Signed Photo Model Releases & Payments: My Tried & Tested Approach

Signed Photo Model Releases & Payments: My Tried & Tested Approach

Preface: This post is based on the assumption that you collaborate with a model to perform a shoot. It’s not about shooting a model’s portfolio or the woman being your client. It’s about that you want to utilize the imagery in an intended way later on.

Scenario: Planning Your Shoot

Planning & Execution a Photo Shoot - Photo Model Releases
You are organizing a shoot. You book a location or studio. Then research a freelance model, communicate with her via email and/or phone. In the end you have a deal and all conditions are finalized in written form (most commonly in an email). You probably rent some additional gear and so forth…

In short, you spend an amount of time and money in organizing the shoot and then some more after its execution. Even if you have a setup where no hard cash is involved at all (you shoot at a free place, model works for free etc) – time is money. And both parties will have legal rights (+ duties) regarding the outcome.

It’s Not About Working “Commercially”

Expanding Photography Portfolio - Photo Model Releases
Not each of our shoots has a commercial background. Sometimes it’s “just” a shoot for expanding the portfolio, elaborating a new style or living-out an art project. Whatsoever …- Every single shoot/project should be accompanied by the correct, legal paper work!

Whatever your (publishing) goal of a shoot might be, you need a signed contract to be on the safe side.
Portfolio usage, framing for an exhibition, blog post illustration, editorial work (lucky you!) – these are all kind of publishing forms.

Provide a Contract Copy Before Closing the Model-Deal

Make one thing sure and clear from the beginning whilst being in the deal-closing process with your subject: get her a digital copy of the yet-to-sign contract in the negotiation process. The model has the right to see the contract paragraphs your mutual deal will be based upon. She needs the peace of mind that everything looks right. And you certainly will NOT change any of the contract’s content and present her with a modified version at the actual shoot later on!

Art Nude Photo Project - Photo Model Releases

Different Type of Model Release: Sign One Every time!

As said above, your shoot may not be a commercial one. It’s probably a TFP based one. Whatever your mutual agreement is based upon, there’s always a proper type of release for it. I can’t talk about all the various forms here but I want to urge you to always sign a release form with your model!


Now, first of all we are shooting (implied) nudes, right? Means 18+ (or older, depending on country & state) at the date of the shoot – you have to be able to provide such proof upon request. Further, times are changing. After a few years your model gets married and she wants to forget about the photos. But you have publishing rights and you’re just preparing your first printed book/gallery exhibition. If you have a contract, she can’t prohibit anything (it’s then up to you to decide how generous you want to be…).

Whatever scenario you might possibly think of: It likely will happen. Remember: A solid contract is for the bad times. Not the good ones.

Mugshot Needed! Securing Your Investment

ID Shot & Contract at the End of a Shoot - Photo Model Releases
What looks like mug shots is actually the most important part at the end of each of my shoots: The model’s face, her ID and the signed contract all together in one picture.

It’s the ultimate proof that the model

  • is aware of the contract’s content (agreement)
  • signed the contract in person on the production day
  • is at least 18 years old at the day of the shoot (government or state-issued document with photo qualifies as ID proof).

My Best Practice: Doing Legal Stuff at the END of a Shoot

Dominika Signed Contract - Photo Model Releases
Despite what other sources might suggest, I let the model sign the agreed contract at the very end of the shoot if I work with a freelance model (no agency involved). More precisely, when I am handing over the money and doing the ID shots.


It’s a psychological thing. Sometimes when working with new faces or models I never worked before, I just want to make sure that they properly perform the work/poses/concept/hours according to the deal we made.

If I let them sign the contract upfront, they get the feeling that half of the production is already done. Without lifting a finger (except for showing up, but it’s about her money, right?).
It would be even less productive to hand over the fee right at the beginning. Complications would be kind of inevitable. The model has a bad mood/is not giving her best efforts because she got the cash already… – not a great atmosphere to work in, let alone the horrible results it would produce.

I am not using this process to force my models to never-ending, limitless, impossible posing performances (that would be very contra-productive for my reputation anyway). From my point of view, I simply ask for what we agreed on but I make sure the subject is motivated to fulfill her part, too. Here in Prague this procedure is pretty standard.

