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Model Releases: Working with People on the Streets

Today portrait photographer Christina Dickson looks at the topic of Model Releases and gives some tips on photographing people in public spaces.

The previous post (on Urban Street Portraiture) I described my experiences photographing the street of Portland for a book and documentary project of Revolutionary Media. As I mentioned, there were many technical factors to consider in street portraiture. However, when shooting street portraits there are also other social factors to consider that can either make or break your time.


1. Be friendly: Find a common discussion topic. Sometimes the easiest way to feel out a potential portrait subject is by striking up a conversation with them about a relatable subject. Good coffee. The behavior of a neighboring pedestrian. The weather. Let people see you as a genuinely interested individual and you can’t go wrong.

2. Have a purpose before asking permission: If you are going to shoot portraits on the street, its’ best to have a reason you can give explanation for. Without question, people will ask why you want their picture. “Just because” simply won’t suffice. When I was shooting, I was up front about why I wanted to take someone’s portrait; I needed portraits for a project on the street culture of Portland. Most often, I received very receptive responses.

3. Acquiring model release forms: It wasn’t difficult getting street people to sign model releases for the Revolutionary Media project. I simply took the time to explain the parameters of the release and people were generally at ease with the idea. Once again, if you have a valid purpose and reason you can give explanation for, you should not have trouble getting permission.

If you want to use your portraits for print, promotion, sale, or posting, it’s important to cover yourself legally. Model release forms are a safe way to keep your bases covered. One easy way to receive model releases is to make an exchange: they can get the picture to give to family, and you can use it for your purposes also.

Generally, a stranger-friendly model release should include: Name, contact information, email, and signature. You should also be sure to describe the parameters of your usage. For the Revolutionary Media project, we included: consent to use their photographic likeness for advertising, distribution, print, and sales.


In summary, photography on the streets should be extremely personable. Take the time to converse, to show genuine interest, and the strangers you meet will be more than agreeable to become your subjects.

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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