Last Updated on January 17, 2021 by Jose Barrios

This article was written considering U.S. laws, so please check your local regulations and laws in your country or state. This is not legal advice, and if in doubt, consult a local attorney.

Showcasing a community’s recreation areas and amenities, such as pools, tennis courts, or gyms, is a great way of showing off a house that’s for sale. Just like good schools, these common areas can influence the homebuyer’s decision on purchasing a home.

As a real estate photographer, adding these photos to your list of services is a great way to increase your bottom line, after all: more photos equal more money!

But there are limitations as to what you can and cannot photograph when people are in the shot.

Quick section links

Editorial vs commercial use photographs

Editorial photos (or film) can be broadly defined as images that are used to report on something. A good example is news reports, they do not require model release forms of anyone in the shot, they are in a public place and are not using anyone’s likeness to promote or sell a product.

Commercial use photos are images used to promote and sell a product. A person or model on a billboard selling chips had to sign a model release form if the chip manufacturer wanted to use their image.

Property photos for the purpose of selling or renting a home are for commercial use.

When photographing a home with the intent of using the photos to sell or rent a house, that is commercial use. The photos of common community areas such as pools, gyms, and parks are also for commercial use when you use them to sell or rent a house.

So, if there are people in your photo, you better get a model release form from each and everyone there.

Model release form

A model release form is a legal document that gives you the right to use a person’s likeness for commercial purposes. This agreement can contain descriptions of the purpose, scope, and compensation (if any) for the photos the person (model) will receive. If the person is a minor, it gets complicated.

Model release forms are plentiful on the internet, just google the term and several options will show up in the results. Remember to pick one that conforms to your local laws.

Rocket Lawyer offers a free form that is customized for each state (the U.S. only). You can download their form here.

There are also several apps available for iPhone and Android devices that provide digital model release forms, some in several languages, some even provide property release forms.

You should always carry around blank forms or a digital one if you plan on photographing random people while doing your job.

How to know when you need a model release

You will need a model release form from any person that appears in a photograph when it is used for advertising or business purposes and the person is identifiable. The following three questions can help determine this:

  1. Can the person(s) in the photo be identified by anyone? Keep in mind that this threshold is very low, they could bring their mother to court and have her point them out. So, don’t rely on this one too much unless there is no way anyone, not even their mother, could pick them out in a photo (think someone with their back turned to the camera, with no tattoos, visible scars, unique hairstyle, etc.). If you answered “no”, then you don’t need the release form.
  2. Is the photograph being used to advertise something? If you are photographing homes with the intent of selling or renting that home, the answer is “yes”, you do need a model release form.
  3. Is the photograph going to used for commercial business purposes, like flyers, websites, brochures, or any other medium with the intent of promoting a business? If the answer is “yes”, then you need a release form.

Property release forms

Just like persons, the property can also be subject to privacy laws. And by the property, I mean anything, houses, cars, boats, and planes. If you can identify the owner of a property by just looking at the photo, you need a release form from the owner if you are using the image for commercial purposes.

A good example of this is commercial properties like McDonald’s, everyone can recognize the owner. There are two scenarios if you can see a McDonald’s building in your shot.

  1. If I’m photographing a building next to it, it is OK to show. I cannot avoid showing it, and the purpose of the advertainment has nothing to with hamburgers or McDonalds, it’s to sell the building next to it.
  2. If I photograph the McDonalds building with the purpose of showcasing my photography skills and use the image on my website to promote my photography business, then I need a property release form.

The same reasoning applies to everything else, trademarks, logos, etc., and can get quite thorny in some situations.

When in doubt, blur it out!

My best advice is to just blur out anything that identifies a person or its owners: faces, tattoos, license plates, etc. It only takes a moment and is a whole lot easier than trying to get a model release form signed.

You can also plan and go to places like community pools very early or when it’s very cold and save the photos for later use. Remember that you can sell repeatedly the same photos from the same empty pool all year long to other property listings.

Conclusion

As a real estate photographer, I just avoid photographing people, I have no need for it, and if I do happen to have people in the scene, I will politely ask them to move for just a second.

If having them move is just not possible, I will tell them before they even ask me that I’m a real estate photographer and that I will be blurring all their faces out. If they object, I just walk away and explain the situation to the real estate agent.

I hope this explanation helps you become a better real estate photographer.

Jose Barrios

Jose Barrios

Photographer

“What can I say? I love taking photos of houses.”

Based in Orlando Florida, Jose is a real estate photographer specializing in vacation homes, working for realtors and property managers to make their properties look great. You can visit his site at JoseBarriosPhoto.com.

Home » Guides » Photographing community pools, parks, and gyms and privacy laws