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Photography Permit Rules Monitored; Special Use Permits for National Park Access Possible

ATLANTA—How many photographers out there have ever photographed at a national park or anywhere that requires a government Special Use or Filming Permit?

With high price tags, unclear definitions, or narrow application windows, seeking a permit can be quite stressful for photographers, prompting several photographic associations to speak out.

The Department of the Interior proposed streamlining Special Use Permits as they apply to motion and still photography on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife service lands. On one hand, the proposal to make the permit guidelines and fee schedules consistent with those of the Bureau of Land. Still, many photographic associations also expressed reservations with the high costs of fees and definitions provided in the proposed rule change.

For instance, photographers pay a location fee between $50 and $250 for use of the land and a varying cost recovery fee for application processing and operating costs associated with the photo session. With such fees, applying for a permit could greatly impact a photographer’s bottom line. Further, having to pay the cost recovery component—whether or not a permit is granted—is likely to cause photographers to generate losses.

Representing approximately 40,000 photographers across the United States, