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News > General News > Photo Releases: A How-To Guide

Photo Releases: A How-To Guide

When do you need a photo release for social media and what are best practices around obtaining them?

Photos are the bread and butter of social media - especially on platforms like Instagram - but how do you know if you have a student’s consent to post their photo on your platforms?

This topic has been discussed extensively by the wonderful folks on the #HigherEdSocisl FaceBook page. Here is a round-up of best practices regarding photo releases on campus - feel free to download, share and comment!

What is a photo release?

When using photos of individuals on social media, websites, in newsletters etc., there is a certain level of privacy assumed. This means that a photo release of some kind is necessary to post photos of people in which individuals confirm that they are comfortable with their photo being used by the school. This confirmation is gained in various ways!

When do I need one?

Photo releases are necessary for all promotional or commercial purposes. This means that photos taken at an event and posted on FaceBook do not necessarily need a photo release, while photos used in a marketing newsletter most certainly do. That being said, best practice when hosting an event is to put up signage that lets guests know that by attending the event they have automatically opted-in to being photographed / videoed. They can of course opt-out of this if they wish, most commonly by simply speaking to a photographer. 

One more aspect to consider when thinking about photo releases is where the photos are being taken. For example, students walking across a lawn on a public campus cannot reasonably expect privacy, while those inside a dorm building would have a higher expectation of privacy and should therefore be given a photo release.

How do I get one?

One of the easiest ways to obtain photo releases en masse is by having an automatic opt-in process during orientation. Students are notified that they are automatically opted-in to their photos being used by the university unless they choose to opt-out.

For specific events or photo shoots, photo releases can be:

  • physical forms that individuals must sign
  • online forms such a google form
  • video statements in which the photographer takes a quick video of individuals consenting to their photo being taken and used by the school (which was popular during COVID-19 to avoid unnecessary contact)
  • downloadable apps such as Easy Release or WaiverFile


  • Determine if you need a photo release form or not. Are your photos being taken in public? Are they for promotional or commercial purposes?
  • Signage at events is an easy way to notify attendees of their opt-in preferences.
  • Opt-out options at orientation is a common way to get photo releases dealt with efficiently and en masse.
  • Physical forms, apps, video consent and online forms are all acceptable ways to obtain photo releases - often a mix of these is best to ensure everyone can easily sign a release!

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