Does a model release have to be a separate contract?

Having a photography contract and model release will set the client and photographer relationship up for success.  These documents give the proper permissions needed for commercial use (model release), outline expectations of the transaction and govern the obligations of each party.  

While the photography contract and model release could be put into one document there are some legal and business reasons as to why having them separate is best for your photography business.

Varying Purposes

These two documents are best served in separate documents because they serve varying purposes. The main photography contract is to govern the relationship of the transaction from beginning to end.  The contract should include provisions such as specifics of the transaction, cancellation policy, late policy, retainer/deposit, expectations, etc.  Where as the model release is the client providing the photographer permission to use images in commercial marketing purposes. Having these two legal contracts separated makes it easier to define the purposes of each form and provides a clear-cut explanation to clients of each. 

Invalidation of Entire Agreement

Perhaps one of the biggest justifications for keeping these documents separate is the potential for invalidation of the entire agreement.  If a clause should be found invalid, the entire agreement could be unenforceable, leaving both parties in the lurch.  

Take for example, the main photography contract is found to be invalid then the model release within that document would be as well, leaving the photographer potentially without any monetary or potential marketing gain as the model release is needed for marketing with those images.


Having separate documents provides are more simplistic view of the situation should a legal issue arise.  Take for example, if you end up in court, its easier and simple to litigate documents that are separate from one another.  This clear approach makes for a quicker and more efficient return on resources and argument.

Confused on this? Reread the “varying purposes” paragraph again – it ties right in. Just remember, simple is better. Simple does not mean altogether. We are thinking long-term for potential legal issues, not what is easiest for the business owner.


Having the documents separate also allows for efficiency on the business end. If the model release is waived, then no revisions or amendments need to be made to the document. You would simply provide or send digitally the main contract to protect the relationship and omit the model release. (see: Are digital contracts legal?)  

A good rule of thumb to follow is: You can shoot without a model release, but should NEVER shoot without a contract because this leaves the parties unprotected.

TheLawTog Recommendation

It is not necessarily needed to be separate documents, but you can now see the benefits as to why you should do this.  Investment in personalized portrait photography is not a cheap investment of time or money. Don’t let this idea of separate documents sway you from protecting yourself, your business and your clients.  Do it right. Do it professional.

Still need help? Contact Us Contact Us