Editors love stories that come with photographs, but not all freelance writers are familiar with the laws governing how a person’s likeness can be used. This post is meant to be a brief introduction and you should keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, and consider my advice in that light.
As a general rule of thumb, your editor will not ask you if you have a model release. The assumption is that, if you managed to arrange an interview with a subject, that individual is fine with having his or her picture in the paper (or whatever publication you’re sending your article to). For this sort of situation, a model release is essentially just in case a subject changes his mind at the last moment. You don’t absolutely have to get a release signed.
However, if you plan to capitalize on your photos beyond a few magazine articles, it is worth the time to get your model release signed. Unless, of course, you enjoy lawsuits. You will need to be able to produce a signed model release if you want to sell your photos to a stock photography site, enter them into photography competitions, sell prints and half a dozen other actions.
Apogee Photo Magazine has an excellent sample release available on their website — although you should keep in mind that their release is for adults only. If you are taking photos of minors, you’ll need their parents’ signatures, as well.