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U.S. Parks Service implementing $1500 permit or $1000 fine for photographing in National Parks?


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Is anyone else familiar with this topic that can help explain it for me?  Is this an inaccurate article that distorts the meaning of the law or are they serious and I need a $1500 permit to take stock photographs in U.S. National Parks?  If so I sure won't be wasting any time or money visiting any of these parks.  If true, it's quite sad.

 

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/1000-dollar-fine-for-pictures-in-the-forest

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I have been following this.  It is true.  I know that the National Press Photographers Association as well as other industry groups are raising eyebrows and expressing opinions.

 

There is confusion though between the distinction of national parks and wilderness areas and who this is affecting.

 

For what it's worth....if you are taking images commercially in a National Park, YOU ARE ALREADY SUBJECT TO THE PERMIT FEE and you have been for many, many years.  If you don't believe me, look it up at your the National Parks website for any given national park.

 

The issue is whether or not the permit applies to the press, and whether or not the permits are required in federally designated wilderness areas (i.e. National Forests and designated wilderness areas as opposed to National Parks).

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Under the proposed laws, the images I submitted to Alamy Live News last Saturday would have been subject to the licensing fee.  While I shot the images, I doubt that I would ever clear $1,500 for the images submitted.

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I'll wait and see if anything substantial comes of this. Right now it looks like sensationalism. I did check the policy on the website of nearby Acadia NP. It says;

 

"A permit is required when the filming, videotaping, sound recording, or still photography
involve the use of talent, professional crews, set dressings, or props; when they involve product
or service advertisement; or when the activity could result in damage to park resources or
disruption of visitor use. If you are uncertain whether your project requires a permit or not,
contact the park for additional information."

 

This is similar to what I found on the websites of two large Western parks. A permit is not currently required for an individual with a tripod who doesn't have along models, props or products to shoot. I was once the only visitor in a small National Monument when I was approached by a Ranger. He thought I needed a permit, so I politely asked him about the policy. We looked it up in a small green book and found the wording quoted above. The Ranger became very helpful after that. Before my next trip to Acadia, I'll simply check the website of the park and go. It's doubtful that expensive fees are emminent for shooting calendar shots in National Parks.

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Ed and Kevin, I'm always suspicious of anything posted online but I followed a link to the U.S. Parks Service that mentioned the laws and began to worry.  It makes sense to me they want permits for professional crews that are using sets and models within the confines of public lands that can be damaged. I just hope the wording in the regulations is improved or at least not enforced strictly.  I'm certainly not selling enough to warrant paying $1500 for a permit.

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So, let me understand, every tourist visiting any US national park and carrying a reflex camera is a potential commercial or advertising photographer? How do they know if I am going to sell my photo or I am taking a photo to bring it home as journey souvenir?

Sorry, it looks a bit ridicolous to me, even more than the city rule which prohibites the use of a tripod withouth permit here in Barcelona!

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The National Parks Service and the US Forest Service are different entities. There is absolutely no need for a permit for stock type photography in a National Park except when using models or inconveniencing the park authorities. It's all governed by the Code of Federal Regulations - CFR 36 Part 5 and CFR 43 Part 5. However, the following succinct summary from the NPS is more illuminating: 

 

The decision to require a permit for still photography activities in a park is based on the

activity itself as opposed to the eventual use of the image. Generally, permits are not
required for still photography activities unless:
· The activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are
generally not allowed; or
· The activity uses model(s), set(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location’s
natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or
· The park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.
If none of these conditions exist, a permit is not required. We request that you
contact us anyway so that we are aware of your activities and can provide you
with information 
 
Ian D
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Can anyone really picture this scene? One Park Ranger says to another: "Never mind checking out that report of the rouge Grizzly who's been menacing the picnic area in Sector 5, we have to stop these lawless tourists from snapping pictures!" It ain't gonna happen, folks. They don't have the man power to enforce silly laws.

 

Lynn, assignment photographers, with an entourage of "talent" and assistants need a permit to shoot on the streets of Miami, do they not? They certainly do here in NYC. I see teams of people shooting on the street here every week, doing fashion, advertising, films and TV. I also see tourists walking my street everyday and all of them are snapping pictures.

 

Any photographer who does a big money advertising assignment anywhere will do all the paper work and get all the permissions they may need in advance. If they have to pay a $1,500 location fee, it will be in the budget. 

 

What should be noted here is that people visiting a National Park with a camera or two fall into 4 basic groups: 1) a team of pros, 2) one or two people with a serious tripod and a bag or two of gear, 3) a person carrying a DSLR and 4) someone with a small mirrorless or a cellphone. I doubt that anyone will be harassing groups 3 and 4. National Parks are trying to attract visitors not give them a hard time. 

 

We already have after-the-fact rules about model and property releases . . . so anything we stock shooters capture in National Parks will have to be sold as editorial RM. 

 

Edo

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Ed, this actually happens quite a bit here in Colorado.  I know multiple people who have received tickets from Colorado State Parks rangers and Boulder County rangers while "commercially" taking senior portraits or doing engagement sessions in open space.  It's simply a revenue generator and it's very prevalent here in Colorado (I've heard New York is the same way with tripod laws).

 

Boulder County open space requires a permit

https://bouldercolorado.gov/osmp/osmp-permits

 

Jefferson County open space requires a permit

http://jeffco.us/parks/reservations-and-registrations/park-permit-guidelines/

 

Even the City of Denver requires a permit (free) for photographing on their parks

http://www.denvergov.org/DenverOfficeofCulturalAffairs/Permitting/FilmandTV/PermitTypes/tabid/437065/Default.aspx

 

One of my biggest overhead items as a photographer is the annual insurance I have to carry in case I need to pull a permit (generally speaking you need $2 million in insurance coverage).

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Lots of debatable tangents in this subject.  :)

 

I have to go out in a few minutes, so I'll read your links later, Ed (you're Ed, I'm Edo).  But I'm not necessarily on the side of photographers who feel they can take over a public area. Chinese wedding photographers do that all the time here in the city. I don't know the present law in NYC for using a tripod. If you're in a busy area a tripod can interfere with pedestrian traffic and might cause an accident. Just last week I was down at the 9/11 Memorial with a tripod and I was "asked" politely by a security guard to put it away. There was no ticket issued.

 

In my youth I spent several years working as a PJ. Back then my goal was always to get the pictures, not to follow civil laws. :ph34r:  

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During the day I don't use a tripod often but at night it's a necessity.  I've only lived in Miami for six months but so far I've had no problems around town and don't expect it since this is a tourist destination and generally no one wants to offend tourists.  I think I would have trouble in the zoo or any of the private tourist destinations like Sea World, Monkey Jungle, etc. if I whipped out a tripod.  I know private venues like Viscaya allow photography outside but prohibit it inside.

 

As for the link I posted in the OP, one of the secondary links led to a government website giving a month or two for people to formally comment on the law before implementation (link below).  That made it sound much more serious than I first thought.  That's why I posted it. 

 

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/09/04/2014-21093/proposed-directive-for-commercial-filming-in-wilderness-special-uses-administration?utm_campaign=email+a+friend&utm_medium=email&utm_source=federalregister.gov

Edited by Lynn Palmer
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Don't get me wrong, Lynn -- I thank you for bringing this situation to our attention. I'm sure everyone here thanks you. I did hear it discussed on NPR and saw a short video on USA Today. And I don't think you would normally have any trouble with a tripod in Miami. What I said was: "Lynn, assignment photographers, with an entourage of "talent" and assistants need a permit to shoot on the streets of Miami, do they not?"  This new law, when they get it finished, will almost certainly not effect us. BUT . . . we should all keep our eyes on this to see where it's going. 

 

Up above I mentioned what happened when I took a tripod down to the New World Trade Center (9/11 Memorial). Well . . . I went back down there this afternoon. I wasn't planning to but I ended walking over from Chinatown. I asked two security guards what their rule was regarding people using tripods. They said (more or less): "At first (they've only been open since spring) we stopped people from using them, but now we've lightened up and we let them do it." So I'll go back down with my tripod one night this week. 

 

I hope you're having nice weather in Miami, Lynn.

 

Ciao, Edo

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It's all good Ed, I understood what you meant.  As for weather it's been hot and sunny here all summer but the last two weeks have been cloudy with lots of rain.  I took some good stormy shots in the Keys the weekend before last, and last week I didn't even bother to leave the house.

 

I first hesitated to post this because it sounded so ridiculous that I felt it was yet another under informed, over sensationalized internet article. After snooping about it looked like there might be some truth to it so I came to the forum to ask the pros. :)   

 

The link Linda posted presents an interpretation that sounds reasonable.  My biggest concern is that this regulation might be written in such a manner that an overzealous park administrator or ranger could arrive at an unreasonably restrictive interpretation and then try to enforce it. Or worse, they don't try to enforce it in the parks but rather surf the various photo sites for images that they think might break the rules and send out notices. 

 

I know, I worry too much...I'm off to work now.

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Ian D makes an important point: "The National Parks Service and the US Forest Service are different entities." 

 

The media is on top of this . . . so far (but they have the attention span of a dead flea).  And I mentioned that the Rangers do not have the staff to police all the people in the woods . . . so they don't have the staff to surf the Net and follow through on offenders either.  http://www.fs.fed.us

 

But . . . seeing the other side of this question for a minute, it's not as if they don't sometimes pass bad laws here in the US of A. We had Prohibition throughout the land from 1920 to 1933. (Thank God I wasn't around then.) The law was supposed to control alcoholism but instead it helped create and finance organized crime -- yes, the original Good Fellas. 

 

Edo

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These laws are all over the place and meant to control film sets and wedding photographers, who could interfere with the public's enjoyment of the area.

 

The city of Toronto, and the Canadian provincial and national parks have had this rule in place for years. I have only been approached once. It was at a city garden in May with a high traffic of wedding photographers. The approach was polite, and I was allowed to continue using my tripod without a permit.

 

I once heard of an overzealous US National Park ranger who was interfering with photographers. He was later outed as a full time park ranger, and a part time semi pro stock photographer.

 

Bad laws can turn our individual freedoms over to the bureaucracy.

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