Image and Photo Release Forms

Digital images can increase the visual appeal of your publications or websites. However, there are some simple steps to ensure the images you use are high quality: Photo Permissions and Model Release Forms, Copyright Rules, Photo Formats, Photo Resolution, Resizing Photos, and Photo Manipulation.

Photo Permissions and Model Release Forms

When you use photographs, you must secure written permission from the creator and the subject(s) after you have shown them the image you intend to use. The written permission must specify how and where the image is to be used and the duration, nature, and purpose of its intended use.

If you take a photo yourself and intend to use it in a publication or on the Web, you should get written permission of all the people in it.

There are no absolute rules about when you need to have a signed release and when you don't. For example, a photo of a person attending a fair that appears in the next day's newspaper may not necessarily need the person's permission. However, if that same photo were used to promote the fair the following year, then permission is a must.

That said, it's almost always best to err on the side of caution and get written permission from the people you take photos of - especially if many people will see the image. You never know when you may want to use a photo again in the future. Securing permission today assures you'll be able to use the photo again tomorrow.

You should also secure parental consent to use images of their children in almost all cases. Some parents will refuse to sign the form, but it is better to find out a parent doesn't want his or her child's photo published before you've used it than after you've already used it. Think of it this way: how would you feel if you saw your photo, or a photo of your child, in an ad without your knowledge?

If you plan to shoot photos at an event that you think you might want to use later, it's always a good idea to bring along a stack of model release forms. Click on this link to download model release forms. The forms are fairly self-explanatory and will make sure you can use the photo on your terms.


Following Copyright Rules

You are responsible for securing owner permissions to use any material (text, photos, videos, etc.) previously published in any medium (print, electronic, Web, etc.).

If you plan to use a photo from another source, be certian you obtain permission from the person or entity that owns rights to the photo. If you download a photo from an online photo library (such as the NOAA Photo Library) or use a photo from a photo CD, you must follow their rules regarding photo credits and permissions. Failure to follow the terms of use could result in legal penalties and fines.

Whenever in doubt, ask for professional help. Purdue University Printing Services can help you obtain permission to use material from other sources. For information on this service, call (765) 49-42006 or visit Purdue Printing Services.

The Purdue University Copyright Office can also answer questions about copyrights. Call (765) 49-63864 or visit the Purdue Copyright Office.


Understanding Photo Formats

There are many different formats digital images can take. The four most common formats, and their typical uses, are described here.


EPS files are also commonly referred to as "vector" files. These graphics are typically created in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. They can be resized almost indefinitely with virtually no loss in quality. Typically, such files are used for logos and graphics, not photographs. Be careful, EPS files may not work on all computers and should not be used on websites. 

Use them only for high-end printing.

GIF (pronounced "jiff" or "giff")

Use with small images such as drawings, clipart, bullets, and pictures that have large blocks of color. GIF images are limited to 256 colors or less. Additional colors are created by combining colors in a checkerboard fashion, causing images to not look as crisp as they could be.

Use GIFs for websites or printing something on a low-end office printer.

JPG (pronounced "jay-peg")

Use with color photographs, images with lots of color, or grayscale images. JPGs support millions of colors and work well on images with gradients and shading. 

Every time you resave a JPG after making changes, the image can degrade slowly and become progressively worse, like taking a copy of a copy of a copy. Keep an original JPG that you don't resave, or even keep a copy in a different format, such as PNG or TIFF. 

Use JPGs for websites and general printing.

TIFF (pronounced "tiff")

Use with color photographs, images with lots of color, or grayscale images. TIFFs are the preferred format for high-end printing, but they create very large files tha can load slowly. It's a good idea to archive your photos as TIFF files because they retain more information and degrade like JPGs can. 

Use TIFFs for high-end printing and archiving.


Selecting the Proper Resolution

The quality of an image depends a lot on its resoultion, measured in dots per inch (dpi) or pixels per inch (ppi). Broadly speaking, images and photos are classified as "high-res" (or high resolution) or "low-res" (low resolution). The higher the dpi, the higher the photo's resolution and the larger the file.

Because of the way they project an image, most computer monitors can only show graphics at 72 dip (or low-res). So, when you're preparing graphics for the Web, you should probably only display the image at 72 dpi. This is also the reason why you cannot download a small, low-res graphic from the Web and enlarge it (see Resizing Photos) without significantly altering its quality. Most digital camera also shoot photos at 72 dpi (for higher quality images, cameras take much larger photos). 

Images printed commercially should have a resolution of 300 dpi. If you're printing from the office printer, a resolution of 150-200 dpi should be adequate.


Resizing Photos

Digital technology requires that you know the intended size of the final graphic, especially if it will be larger artwork. The standard rule of thumb for resizing photos: you can always reduce the size of a photo and retain its quality, but you CANNOT enlarge an image without sacrificing resolution.

For example, you should never use an image that's three inches wide at 72 dpi and enlarge it to six inches wide. The image will blur and pixelate (look chunky). However, if you have a photo that's 6 inches wide and you reduce it to 3 inches wide, you should not lose any quality. In fact, you can "gain" quality.

For example, most digital cameras take all photos at 72 dpi. At their highest quality setting, those cameras are taking photos that are 30 to 50 inches wide. At their lowest quality setting, they take much smaller photos. Let's say you have a photo that's 48 inches wide by 32 inches tall at 72 dpi (or, low-res). That same photo can be converted into a high-res image (or 300 dpi) that's about 11.5 inches wide by 7.68 inches tall.

It's also important to remember that you should never squeeze, stretch, or distort any image. Whenever you resize an image, make sure you resize it proportionally (that is, you adjust the width in proportion to the height). If you're using a program like Word, Publisher, or Power Point, you can maintain an image's proportions by holding the SHIFT key while you resize the image.

It's best to use Fireworks, Photoshop, or similar software to decrease or increase the size of your images. This will ensure the image will load quickly and look good on the Web.


Photo Manipulation Guidelines

In most cases, you should manipulate photos only to improve the quality of the original photo (color correction, contrast, etc.), especially of known or recognizable images.

It is unacceptable to distort or degrade an image, or remove or add items or people to a photo unless it is clearly identified as an illustration, not a photograph. In other words, if you put your head on the body of a lion, you must indicate that this is an "illustration," not a photo. For example, you can say, "Photo illustration," or "Photo illustration by John Doe."

Remember, what's obvious to you may not be obvious to your reader, so err on the side of caution.

This rule also applies to graphics such as logos. Resizing a logo is fine, but be certain to resize the logo proportionally. In other words, do not make a logo wider without also making it taller in the same proportion - you do not want to make the Purdue Extension banner "fatter" by squeezing it, or "thinner" by streching it. Consult your software details, but with many products, holding down the SHIFT key while resizing the logo will keep it in proportion.

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