Professional photographers generally use a Model Release Form right at the outset of a photo shoot. After all, there is no point in going through the rigors of the shoot if the model is not going to give permission for the material to be used. But this brings up an important point: the Model Release Form is not about granting permission to take the photos, but rather to publish them. You don't generally need written permission to photograph anyone. You need permission to publish the photo for commercial purposes (e.g., you will get paid for your photo). It is generally accepted to snap a photo of a person in a public place without a release form. However, if you use that photo for specific commercial purposes, like promoting a product, it's better to be safe and get the release form.
A Model Release Form is like a contract. It specifies all the ways the resulting images can or cannot be used. If you are the photographer, you will want to use the broadest language possible about where and in which media formats the image can be used, so you will have great latitude in selling the photo.
The release should also cover other details about the use of the model's name (or not), whether the model has any right to inspect the end product before publication, and whether the release has an expiration date.
If the person who has had their picture taken is not a model, then instead of a model release form you can use a photo release form. A photo release form is appropriate when the person in an image is not a professional model, but perhaps ended up in the image. If you take an image of your store, for example, and a customer end up in the shot, you can use this type of form.
Whether you work in a marketing department, in graphic design or are a commercial blogger (to name just a few possibilities), you need to be careful that any image you may be planning to use in your material has a properly executed release form. Generally, the photographer will have done this step for you, but ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure the release exists before you license any photographs. Remember, there is a free Model Release Form right here at your fingertips.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.