How To Legally Protect Yourself When Shooting

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Being a photographer means you have to take responsibility in a lot of areas. Not least of these is the legal sphere, which you could be involved in through various issues. The most important thing is always to make sure that you are legally protected first and foremost. This puts you in a position that, should any legal issues arise, you will be fully equipped to deal with them.

No one likes to think about the possibility of the worst-case scenario, but unfortunately, if you do not take the steps now, that scenario could be made all the worse. If you are prepared ahead of time, you could save yourself a lot of hassle and heartache. Here are some ways that you can take steps to prepare yourself right now.

Photo by Jay Wennington

Photo by Jay Wennington

Model Releases and Agreements

When you are shooting portraits, or any other genre that requires you to have a model, make sure that you get a model release signed. This is a statement from the model that you are allowed to use the images of them in whatever way you see fit. You can also put other clauses in place, such as stipulating that they must not be manipulated by the model, that you are permitted to use them in various formats and mediums, and that you will or will not attach their name to the images. In essence, a model release is there so that you never get forced to pull an image or pay a model more because they have kicked up a fuss.

You can consider a model release to be a form of contract. Once it has been signed, you can use the images in any way set out in the release. They cannot complain about you using them or try to have them taken down. If you are paying the model, you should also keep an invoice signed by them which states you have paid them the fee agreed.

You may need releases or agreements for other things, too. If you are shooting on private property, especially when making use of architecture or specific features, you may need a release to be signed by the owner of the property. Again, this just proves that you have permission to use the image. These releases may also come in handy if you are planning to create stock images, as the stock site may ask for proof that you are allowed to sell them. All of this protection means there can be no backlash in the future.


Insurance and Public Liability

You should also make sure that you are insured to prevent big costs coming up. It’s not just about your own mistakes: imagine if someone bumps into you and causes you to drop your camera, smashing the back of the body. This would be a big cost, and it might take a very long time in and out of court to get that person to pay for it. With your insurance backing you up you can get that repair or replacement done right away, even if you do decide to pursue the other person for reimbursement.

Public liability insurance is also very important – and you can look up other specific types of insurance which are relevant to your field. If you are working around other people, such as at events or even inside your own studio, you must make sure that you have the right insurance in place. This will protect you if someone has an accident while you are shooting, so that any payments you must make to them are not out of your own pocket. It is often necessary to have this kind of insurance in place if you want to shoot in certain places or at certain events, so be sure to check up on that ahead of time. It’s never great to find out that you need something like this when you are trying to rush through a last-minute application for a press pass!


Copyright and Metadata

You can also protect your work and ensure that no one else can use it without paying you or asking your permission. In some countries, copyright is automatically given to you as the creator of the work, while in others, you must apply for your copyright in order to protect yourself. If you do not know about the copyright law in your country, it is really important that you look it up and learn as much as you can. Pay special attention to what happens if you take a photograph of a logo, or another piece of art. Does the image belong to you, or is it still copyright to the owner of the logo or artwork? You need to answer these questions before you use any of your images.

You can also protect your work by adding metadata to the digital file. This metadata will state that you are the creator of the work, how you can be contacted, and what kind of license is available to use the work. It lets people know that they should be asking your permission before they use it! Make sure that you add metadata to any photograph that you would not like to see used for free on the web. This will allow you to present a case more easily if you want to ask for payment or demand that the image is taken down if it is being used without permission.

Having copyright over your images means that they belong to you, which is very important if you want to challenge someone who has used them. There have been high-profile cases of newspapers, big news sites, and other organizations being challenged by photographers. They are almost always forced to pay up – so it just goes to show that this is a worthwhile exercise.


Know Your Rights

You also need to be aware of what your rights are as a photographer. In some public places, it might be against the law to set up your tripod, meaning that a police officer would be able to arrest you for refusing to leave. In others, you have the right to set up wherever you like. In some countries it might be illegal to take photographs in places like a train station or near government buildings in order to combat terrorism. It might even be legal for a police officer to take your memory card or force you to delete the images. Read up on the legal rights you have in your country, as well as in any countries that you plan to travel to. This might just save you from getting into a sticky situation!