What are the conditions when you don’t need a model release form?

In a recent article, I introduced the need for a model release form and the basic things that you need to mention in the form. This discussion will discuss the conditions under which you don’t need a model release form.

Editorial use

Editorial use is one of the most important uses of an image other than “commercial” use. Editorial use signifies that a picture is used in a print or web publication to illustrate a news piece, in educational books, or for any broadcast messages for public usage. Editorial uses are one of the prime uses of images where a model release form isn’t necessary.


Photographers often feel that if a face is silhouetted and they’re not quickly distinguishable, such images don’t require a model release. The clarification, in this case, is if the subject isn’t the image’s main focus, and cannot be easily identified using any visible marks or details, then you don’t need a model release. However, if the subject takes up a larger context in the image and can be identified using any visible marks or details, then you will need a model release form. Usually, you wouldn’t need a model release if a person is entirely in silhouette.

What if you photograph a tattoo or a body part?

You may still require a model release if you photograph only a part of the person’s body, a tattoo, or anything that the person can identify as them.

In some cases, a person can be identified by where the photo was taken and in the context, such as you take an image of a bar, and the bartender is visible in the photo partly silhouetted. The picture’s context, body shape, and other visual and identifiable parts can make the person “easily identifiable.” You will require a signed model release in that context.

The basic thing to note here is that you need a signed model release form if your photos have a distinguishable face and the intended use of the images is commercial. Sometimes even the contextual likeliness of a person in a photo can also warrant a model release. The thumb rule is to ask yourself if you’re the person in the picture, would you be able to identify yourself? If you can and know someone is making a profit, would you sue the person? If you answer yes, then ensure you get a signed model release form.