Model Releases: A Cautionary Tale

Posted on 8/2/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Photographers know they must have signed model releases for any non-news pictures they want to offer for licensing as stock photos. Commercial stock agencies like Getty Images or Shutterstock won’t accept photos unless they are accompanied by a signed release.

But, do the photographers, or the models have any idea how the pictures might be used? Caution! Don’t let any of your models read The Indian Express story about Shubnum Kahn’s modeling  experience.

When Shubnum was a college student in Durban, South Africa she, along with several of her friends, agreed to participate in a photo shoot organized by a professional photographer from Cape Town. The photographers called it the 100 Faces Shoot, photographed 100 people of all ages and races in Durban and agreed to give each subject a free professional portrait. Each model was asked to sign a release before the shoot began.

Of course no one read the release. Even if they had, they would have had little understanding as to how their pictures might be used. Shubnum thought the release was simply to give the photographer permission to use the photos in his portfolio.

Her first indication that it was something more came a few years later when a friend found her picture in a Canadian newspaper promoting immigrant rights. Shubnum started doing Google image searches and communicating with her Twitter followers. She found that she was promoting McDonalds in China and also appeared on McDonald’s posters in India, China and South Korea.

In addition, she was promoting immigration to Uruguay and offering numerous testimonials for different products and services around the world including eye clinics, make up websites and laser eye treatments. One friend spotted her on a bus stop poster in London.

Her name and ethnicity also vary. She is Seng Bonny leading Cambodian tours, Phoebe Lopez from San Francisco, Kelsi from San Francisco, Chandra from California, and Christine from LaTrobe University.

In one case the advertising agency airbrushed her face giving it under eye circles so they could promote a cream called haloxyl that would inhibit facial muscle tightening and get rid of those pesky bags. When she asked the photographer about this he said that the release included the right to “distort the character and include false names.”

She can also be found looking for love on a French dating website. The text roughly translates: 'I’m here, do not click too hard I’m fragile. Here I am looking for prince charming of my dreams, who comes on his white horse to steal my heart...'

Shubnum concludes, “It's also pretty telling as to how easily you can be exploited in this new age and how startlingly deceptive everything is. Those testimonials are fake, those adverts are fake. Your holiday tour guide, your tutor or your future bride could just be some random university student living her life in a small town in S. Africa not knowing about how her image is being used.

“So, if anything, use my story as a cautionary tale. Don't sign up for free photo shoots, read what you sign and also don't believe most of the things you read on the internet.”

Copyright © 2018 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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