As usual, there are variations and circumstances where the process varies. Example: Sometimes I want to work with a freelance talent from abroad. If she has to travel to Prague, I certainly have to prepay the travel costs (and accommodation). Nonetheless, I pay the actual modeling fee at the end of a shoot.

Example: ID Shot & Paper Work at the End of a Glam Shoot

Dan Hostettler Best Practice & Approach - Photo Model Releases
Dominika is working as a freelance model (with published Playmate qualifications) so there is no agency (and agency fees) involved in this shoot here.

  1. After I finish shooting, I let the model get dressed and transform back into her normal look.
  2. Once ready, the model fills out the model release and signs that paper together with me, the photographer.
  3. Then we produce the actual ID shot which is very important for me in case I have to prove that the talent was of legal age on the actual shooting date. In the Czech Republic, this means she has to be at least 18 years old.
    Further, I can prove that the signature on the contract matches with the one on the ID (if somebody requests it).
  4. The talent holds her ID, passport or driver’s license together with the signed contract into the lens. Having both – the official document and the contract – proves that the signed contract was created on the day we shot and that it belongs to this project. That’s it.
  5. After this process, I hand over the money and we are officially done with the production.
  6. Important! I close the production day by thanking my model for her efforts, always making sure to be leaving on a positive note!

Process Conclusion:

  1. You both performed a shoot with effort.
  2. You and the model have signed & proven rights in form of a contract.
  3. The model got paid out in cash.
  4. Everybody is happy 🙂

Getty Images Resources: Being on the Safe Side

Getty Images is not known for their nude, glamour, boudoir and any adult niche photography at all. Yet, if you operate your legal work basics along the recommendation and templates they provide, you can be pretty sure to be on the safe side. Getty Images is a rock-solid starting point.

Here are the most important links to get started:

More Insights: Photo Shoot Production Blueprint

Finalizing the paper work, doing the ID shot, paying the model…that’s just a small part of a full-fledged photo production (yet a very important one). But there’s so much more.
Go behind-the-scenes and explore in a most comprehensive way how a photo production is set up and executed. This code of practice applies to any scale of a shoot.

In my guide you also find my tailored model release and many other helpful checklists.

DISCLAIMER: My advice is not to be construed as legal advice and is for information purposes only, and is not intended to be a solicitation for clients. When looking into local country laws, you will often find that the law as such would not require any release. Or some countries even have much stricter laws (like privacy regulations). Whatever you’re planning, I urge you to do proper paperwork so you are on the safe side.

Tutorial: “Glamour Nudes: Shooting Blueprint. Concept, Planning, Shoot, Legal.”

Tutorial: ‘Playboy Glam & Artistic Nudes Photo Production’

7 Films. 133 Min Runtime. FullHD
Follow A Complete Production Process: Prep & Shoot. 5 Sets! Starring Czech Playmate Coxy Dominika.
Photo Shoot Blueprint: Get a detailed overview about all steps of a photo production process: Concept, Planning, Art Direction, Implementation, Full Tech Specs, Secrets & Results. Observe, feel and learn from this extremely detailed glam & artNUDE production by following Dan’s single steps. Consider this tutorial a glimpse into a private workshop from the comfort of your home.

Content value?


A traveler at heart, inspired by women, working along Swiss precision. Dan is a mediapreneur, photographer, author of several books and founder + Editor in Chief of a successful photographer for more than 15 years Dan got internationally published and featured on/in GQ Online, The India Times, FashionONE TV, FotoTV, GoodLight Mag, amongst many others. Dan is currently residing and working in Prague, CZ.Dan will talk about his projects, provide insights in shootings & concepts, produce webinars, create Academy content, explain styles, emphasize the importance of working with models and any other exciting topic he discovers along the way.

What process, contracts and approach do you use?
Share your best practices, please!


  1. Dan,

    What do you think about the use of electronic releases? There are a number of apps for smartphones and tablets that provide release templates that can be modified to fit your needs. The model signs electronically and a photo can be taken that becomes part of the document. I’ve used such an app for a couple years now and I haven’t had any problems. But, of course, I’m not terribly active in using my images commercially either.


