Sell Photos of Candid Subjects: Consent Required?

Candid photography offers you many opportunities to make iconic images. Selling those images, on the other hand, can raise many legal questions for a street photographer with a stack of photos of strangers. Foremost among those questions is whether or not you need the subject's permission to sell the photographs, and the answer is, it depends.

A photo's intended use is the primary governing factor that determines the need for a subect's permission before profiting from their image.  Usage falls under several broad categories: fine art, journalism or editorial, and commercial, each of which has their own set of rules regarding model permission or releases.

Fine Art

If you intend to exhibit your images as fine art, you do not need a release. Once exception to this is if the image is of a minor, in which case you would need the parents' permission. Selling prints of those images at a show is also generally considered legal. However, if you intend to make posters of the prints to advertise your show, you are using the images for commercial use and would need to have a model release.

Editorial Use

In general, you do not need any model release for photos taken in a public place (where the subject has no expectation of privacy) or for photos that are considered 'news'. You also do not need a model release if you intent to sell your photos for editorial or illustrative use to magazines or any other publishers except corporate may be considered advertising). Even photos intended for editorial use can put you at risk, though; especially if a candid subject decides that you have presented them in a negative light. Legally, you may be in the right, but you may also spend a lot of money defending your position in court, so if think you want to sell your images later, get a release whenever possible.

Commercial Use

The moment you license a photograph to sell anything, it falls under the heading of commercial use (even if you are licensing it to yourself), and you will need a model release.  If the photograph is of a child, you will need one and preferably both parents' permission to use the image commercially.

Because of the legal risks associated with using photos of people, increasing numbers of publishers are asking photographers to submit model releases, even with photos intended for editorial use. In addition, regardless of the intended use it is a good idea to ask a parent not only for a release, but also for permission any time you take a picture of a child. A few blank model releases will not add much weight to your gear bag, but you never know when you'll create the next icon, and having those releases handy can save you a lot of legal headaches later.

Finally, laws regarding the use of people's likenesses are constantly in flux. If you are in any doubt as to your legal right to sell an image for a specific purpose, consult a lawyer before the sale and not after you've received a summons.

Popular Cameras for High Quality Photos: