Ask These 6 Critical Legal Questions Before A Styled Shoot

styled shoot contract

UPDATED April 11, 2019

Styled shoots, while sometimes getting a lot of flack, can be awesome.  They are a great way to showcase your work as a professional, go all-out on a small-scale, make meaningful industry connections, and get exposure for your work.

But it can be a legal headache with all of the liability, rights, and model releases being strewn about.

What MUST you get in writing — in a Styled Shoot Contract— before you execute a Styled Shoot? 

1. Who is responsible for what?

Let's start off with an easy one.  We need to get in writing who is responsible for what.  

But is it really that easy?

While it may be simple to say, "ok, the photographer is in charge of taking pictures," (shocker, I know) who is in charge of getting any permits needed for the property? Coordinating models? Providing power? Registering the images with the U.S. Copyright Office? The list goes on and on.

2. Model Releases (commercial) for each business

Whether it's by submitting to industry magazines, using images in your portfolio, or simply posting photos to social media, you're using the photos that come out of this shoot to promote your business.  That means you're using them commercially.  And commercial use comes with a whole lot of extra rules.  Specifically, you need to get a commercial model release for each model naming each business (or, alternatively, a model release to one business with the right to assign to all other businesses, but that's a little bit more complex). Make sure you have permission to use the model's image specifically in relation to your company-- or else it could be hard to go back and get the release.

3. Worst Case Scenario: Who is liable?

Time for me to bring in some dark rain clouds here.

Sometimes, things go wrong.  People trip and fall. Equipment gets damaged. Electronics get overheated and catch on fire (wait, is that just me?!). Props get damaged. Dresses get muddied or ripped.

Who is liable for this?

You need to pinpoint-- in advance-- whose insurance is going to cover disasters, damaged equipment/ goods, or injuries.  Make sure you're thinking about damage to goods and property outside of your team of shoot vendors as well, such as who is responsible when that way-cool fence you're sitting on cracks, or when the model slices him/herself on a shard of metal in that way-cool abandoned warehouse.

4. Copyright License for All!

Say it with me now:  The owner of the copyright in any photo is the photographer. Paying for a picture doesn't mean I own it.

If you didn't take the photo or video, you don't own it.  And sharing it (even by "giving credit," which doesn't actually legally do anything, btw) is an act of copyright infringement.  

So how do we get around this so vendors can share the photos from a shoot?  Two words: Copyright license.

You're going to want a universal, royalty-free, irrevocable license to use, share, and reproduce the photographs. Without one, the photographer can turn around and slap you with a big-old cease-and-desist--- or worse, a lawsuit. 

Bottom line: get a copyright license, or else you're technically committing copyright infringement.

**And as a bonus "non-legal" question to address: how is the photographer to distribute the images? What is the timeline? And can the images be cropped or edited in any way?

5. How may each business use the images?

Going into a styled shoot, we know that each contributor is going to use the styled shoot to promote their skills.  But what about using it in print media? Submitting it to awards shows? Putting it on a big-old larger-than-life billboard you see rolling down the highway?

We need to set some expectations as to what's ok and what isn't ok with each contributor. Do all members need to sign off before submitting the images to blogs and magazines (or at least inform the other contributors to avoid duplicates)? What about providing copies of any printed materials that showcase the event to each contributor? Or informing contributors if/ when the shoot gets awards, accepted into publications, etc.? And... what happens if someone submits to win an award for this awesome shoot?

Which brings us to....

6. What does attribution look like?

This is probably the sorest-subject for any creative professional: how should each contributor be given "credit" for their work?

I like to put in clauses specifying credit "appropriate to the platform," and provide a few examples, with a space for social media handles for reference. Make sure you're spelling out how, when, and where each contributor should be credited on blogs, social media posts, awards show submissions, and any marketing materials.  The type of attribution will vary, but specifying it in advance will help avoid any hurt feelings-- or lost business opportunities

We hope this gets your wheels a-turning!  If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, don't freak out--  our Styled Shoot contract template will cover this stuff for you!