The Truth About Photo Releases


by Heather Green

You are at an event, and you paint a design that blows you and everyone else away. You are so excited that you snap a few pictures and immediately after the event you post them on Facebook. Then you get a call or email from an angry parent because the did not give you permission to use their image without consent. What do you do? The simple answer is take it down and read this blog :) knowing the rules and etiquette of using images can save you time and headaches.

This blog is not to intimidate or scare you, its merely to help you avoid the headache and embarrassment of a picture fight. We have all done it before, and many times just out of pure excitement. We have taken pictures, and naively posted them on line thinking no harm no foul. And 99.9% of the time it is not a problem. However, that .01 chance that you might piss off the wrong parent or client isn’t really a risk worth taking.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Long story short, the Supreme court ruled that people have a basic right to privacy ( you can’t take pics in peoples home and sell them without consent) and people have the right to protect their likeness. Likeness means, you can not take a picture of someone and use it without their permission to sell or promote a product. In other words if you are going to take a picture to use to sell or promote your services in the future you need permission ESPECIALLY when photographing minors. ON the surface it might appear that pics taken at events are harmless, but when you post them on your FaceBook page and website you are essentially using them to promote or sell your services.

Here’s an example: 

You are at an event and paint a gorgeous butterfly,  you take a picture and use it on your website. The parent has every right to make you take it down and legally they can sue you for bad photoshopping ( Just kidding..) or misappropriation (misuse of their likeness).But yes, the parents have a legal right or the person in the photo has a legal right to sue for a piece of earnings from the image ( if used to sell or promote a product) or misappropriation. I will say, the likelihood of that happening in our industry is very little, but its still proper to ask and respect the privacy of your clients. 

I have a few rules that I live by as it pertains to doing business the right way. 1) Is never assume. Its always better to treat customers with respect and ask permission instead of begging for forgiveness. 2) Respect clients space… if a celebrity arrives at an event treat the event as a sacred space and extend the same courtesy you would like in your own home.

Every Monday I create picture thank you collages of images I took during the my weekend events and send them to my clients.

A sample of a thank you note I created using an image from the event
A sample of a thank you note I created using an image from the event

When I take the images I always ask the parents NOT just the kids if it is ok if I take a picture to share with the client. (Whether its the parent, party planner, or company) Its very important to ask them and make them aware of your intended use of the images. A verbal agreement is a standing agreement in many states, however nothing supersedes having an agreement in writing.

So here is my best advice:

If you want GREAT images for your site, business card, or promotional material then book a private shoot and have your models sign a release. If you are using your own kids, then obviously you won’t need one, but if you are shooting, neighbors, cousins, family friends, protect yourself by having them sign a simple release. (see example below.) Good relationships turn sour sometimes and its always better to cover your buns.

www.sillyfarm.com11860 West State Rd 84 Suite B1 Davie, Fl 33325

Sadly, we rarely have time during our events to stop and have parents sign a release. So if I am working an event where I want to capture images I have a clipboard with this release on the table just in case I need it. Because  we  create some of our best work on the job and at events, so its never  a bad idea to have very simple release that you can use to cover your bases. (See above)

Then there’s the grey area issue. You are at an event and take a picture of a happy customer and post it on your social media account. You do not have a direct advertisement or link to your services for sale, is this still a problem? 

The simple answer is yes… ultimately you are using someone’s image without permission. Most of the time, they will never know, but if you are looking to gain new clients during your events, and you are inviting them to visit your social media pages, the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself by surprising them with their face on your site.

What about using an image where you are also in the picture? 

We live in the day and age of selfies.. The best invention of the 2000’s has been the front camera :) You are at an event, and love a design so you snap a selfie. The child and parent don’t complain, and you post the image on your personal  page. No big deal, (to you and probably the parent) but if you were to post the image on your business page then it becomes more of a publicity and promotional image. And thats where they have room to come after you. Just because someone consents to have one’s photograph taken does not permit the photographer to do what they like with the image even if you are in the image. The hardest most complicated part about the majority of the images we take (face painting) is that we are dealing with minors. So its in your best interest to take extra precautions and have the parents sign a release.

One time Marcela entered a book cover competition. She called a friend, asked her to model and the picture was chosen. During and after the shoot, the model knew the intended purpose of the shoot yet she still refused to give final permission after the image was chosen. She asked for a fee in order to use the image. Another time we asked a friend to let us use her daughter for a video, she sat with us and enjoyed the video shoot. She fully understood were shooting a video. We ignorantly forgot to ask her to sign a release and a month later called us flipping out and demanded that we do not use her daughters video footage unless she was paid. I knew she wasn’t going to sue, but it wasn’t worth the public fight and ultimately I had to toss her footage. From that point, we always have our models sign releases.

So here’s when you know if a release is necessary:

  • You KNOW you might want to use the images taken on your site
  • You plan on posting the images on your Facebook and social media
  • You plan on selling the images (stock photo)
  • You plan on using the images for business cards, books, etc

Here is a good reference and guide to consent and rules regarding images (click here)

Having models sign releases won’t hurt your business at all, it will offer protection and avoid angry customers. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, you don’t ant those thousands to come out of your pocket because you didn’t ask a mom if its ok to use her daughters beautiful face.

I hope this blog cleared up some of the issues surrounding pictures and when and how you can use them. Knowledge is power. Happy Painting my friends and Happy holidays!!


Your Paint Pal -Heather Green


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