple and fit two to a page, so edit the necessary details and then print out some of these. Be warned these are deliberately quite plain with only very basic formatting. We don’t want them to look like your typical imposing/intimidating legal document.
Then just cut the pages in half, staple a wad of them together and keep it in your camera bag. Again, don’t worry too much if you have to fold them in half again to make them fit!
Then whenever you do shoot an image of a person, make it a habit to approach them, but don’t just ask straight out for the release. That is basically asking a stranger for a favour, and it’s no surprise it tends to make everyone uncomfortable. Instead, we’re going to give them something first…
Just approach and show them the image on your camera…
“Hey, not sure if you noticed, but I just took a photo with you in it, and it came out really well. Would you like a look?”
There’s nothing threatening or intrusive in your approach and you’re not asking them for anything.
Instead, you’re giving them something… a look at a photo of themselves, and lets face it, these days everyone loves that…
So next step is to give a little more… “Would you like a copy?”
Most will say yes so then you just ask for their email… take out your unassuming wad of pocket releases and a pen…
While you’re doing that, explain that you do submit some of your images to a stock library, and if this one looks as good on the computer monitor as it does the back of your camera, it could be a contender… would they mind?
Now most people will happily reciprocate because you’ve already given them one thing and promised a second… and whether they realise it or not, their brain is telling them they owe you a favour!
So you can be totally up front…
“Some publishing uses require a release just to verify that you’re OK that your photo may be used. So if you can fill this out… make sure you include your email address for your copy”.
Some people won’t even want a copy, but if you continue your routine you might get a release anyway because reciprocity often works just as well on intent alone… you want to do them a favour, so they feel obliged to reciprocate whether they accept your offer or not!
And of course some will always say no, but that’s OK… as long as you get in the habit of always asking, you’re going to get a whole lot more model releases than if you don’t.
And like most things, it will get a whole lot easier the more you do it!
In fact, as you get more comfortable in approaching your subjects, you’ll find you can even harness this ‘reciprocity’ to direct total strangers in your images… it’s as simple as asking “Hey, have you got time for one more photo?”
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