A few years ago, a survey from Nielsen revealed that advertisements depicting real-life situations resonated most powerfully with customers, as selected by 44% of global respondents. Great ad campaigns tell familiar and relatable stories, so it’s no surprise that many of the most successful commercial photos on 500px capture people in their everyday lives. Trends might come and go, but model-released images of real people will always be in demand.

Model releases are required for all commercial photos featuring recognizable people. Photos of children require model releases signed by the parent or guardian. This includes your standard lifestyle shoots, of course, but it also extends to silhouettes and other seemingly “anonymous” shots where someone is facing away from the camera and her face isn’t visible. Clothing details and context clues, like the location, can give away someone’s identity, so if the person in the photo can recognize themselves, whether through their body shape or even a birthmark, it needs a release.

This simple and straightforward document protects the photographer and the buyer from any claims made by the model in the future. By signing a release, the model gives permission for the image to be used for commercial purposes, including marketing materials, website articles, social media campaigns, brochures, product packaging, and more. With the recent rise in the popularity of royalty-free stock photography licenses, where the buyer pays a one-time fee for the right to use an image, your photos could appear across print and online channels.

To give you an idea of how important model releases are in the commercial sphere, consider the following: in one instance, a bank famously used a photo of approximately 300 employees as part of an ad campaign, but they neglected to get all those releases signed. When some of those employees sued, they won the case.

Thoroughly explaining the purpose and value of a release is essential for getting on the same page with your model and avoiding any surprises down the road. Depending on the situation, you might offer a deal where you provide a discount or free prints for the model’s portfolio in exchange for a signed release.

The problem with the model releases of yesteryear was that you had to print them out, keep them in your camera bag, whip them out on set, and then scan them for your records. Missing or incomplete model releases account for one of the most common reasons for photos being declined for commercial Licensing. But the good news is that model releases have gone digital through the 500px Licensing app. Now, you can seamlessly integrate them into your workflow, while also keeping all your documents organized in one place.

From post-processing and keywording to planning upcoming shoots around trending themes, commercial photographers have enough on their plates without having to track down models and follow up on releases. With digital releases, 500px does the work for you.

Here’s how it works: when you upload your photos, check the box that indicates you’ve featured a recognizable person.

You can then upload an existing release or use digital releases; if you choose the latter, you’ll fill out your part of the form and then send it to your models via text, email, or direct link. From there, your models can fill out their part of the form and sign it virtually whenever they want. When they submit the signed release, you’ll receive a notification, and your photos will be ready for review by the 500px Content Team.

Your releases can then be archived in the 500px Licensing Manager for your records or future use. With 500px digital releases, you can easily apply a single release to multiple photos featuring the same people. You can also apply releases you already have signed to newly uploaded photos, enabling you to submit photos from each session on your own time, without the hassle of dealing with paperwork.

Another benefit of using digital releases is that you can shoot commercial lifestyle photos anytime—e.g., family dinners, brunch with friends, a hike with colleagues. Simply explain the process to the people in your photos, exchange contact information, and tell them to look out for a model release link in their email inbox or text messages. Similarly, if you plan to license photos from shoots you’ve done in the past, and you forgot to get a release signed in the moment, you only need your model’s email address, and they can complete it on their own time.

As always, remember to refer to your releases to ensure all of your photos have detailed and correct keywords relating to the model’s age, gender identity, and ethnicity. These details will be listed by your model on the form. They are also frequently searched by buyers looking to find photos that authentically reflect the diverse experiences of their customers, so it’s vital that they be accurate and true to the model.

In 2021, the demand for diverse, real-life stories in advertising remains as strong as ever. Recent research from Getty Images reveals that 63% of people prefer to buy brands that are founded by or represent people like themselves, and nearly 80% said they expect brands to do better when it comes to capturing people’s true lifestyles and cultures. Work with your models to celebrate relatable moments in their daily lives, and make them a part of the creative process.

“A commercial photo featuring a model has a much greater commercial viability than one without a model,” the 500px team tells us. “Whether you’re photographing a wide shot of a person outdoors or just including an arm reaching into the frame, that human presence allows us to easily connect and relate to an image.” Collaborating with real people and taking the time to get to know your models, while inviting their ideas and input, is one of the best things you can do for your Licensing portfolio—just remember to get that model release.

Looking to streamline your Licensing process further? Check out our article Improving your Licensing workflow to learn how to save time on editing, keywording, and more.

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