Contracts/releases are the hardest part of the business....

As a photographer, it can cause a lot of confusion at times. Such questions as “Why do you need a release to shoot?”, or “Why do I need to sign this contract?” are pretty common.

Hopefully, this article can resolve these concerns…


Let’s start with the release. A RELEASE is the consent of the model for the photographer to take pictures of said model; it outlines the chain of custody of the finished product for intellectual property purposes. This allows the photographer to take the photographs and distribute them for portfolio or advertising purposes. It also clarifies that the art being created (the pictures) are the intellectual property of the photographer, and what that photographer can use these photos for (if anything). This sets boundaries for both the photographer and the model as to what and how these photos can be used post shoot.

Why is that a big deal to the model? Because this settles who’s property the photos are. Let’s just say for entertainment value that you have a shoot, the photographer gets you digital copies of the photos, and you post them on your social media page for the masses to see (because why not? You look awesome in that cosplay). A week later, you are searching the web and some blog or another is using that awesome photo on their blog without your permission. “What the hell?” You say, and immediately try to reach out to them, asking to take the photo down. They say that because the photo is on social media without any watermarks or metadata (more on that here) they can do whatever they want with it. Immediately, you reach out to your photographer for advice on how to handle this. They immediately tell you they cannot do anything, as you did not sign any sort of release.

I bring the above situation up specifically, because something like it has happened to me as a photographer.


In the past eighteen months.

Thankfully, I was able to resolve both quickly. I was able to do so because I was ready with model releases from my clients. This gave me the ability to tell said third parties that the photographs are not royalty-free. Fearing a possible intellectual property lawsuit, they immediately took the pictures down.

Another situation that could happen is when the photographer decides to go off-reservation, and sell your photos without your consent. These days companies like Getty Images and iStockPhoto will pay reasonable money for stock photos for pressers and “B roll”. Just imagine seeing your recently shot photos (before you even see them) end up on Instagram as clickbait for some Cosplay retailer from overseas. Unless you have a signed release outlining the chain of custody for your images, you are on your own.

If you are a pro cosplayer wanting to sell prints after the shoot via online (Deviantart, buymeacoffee, Patreon, etc), or sell them at conventions make this clear to your photographer. Selling prints will require a separate licensing agreement between you and your photographer from the release. Most Photographers have pro photo labs they have partnered with that can help you with your prints as well. Be prepared, there is usually some sort of attached cost to this.


The other half is a contract. A CONTRACT outlines the specifics of the shoot; where it is, how much is being charged, cancellation policies (if any), delays due to illness / weather, how many completed photos you will receive, and deadlines of completed prints. This protects both you and the photographer from any random occurrences. It also keeps both parties to the agreements they initially made while planning for the shoot.

For instance, you find a photographer on Instagram. The work they showcase looks really, really good. Several other people (that you don’t know) seem to always comment on the work. As you have been spending the last six months on your cosplay, you decide that you are going to commission said photographer for a cosplay shoot. Upon arriving to their studio (in this case, it’s a person’s basement two towns over – it’s not creepy or anything, actually looks fairly professional) they ask you to change into your cosplay, and they will begin shooting. You pay them a previously agreed upon price via DM of 150.00 for one hour of shooting. After the shoot, they tell you that the shoot went very well, and they will have photos for you within the next week or so.

A week goes by…

Two weeks…

Then three…

You reach out to them via Instagram, but they never answer back to you. Finally, after a month, you decide to tag them on Instagram, and explain your frustration of not being able to see your photos yet. Bearing the fact that you pointed it out on social media, they immediately reached out to you, and said that they will get you the completed photos AFTER you pay them an additional 100.00 for the “time they put in for retouching the photos”. If you don’t, they will consider the photos their property, and do with them as they wish. Despite speaking with a family friend who was an attorney, you are not able to get the photos without paying the extra 100.00. This is called having your photos “held hostage”. It’s not something that happens often, but it does happen.

If you would have had a contract in the above story, you would have either immediately known that the photographer had a “retouching fee” of 100.00, or that the fee was a scam. You then could have been able to seek legal action against the photographer for breach of contract.

Contracts are there to protect both you as the client and the photographer from the random things of life that comes along…

-What happens if you or the photographer are sick on the day of the shoot?

-What happens if you are not happy with the photos?

-Who is responsible if someone is injured during the shoot?

-What happens if bad weather comes up at an outdoor shoot?

Shit happens. A contract outlines how to resolve it when it does.

Hopefully, this paints a better picture as to why contracts and releases are necessary. They protect both parties, while defining the specifics of the agreement.

*note: We will be further getting into releases relating to cosplayers who want to sell prints. There is a bit more related to that, and we are going to create an entire article about it.