PDN: There’s a prevailing mindset that photographers should always get model releases if they can. However, Dan Heller, you say photographers should instead consider the costs and benefits of getting model releases. Can you explain more?
Heller: Because a large company has a great deal of legal exposure if it were to publish an unreleased image for an ad campaign, it would be less likely to license an image from an unknown or untrusted source.
Unless you’re a well-known, trusted commercial photographer who has a track record shooting models, or are with a known company, chances are very low that you will ever license an image to a large company for high fees.
While everyone’s experience may vary, here’s the quick exercise: add up all the money you ever got from sales that you never would have gotten unless those images were released. So now think about the time, effort and overhead necessary to get all the model releases you’ve ever obtained, and add the hours you invested to catalogue and maintain a relational database of images-to-model-releases. Amortize your income and expense ratio over the years you’ve been in business.
Chances are the return on that investment is very, very low. For anyone who doesn’t shoot models as their main profession, I would proffer that the time would be much better spent developing your business in other ways.