    • Hi Joe,
      I have one of those apps on my iPad, and the language of the release is based on the standard Getty release. Being able to add clauses to the boilerplate is helpful too. I like the integration of the model’s photo and electronic signature that the app captures, and that the release is sent to both parties by email.

      • Hi Dana,

        I use Easy Release, which does everything you mentioned, but I wasn’t sure if for commercial purposes the electronic signature was generally accepted. In a day and age where everything is done via electronic media, I would think so, but ….

        • I also use Easy Release, it’s more convenient and always with me, and automatically emails a copy of the model release to the models.

          Dan, how would you modify your workflow with electronic releases?

          I figured the date and time stamp of the emailed release would be proof, but the model can always deny receiving the email…

          • Hi Kenneth,

            Great question! I do not really have an answer right away. As mentioned in another comment here I probably would let the model hold a Pad instead the paper for doing the ID/contract shot. But I guess this would look most silly?!.

            Probably in 2016 we will get Pads with integrated printers (lol) and I can stick to my old habits. Well, as you see I don’t know right now. I guess as long I have no intelligent solution and want to stick to the concept that the contract needs to be on the photo… – I will not go for an app.

            Date, time stamp, electronic signature – this all seems proof & safe today. Even if the model denies that she got her own signed copy by email – It does not really matters. She signed (electronically) your contract on-site and the contract is with you. You are covered.


    • Hi Joe, thanks for commenting and your great question!

      As Dana and Kenneth already mentioned there are several apps that seems fine with Getty – so I guess it’s pretty standard and safe (gets you legally covered). Recommended apps by Getty Images:

      I am just not using them (yet) because I still want to stick to the ID shot WITH signed contract at the very end of a shoot.
      How should I do that with an app? Let the model hold the Pad instead of the paper? Oh well it looks like I am an old fashioned guy. I just love print-outs that can be stored in a folder…
      Yet I always store a digital copy too (scan) – you never know what might happen.

      Emailing and all that stuff that comes with an app sounds very convenient – I probably have to adjust my work flow in 2016…


  2. It’s a bit out of topic. I shoot kids fashion. How to get a proper release? I have parents on a shoot at all time. Should I photograph a parent’s ID?

    • Hi Simon, thanks for your question.

      I guess the details depend on if the minor is your client (you do his/her portfolio) or you shoot the minor commercially (campaign, catalogue etc.) In any case you need the parents/guardian written permission (contract)

      I don’t think you need an ID shot there. In our X-rated industry we need a government document (ID, passport, driver license) to proof the age (18+) of the model at the shooting date.


  3. Hi Dan!!!

    I live in a place where giving tips at restaurants or after an haircut is normal. Pretty much because I have seen other people do it, and I have followed the example. In the modeling service I am still a bit gray about this. I have given tips to models, specially if they have performed flawlessly. So, do photographers give tips? if so, what percentage is recommended?

    • Hi Julio, great question!

      I guess to tip is based on both: a cultural habit and a personal attitude. Differences:
      1) Europe: we are not much the folks that tip. Basically nobody is expecting it. Restaurants/Cafe yes, but it does not have to be.
      2) Northern America/Canada (?): Totally different story! Employees in service industry are living form tips.
      Now modeling can be categorized as a service…
      3) Dan – 1: If I hire a model for a workshop/commercial job she get’s what we agreed on – no tip. No matter how spectacular she was. BTW: Being spectacular/outstanding performance is normally not a requirement/delivered for/in a workshop.
      If a participant from USA/Canada joins one of my private workshops: he tips the models. So that’s the attitude & cultural thing.
      4) Dan – 2: Working on a portfolio shoot/private project/stock photography: if the model was outstanding I give her a tip. That’s attitude.

      A few suggestions/thoughts:
      1) If you start to tip a model and you work with her again she might expect some extra cash every time.
      2) If you start to tip models they will tell each other. Pro: They love to work with you (as long as you tip).
      Con: If they don’t get extra cash they start asking themself if they were not performing good, if you don’t like them etc.
      Yet this basically doesn’t matter – it’s none of your business.
      3) How much? Hard to say. If you have a commercial job agreement: 0%. If it’s for your personal work (book, exhibition, art project): 15% (?)

      Folks: Any additional opinion/POV here would be most helpful! Please comment.


      • The info is quite helpful!

        Thanks Dan!


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