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Photographing people is an inevitable part of stock photography. What are the rules for photographing people? What do you have to keep in mind when unknown people get into your composition on the street?

Can you sell photos of strangers? | WahaviBlog about stock photography

    Portrait photography

    One of the most common ways to photograph people is a portrait. Since you are photographing a single person, face to face, model release is definitely required.

    If you catch someone as a photographer, it can be a serious lawsuit if they notice you shooting them or take legal action over your published photo.

    A model release is nothing more than a statement from your model that s/he consents to the publication of your photo and will not initiate any legal action against you. In return, photographers often offer some money.

    It is a common solution for stock photographers to shoot their family members in a variety of natural (not posed) situations, so you only need to sign a model release once and not be afraid of any objections afterwards. With a model release, the image can be sold not only for editorial (see later) but also for commercial use.

    It is important to know that you also need to request a model release from your family members! Moreover, if you yourself are the subject of your photo, you also have to fill out a release in your own name.

    Street photography

    Stock photo buyers are increasingly looking for imagery with people photographed in natural, authentic situations and environment. One obvious location for this is the street, where an infinite number of situations can be photographed. However, there are rules to street photography, plus they are different in every country (Country specific consent requirements on Wikipedia).

    People’s attitude to appearing in photos have changed significantly over the last 100 years. While in the early 1900s the people proudly posed for a street photo, today people prefer to step out of a photo. Unfortunately, many insults also hit stock photographers from those who accidentally get into the frame.

    If you want to prevent undesirable street insults, use a cell phone or a small but good quality (e.g. MILC) camera.

    Large DSLRs (even with a telephoto lens!) have a different effect on people in the street, they often think you are working for a newspaper or taking photos for some official institute. A mobile phone became so common in people's hands, that nobody cares.

    The only downside to pictures taken with a cell phone or a camera with a small sensor is that they cannot be uploaded to any sites as stock photos. Every stock photo company has clear limits on the minimum image resolution and quality.

    You can upload your mobile images in applications specifically designed for them. Stockimo is one of them, which only accepts photos taken with an iPhone and sells them at a good price through Alamy. In my article about Stockimo, I described in detail how you can use this platform to sell your images.

    Model release

    A model release is a special form that you must fill in with the details of your model and your own, then scan and upload it together with the photo. The form contains the legal formulas for where and how the resulting image can be used.

    Each stock photo company requires a different format model release, but there are also more lenient companies that accept other companies' forms as well. This is a great relief when you upload the same photos to multiple sites at once.

    EyeEm asks for releases to be completed entirely digitally, so the signature can also be obtained from your models via email confirmation.

    Alamy does not ask for the form when you upload the photo, you just need to indicate that it exists. You are askes to sent it only if a buyer requires it.

    Editorial photos

    Most stock photo sites accept photos taken without model releases, but these can only be sold as "editorial" images. In practice, this means that your customer may not use the images for advertising or commercial purposes. You can read more about the concept of editorial images here.

    It is always the photographer's responsibility to upload images that comply with the personal rights laws of the country where the image was taken. The stock photo company does not investigate special legal regulations. Classifying an image as editorial does not override these local regulations!

    One of the most popular stock photography sites where you can find mostly editorial images is Alamy. That’s why it’s much easier and simpler to upload and manage photos of this kind with Alamy, than on other sites.

    Basic rules for photographing people, or what you should consider if your image contains people

    Some pieces of advice so as not to run into unnecessary legal disputes.

    • Never take photos of a person without him/her being aware of it.
    • If there are multiple people in the image, try taking photos of them from behind.
    • During photographing the street, when passers-by are the subject, play with depth of field to blur the faces of oncoming people.
    • If you're photographing a crowd, keep in mind that those at the edge of your camera's view don't think they're in the picture, so feel free to photograph them. Of course, you must follow the regulations of the country!
    • Ask family members to be your models (you also need model releases from them if you want to sell the images commercially)!
    • Take photos of yourself as the most obvious model (you need a model release signed by yourself if you also want to sell the images commercially)!


    How to shoot photos of people for stock photo sites?

    • Sign a model release if a person (portrait) or persons are shot face-to-face and therefore clearly recognizable in the image.
    • You are free to photograph a crowd.
    • Take photos of your family members and yourself in an authentic, everyday situation.
    • If the image is taken in another country, study the country specific consent requirements.
    • Seeing that the person in your image is aware that you're shooting him/her and not doing anything to prevent you from doing so, doesn't mean that you can use the photo as stock image without his/her permission! In this case, ask for a written consent (model release).
    • If a building is the main subject of your image, wait until that part of the street is empty so you don't have a problem with personal rights (if the country specific regulations do not allow photographing people in the street).

    Stock photography in practice

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    Post Author

    Viktor Wallon-Hárs (wahavi)

    Photography has always been part of our family life. I have memories of my father dealing with those old glass slides, preparing them for our projector.

    Later I took photos during summer holidays and school trips.

    Now, in the era of stock photography, I dug myself into it to learn the basics and also the secrets how to earn more and more money doing what I love.