05 Aug 2015 6 Things That Can Go Wrong with Stock Photo Models and How To Avoid Them

Even if lifestyle photography isn’t your specialty, you’ll probably eventually find yourself working with models on a shoot. Models can present some unique challenges for photographers and agencies. Some problems are little, some are not so little, and some can be devastating to your career.

Here are some of the most common problems that models may cause for your business and how you can avoid them.

1. Reliability and Performance

Models, like all people, have a wide variety of personalities. The stereotype of unreliable, irresponsible models as unreliable is not universal, but eventually you will meet someone with no concept professionalism and you will have to find a way to work with them.

They can arrive late or not arrive at all, making your production team and other models wait, costing you money. Or they can show up looking different from when you selected them, delaying or completely derailing your shoot.  It could be as simple as a haircut or nail polish, but it could be as drastic as a change of hair color or even new braces on their teeth.

It’s helpful to let your models know in advance that these things are important to you. Request that they let you know with as much notice as possible if they are going to be late or have changed their appearance in any way.

Another issue is lack of chemistry. If you’re shooting a couple or family and models don’t know how to work together on camera, you can end up with unsellable images.

The easiest way to ensure professionalism on the job is to work with models you already know that you can trust. Many stock photographers never work with new models in a group shoot, requiring them to do solo shoots first to reduce the risk of something going wrong.  It also helps to pay models well for their time, provide references, and give them feedback. Treating models as valuable professionals motivates them to preserve their relationship with you and commit their best effort to the work. And a comfortable and happy model always results in better shots.

2. Problems with Releases

Getting models to sign releases can be harder than expected, and even a signed release rarely covers every possible situation.

A lot of stock photographers work with inexperienced models who are eager to get portfolio shots, experience and references. Many models working in this way aren’t well informed about how the industry works, and their ignorance may become your problem.

A model refusing or hesitating to sign a release can endanger your whole production. The best way to avoid this is to sort it out in advance. E-mail the release to the models at least a few days before the shoot and invite them to ask questions to make sure there are no surprises. On shoot day, pay the models first, then ask them to sign the release. Get the release out of the way before you start shooting. This way, if any issues do come up, at least you’re not risking all of the work from a shoot that’s already been completed.

And always check your releases carefully.  We all have a tendency to rush paperwork when we’re excited about a shoot, and on a release, even the smallest and most innocent of mistakes can render it invalid.

3. Objections to Image Usage

Sometimes models for stock photography just don’t understand that neither they nor the photographer has control over who licenses the photos (or steals them) and how they’re used. While license agreements provide legal framework to sue for misuse, they don’t stop misuse from happening.

In a recent case, this british couple and their baby modeled for a family stock shoot in exchange for copies of the photos. An Irish movement later licensed one of the images to illustrate their anti-gay marriage campaign. Fortunately, the couple were very understanding about the situation and didn’t take any legal action, but they did state that they were naive about the possible uses of their images. In this case, the customer suffered more damage than the models after the family publicly voiced their objections to the anti-gay message for which their photos were used.

4. Demands for Photos to Be Taken Down

Most stock models love to see themselves in ads around the world and frequently post their finds to their social feeds. But this is not always the case, especially when they aren’t happy about how the images are used.

Some models actually contact photographers—and agencies and end users—demanding that photos be removed. If all of the paperwork has been done correctly and the usage doesn’t violate the license, there’s no legal basis for such a request. However, even a baseless complaint can harm a photographer’s or agency’s reputation and create an administrative burden while the situation is being resolved.

The solution to this, again, is educating models in advance. If they understand the variety of ways in which their images may be used, they’re much less likely to seek reparations from the photographer and/or agency when they see a usage they don’t like.

5. A Model Becomes Famous

Remember those “Before they were famous” shows? Well, famous people have done stock photography modelling too. Actor Bradley Cooper is a recent example of a celebrity who did some stock modeling gigs in his early days.

The negative impact of this is that often a famous person can earn a lot of money from endorsing products, and having their face available to anyone via a stock photo website significantly erodes that, even though license clauses limit implying a model is endorsing a product or service. For this reason, it is extremely important to make sure all of a model’s legal paperwork is in order. As long as this is accounted for, there’s no recourse for the now-famous model except to buy you out.

6. Model Sues You for How Their Image Is Used

No one knows this subject better than stock photographer Joshua Resnick. He was sued by a model whose photos were used by a number of clients in the adult entertainment industry. Instead of chasing after just the end users for licensing violations, the model and her lawyer targeted Joshua directly in addition to the end users.

That case was withdrawn, but Resnick is still left with the scars, and is known in his local modelling community for the wrong reasons.

While this could happen to anyone shooting people, the more you document and get in writing, the better.  A very strong release doesn’t hurt either.

Get Organized

These issues are the reasons some photographers avoid working with models altogether. That choice is too defeatist for me. Statistically, problems aren’t as common as they seem, and almost all of them can be avoided by being organized.

Always have your paperwork in order, and make sure to document everything. Educate your models and communicate with them about the necessary things up front, before problems have a chance to arise.

Being organized helps you be clear, honest, and respectful, and most models will respond in kind to all of these things. If you maintain a professional work ethic, they’re more likely to do so as well.

What issues have you had with models, and how do you avoid them?

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