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“So, I have some great shots of people I took during my last vacation. Would I need a model release to submit as stock?”

Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions like this about model releases. It’s important, so let’s clear up any confusion…

If you photograph people (and want to sell those photos for commercial stock use), then YES, you need a model release if the people are at all recognizable.

The good news is that this isn’t hard to do. Most agencies have a release form you can download from their site and carry with you. There are also phone and tablet apps you can purchase such as “Easy Release,” which you can take anywhere and your model signs with their finger.

However, if dealing with model releases isn’t your thing, here are five possible workarounds:

1.) Photograph human elements such as hands and feet. Just make sure not to include anything identifiable to a specific person (such as a tattoo).

47308369 - grapes harvest. farmers hands with freshly harvested black grapes.

2.) Intentionally blur your photo so that no one is recognizable. This works especially well when photographing busy street scenes or events where it wouldn’t be practical to get a model release from everyone.

32106776 - people in bokeh, street of london

3.) Photograph silhouettes and shadows. With this trick, it’s easy to create generic looking people that are unrecognizable.

30507759 - two people walking in the dark tunnel


4.) Skip people and find other subjects. Look for objects that can convey human emotion without including actual people. This can be a fun challenge.


27284696 - two embracing loving teddy bear toys sitting on window-sill

5.) Look for things humans leave behind. There are so many little details in daily life that can remind us of people and human experiences. The sky is the limit here.

48291009 - autumn rain, draw heart on glass - love concept

28261799 - footsteps in the sand

The reason photos with people in them tend to sell so well on stock sites is because it’s easy to communicate emotion and feelings in an image through facial expressions and body language. However, it’s certainly not the only way.

The key with each of these ideas is to get creative, experiment, and think outside the box.

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