If you’re thinking of selling, or even just displaying, the photos you take of other people, it’s a good idea to get the subject or subjects to sign a model release. Photographers and attorneys can debate when such a release is actually needed  — but when I have recognizable faces in my images, I like to have a release just to be safe.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s simply not practical, or even possible, to get my subjects to sign a release. So I have a trick I use in those situations: I make sure to take pictures where I can’t recognize the subjects’ faces.
When I’m out shooting in public places (like beaches), and I am too far away (as I was for the photo above) to get to the subjects in time to have them sign a release, I consciously look for moments when the subjects’ faces are turned away from me. I do the same in other situations where it’s difficult to get a release signed — such as a busy street in Manhattan.
Simplifying My Life
Does this choice rob me of some great shots? Of course it does.
But does it also simplify my life and provide good photos in situations where getting a release would be a major hassle or impossible? Definitely.
For the photo above, I watched a father and daughter gathering periwinkle shells at the beach for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I was a few hundred feet above them, on a rocky overlook. Finding my way down to them with my tripod and cameras would have been pretty dangerous.
So instead I watched them, waiting until they were just “generic humans” on the shore. I know this kind of trade-off isn’t always necessary — especially for editorial usage — but it makes my life easier.
The advice I give other photographers is to carry model releases with you, get them signed when you can, and get a phone number and address from your subjects. And if you can’t get them signed, make the subject unrecognizable.
That way, you never have to worry about which photos have a release and which don’t, and which uses are legally acceptable and which aren’t.