Do I Need A Photo Release For That?

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Ahh… the perplexing rules of picture permission. Every freelance writer should have at least a basic understanding of photography permission forms and when to use them. When pictures are included with prose the burden of rights and permissions falls to the writer/photographer, not the editor.

As with any written law, the guidelines can seem both vague and complex. Two things to remember:

  1. Law definitions can be much broader than your own understanding of them.
  2. Cover your you-know-what.
It is my intent to offer you enough information to assist you in the most common circumstances. If you plan on taking writer/photographer assignments on a regular basis I encourage you to do a little more research; that’s my disclaimer—I’m not an attorney and am not attempting to offer legal advice. :)

Pictures of People:

If the people are not identifiable—not the focal point of the picture—and the picture is to be used for editorial/informational purposes you do not need a permission release.


  1. The people are posing or otherwise made the focal point of the picture.
  2. The picture will be used for advertising purposes (brochures, etc…)
  3. There are children in the photograph.
  4. There is someone in “trade dress” such as a circus performer.
  5. The person is a celebrity. We won’t get into that but the rules are different for them.

A note about children:

Anyone under 18 years of age must have a permission form signed by at least one parent or guardian.Schools and other organized groups generally have standard forms. Read these carefully, they may cover the organization but not necessarily the photographer.

Pictures of Property:

You may take pictures of houses, buildings, cars, etc… while standing on public property. However, be sure that the owner of the property can not be identified by the picture. Again, if the shot is for editorial purposes you should be fine. If it is for promotional purposes, get a property permission form signed.


  • If the icon on the vehicle is visible you may have copyright issues with the manufacturer.
  • Trademarks on buildings are copyrighted and the buildings themselves may belong to another company or individual.
What do I do with the signed permission forms?

Keep them—forever. It is a good idea to make notes on the back of the form that will remind you as to which form goes to which picture. When you get back to your office print a copy of the picture on plain paper and attach it to the permission form.

Where do I find permission forms?

Photo release forms are available online at:

Free Legal Documents


The American Society of Media Photographers

and other similar sites.

By Robyn Chausse


Jodi Webb said...

Good post! I once had to get parental permission forms when I did an article on a group of high school students. One mother who swore she would get the signed form to me before my deadline never did so I had to scrap all the photos with her daughter in them. It was so frustrating. I never should have included the permission-less girl(they were all supposed to bring the signed forms I gave the school to the interview) in the photos but she was so convincing and everyone wanted her in the photos...

Robyn Chausse said...

Hi Jodi,
What a hassle!
We can't be too careful though, unfortunately there are unscrupulous people out there just waiting for an opportunity to collect a little cash. It just isn't worth the risk.

Betty Craker Henderson said...

I've never had a problem but you can't be too careful these days. I'd advise to always have a form with you and if there is the lease doubt, use it!

TheActivityBag said...

HI, I have a blog about activities for children. If I am taking pictures, should I be getting photo release forms? And if so, do I need to get release forms from the same parents for each activity that they are included in, or just a one-time thing?

Thank you!

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