Is it legal to shoot under age models?

CJSouthBeach - Photographer
(Photographer Florida, United States)

Well... the " Boogy Man " has struck again. I've not read such fear from a group in a long, long, time.

Of course you can photograph people under 18. I would be out of business if it were illegal, as most agency new faces are under 18. Don't be so paranoid by it. If you're not photographing sex acts, it's likely that no one would care... at all. If you're worried, send the film down here.... South Beach Miami. Fleshtone Miami or District Lab. Keep in mind that a ton of European editorials are shot here... and in those, clothing is optional for all girls ( the models in Euro Magazines vary between 12-25 years old ). We've had things pop out or blow up from time to time... nobody thinks anything of it. If you shoot it trying to be sexy or try to shoot the door the baby comes through... you might be frowned upon, but unlikely reported.

Jock Sturges cleared the path that had only been parted by things like Kate Moss's images ( her topless cover at 14 years old ) and those of Brooke Shields. Jock's work got him arrested upon touch down at JFK by the FBI. He was later cleared entirely.... and his books still reign as absolute controversy ( on the plus side... the controversy made him a millionaire ).

Shoot what you're going to shoot. If you're worried about the place you are, freaking out... send it to South Beach or NYC. Relax.


Posted at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2005
testshootcom - Photographer
(Photographer California, United States)

Quote HB: "In Illinois? I'm sure someone will get arrested. Best to get a digital camera and hope nobody finds the images." Spoken like a true pervert... lol.

That is why I have another hatred for digi guys, the covert operations of, "only I know what shots I took so I can't get caught" [insert evil laugh]

Don't be a fool and think anyone in here has sound legal advice. Never trust opinion, just look it up on your Ill. State Law books, plenty of resources online, since they have to make the law public record. Ignorance of the law is no defence, neither is "Bob said it was legal" and passing the blame.

Posted at 07:20 PM on May 18, 2005
McGowanPhoto - Photographer
(Photographer Arizona, United States)

There are fairly clear rules about shooting underage models for commercial gain. The fashion folks (like Christian) have followed the proper path for so long that it's simple and easy for them to do the right thing.

In other states than those where fashion is regularly shot, there's an element of paranoia involved because the law enforcement people simply don't understand. They equate every image with some sort of child porn scam. They want to know why an older guy is interested in shooting this young kid.

While I've never had the pleasure of being investigated, I've seen the results of some investigations. There was a spectacular case in Virginia where an artist shot pictures of her young children to use as cherubs and angels in her paintings. The kids were nude or nearly nude in the photos. She was turned in by a lab tech, and lost her kids for awhile, spent some time in jail and ultimately was cleared. But the process was painful.

So, both sides of this argument are rooted in truth. Legal or not, shooting nude, seminude or even glamorous shots of youngsters can get the attention of law enforcement.

If you're shooting under some corporate wing (agency, advertisement, etc.), you'll have lots of legal protection, because all the i's will be dotted and the t's crossed beforehand.

If you're shooting something that looks like fashion in, say, Iowa or Ohio or Virginia with underage models, you just need to make sure you do the same thing. Get all the paperwork done ahead of time, and wave it in any questioner's face.

I've taken to providing a copy of releases to printers when I send in anything even remotely eyebrow-raising involving ANY model. It's amazing how it calms their nerves.

The vast majority of false accusations I've heard of, through contacts with law enforcement folks, come from nervous photo labs. Nearly always, the cops go look and say "that's OK." But the way laws are written in some states, the labs are under pressure to report anything suspicious. That "make a list" comment earlier is dead-on for how the gendarmes treat this stuff.

For anybody doing legitimate work — fashion, art, whatever — the population from birth to 17 is not off limits. But there are limits. Just as the law limits the number of hours a child can work, it also limits the kinds of jobs children can have.

So, ultimately it's up to a photographer to find out the regulations in his/her own state (or the state where a shoot is going to take place). Follow the rules, and you'll be OK.

When choosing a photo lab, grill the owner about his policy about reporting or "making a list" of people who shoot underage models. The more professional labs understand the business and accommodate photographers. They know the difference between legitimate photos and child abuse in any form.

As with a bunch of other issues, this one has the "it depends" answer. If you do things right, you can shoot anybody. If you are even tip-toeing the line for making illegal images, you can be in trouble no matter whom you shoot.

Posted at 08:44 AM on May 20, 2005

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