Have you ever been in the field photographing some great landscapes when you discover a person in your scene? Maybe your first thought was wishing they would hurry up and move and you contemplate asking them to do just that. But as you watch them you realize that what they are doing makes for a great shot and you begin shooting.
Later as you edit your images you realize that these are marketable images but you also realize that you can't sell them without model releases. But now that you are back in the office, the chance to ask for and obtain a release may be too late.
You may be asking yourself: If only you had the nerve to ask for the release in the first place you wouldn't be in this predicament. However, it is not easy to ask a stranger to sign a legal document and especially if you are shy by nature. Here are some ways to handle those situations.
In this post last week I discussed the reasons for needing releases and there are many. An unreleased image used without permission can cost you in many ways from lack of sales to a civil judgment. You have to learn to ask for one.
What People Fear from You
When you ask if you can photograph someone you came across and they say no, it could be because you caught them at a time that they felt they did not look good or their clothes were dirty or hair messy and they can't imagine that you could possibly take a good picture of them.
It might be these reasons that you wanted to take their picture in the first place, because of how they looked and you know it will make a good shot.
They may also say no because of trust, they don't trust your intentions. Trust is important in our lives every day. Why should they trust you?
Start by telling them why you want their picture and what your intention is. "You look really cool standing against those rocks as the sun rises." Or "You are fishing right in front of that waterfall and your presence gives a really good sense of scale."
Don't tell them you are shooting for National Geographic, unless you are.
Tell the truth! If you say you are shooting a story for Life or National Geographic and you are not, you may later have to prove it.
Instead tell them that you are working on your portfolio and they could really help you. Explain that once you have enough material you will present your portfolio to these magazines.
Continue to explain that if you succeed in earning assignments from any of these magazines that you really will have to approach strangers and ask if you can photograph them and for a release because you are working on a real story. Mention you are practicing on them and say it with a laugh.
Many people when they understand that you are asking for help will agree, especially when you offer to send them a color print, "saying thanks" for their willingness. Mention as well that you will stay in touch if anything gets published.
This fisherman was fishing in the Yellowstone River, in the fog, when I spotted him and stated shooting. He noticed me and asked "How he looked?" I said "great, can I photograph you?" He said yes and eventually wandered over to the bank where I asked for a release in exchange for a print and he gladly agreed. He then gave me his card and said if I ever went to South Florida and wanted to shoot fishing down there to let him now. He was a fishing guide.
If I see someone in a great spot I always shoot a couple shots first before they see me and then approach to inquire. If they look at me I will ask if I can photograph them and then offer to show them the pictures when they are done. Sometime this requires patience if they are doing something and you don't want to interrupt.
If they agree, go to town and shoot everything you can think of while they are doing their activity. Occasionally they are enjoying it and you can ask them to pose differently or cast that fishing line towards you.
I had liked in to photograph this waterfall when upon arriving found this fisherman there and immediately started shooting. Shortly thereafter I walked up and said "Hi" and explained how great he looked and could I send him a print for a release. He complied.
Make it fun and engaging and tell them that they look really cool and keep shooting. At some point you will be done and here you always approach and offer to show them the pictures. If they like them, here is a good time to offer a color print in exchange for a release. And give them a business card so they always know they can find you. This is reassurance that you are being up front with them.
Columbia River Gorge
I went up to the Columbia River Gorge to shoot windsurfing and when I first got there I sat down and observed who was doing the coolest action style surfing; jumping and getting air. When this guy came in for a break I went over and struck up a conversation. I explained what I was doing and asked if I could photograph him and get a release. He not only said yes, but also asked me to shoot some particular moves he wanted to do because he was looking for professional sponsorship and needed images. I agreed to make him half dozen prints and in exchange he really pushed his limits with the windsurfing action. This also resulted in a relationship where he called often to say what he was going to be doing and can I come and photograph it? You cannot ask for more!
Man On Rock
This image taken last fall while I was conducting a workshop in Capitol Reef NP with Brenda Tharp. As we were photography the fading light on the Henry Mountains, this cowboy came and stood on the rocks and was silhouetted nicely against the sky. Once I spotted it and said something to our group, everyone started photographing him. I was offered to send the picture to them and secured an email address. When I returned to my office I followed through and sent the picture to them and they loved it. Months later when I was processing the images for my agent and came across these, I decided to send an email again and ask for a release and offered to pay him $25. He was thrilled and said to send him the release. A cheap price for a decent outdoor image.
Other methods I have used include telling them that I am shooting for a story idea I have and that I plan to pitch it to magazines (always true) and that maybe I can get them on the magazine cover. Sure that is a sales pitch but I am always trying to get a cover.
It is so important that you develop an effective and honest method to ask people if you can photograph them and also get a release. The money for released images is so much higher than without. And the process is just not that hard.
All My Best,
Charlie is teaching following courses at PPSOP:
Electronic Flash-The 'Mystery' Revealed!
The Business of Outdoor and Nature Photography
Lighting Techniques of the Portrait Masters - An introduction to digital portrait photography
Photo Illustration: An Introduction to Digital Product Photography
Secrets of Lighting on Location
Lighting Challenges of Architectural Photography