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Legal Tips for Models During a Photo Shoot

Updated on September 28, 2012

Breaking into the world of modeling can be an exciting, yet frightening experience. The idea of seeing yourself in print and in advertising draws many young women and men into photo shoots and modeling agencies. Unfortunately for many of them, the realities of a career in modeling are not what they expected.

There is a lot more to a successful career in modeling than just looking pretty! Although it may seem like the most important part of being a model is physical appearance, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that takes place to actually get to the photographs that make the ads. In this article I am going to take a look at some of the legal considerations a model should consider. These tips will help the new model to protect themselves on a photo shoot and make sure that they understand everything the photographer is offering.


Agree On Compensation First

The first thing that a model should consider when going into a photo shoot is compensation or payment. Unfortunately it isn't as black and white as showing up, posing for some pictures and getting a big paycheck!

If you have the opportunity to get paid for your first photo shoot, make sure that you understand what you will be paid and what you are expected to do in during the photo shoot. The photographer may expect you to be available for a full day, or may expect you to have all hair, makeup and styling ready before the shoot. Keep in mind what the photos are being used for when considering the price. You won't get paid as much to add a few photographs to a micro stock site, where a major ad campaign for a large company may pay a lot more.

A new model may have to start off paying for the pictures themselves to build a portfolio. If that is where you are at, don't worry about it. Everyone has to start somewhere and a good portfolio is something that can get you noticed as your career progresses. If you need to pay a photographer for your photo shoot, make sure you do some homework ahead of time. Look at the photographer and see if they take the type of photographs that you are looking for. Make sure you examine the photos carefully to see how well the photographer retouches his photos.

Another option may be to find a photographer that is trying to build his own portfolio. Sometimes you can find a photographer that is willing to give you free prints for your portfolio if you are willing to let him use the photographs in his or her portfolio. This can potentially benefit both of you without anyone spending a lot of money. The risk with this method is the quality of the photographs. If they are a newer photographer, they may not produce the same quality photos as an experienced professional. On the other hand, they may have a lot of talent, but are just getting started. That may result in great photos for free!


Here is an example of a model release. It is the standard model release that the microstock agency iStockphoto makes available for all of their photographers:

Model Release

Model Release

Before your photo shoot starts, the photographer will most likely ask you to sign a model release. This agreement is you giving him permission to use your likeness for commercial purposes. This release is required by almost all stock agencies, modeling agencies and advertising firms. It states that you are of a legal age to be modeling (or have parental permission when necessary).

Some models may be hesitant to sign a model release initially, but it is an industry standard that is required for most photographs being used commercially. The biggest thing for the new model to consider is to read the release! Most of them are similar and will discuss some specific uses of the photos. Read through it and make sure that you aren't agreeing to anything you aren't comfortable with.

Scam Resources

If you want to read more about common modeling scams and how to avoid them here is a great, free website:

Beware Of Scams

Unfortunately the modeling world is full of scams. They can be as simple as not getting paid the amount that you agreed on at the beginning of a shoot, to getting talked into paying a lump sum of money up front, and never receiving anything in return.

The biggest way to protect yourself from scams is to do your research. If you are going to pay money to a photographer, model agency or anyone else, spend some time on the Internet first. Look at how long they have been in business, what they offer for the price and see if you can find online reviews. A start up company or one that has bad reviews is probably worth skipping. If you find great reviews and the person or company has great reviews, you can be more comfortable spending your money.

One scam to look for is "guarantied" work. Rarely will a legitimate modeling agency guaranty you work. Why? Because there is a lot more that goes into this career than just your appearance or experience. Whether or not you get work will depend a lot on how many auditions you are willing to go to, how well you get your name out there, how well you can work with photographers and others, and of course, it can also depend on your looks. But ultimately the decision for employment will come from the advertisement agency seeking the model, not the modeling agency. A scam artist will guaranty you work, so that you'll give them your money. A legitimate company will not guaranty you work, but will help you try to get it.

Know The Local Laws

The last tip I want to give you is to know the local laws of the area you will be modeling, especially if it is outdoors. The last thing you want is to go for a photo shoot and end up with a ticket or spend some time in jail because you weren't aware of a local law or ordinance.

This tip primarily applies to outdoor photo shoots, but could come up for indoor shoots if it isn't a photo studio. First off, do you and the photographer have permission to be where your photo shoot is? If it is on private property you may need specific permission to be there, especially if it is a commercial photo shoot. If it is public property, you may need a special use permit. Again, this is especially true with commercial shoots. Often the expectation is that if you are getting paid to take photos you need to pay for a permit to use the location.

How much skin are you going to show? Have you considered decency laws where you will be at? If you are shooting outdoors and will be showing skin, make sure that you won't be breaking the law! Here is a story of a photographer that had his model strip naked, knowing that there was a high chance of getting arrested: Naked City

Good Luck!

Hopefully some of these tips will help you to protect yourself legally for your first or next photo shoot! What tips or tricks have you learned that you would like to share? Please feel free to leave comments in the section below.


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