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What is a Photography Contract?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 17, 2024
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A photography contract is a signed legal agreement related to the photographic field. These can include model and property releases, employment contracts, and contracts that assign rights to use a photograph. There are legal issues involved with photography that do not apply to other works of art. Photographers should be aware of these issues before attempting to create professional work or work that may some day be used to generate an income. A simple photography contract does not require a high level of legal expertise, but the photographer should consult an attorney in the event of complicated legal issues.

The most common kind of photography contract is a model release. This is a legal acknowledgment by the subject of the photo that the photographer has permission to use the image. Without a signed release, the publisher of a photograph could be liable for invasion of privacy. Thus, most publishers, commercial clients, and photography contests will require a signed model release when a photo is submitted. They are not required for amateur snapshots or non-commercial uses such as news photography.

A basic model release includes the subject’s name and signature, date, and sometimes contact information and an age statement. The age statement is particularly important if nudity is involved. In this case, the photographer may also want to make a copy of the subject’s identification for proof of age in case of later legal issues. If the subject is legally a minor, the release must be signed by a parent or guardian. Sample model releases are widely available in photography manuals or on the web, along with property releases, another kind of photography contract.

A property release is similar to a model release. It must be signed by the owner of any private property that is recognizably visible in the photograph. This is especially important for businesses, which will often wish to control how images of their brands or property are used and distributed. Again, this photography contract is not necessary for news coverage of an event. A property release is also not required for public property; however, photographers should always seek consent or more information if a property’s ownership is in doubt.

Another kind of photography contract involves employment and work made for hire. Some high-profile photographers may contract with a single publisher or agency for exclusive use of their images. More commonly, publishers will issue contracts stipulating their rights to use and publish a given image. A photographer employed by a publisher may be required to sign a work made for hire contract. This gives the publisher the copyright and legal authorship of any images created while the photographer is working for the publisher.

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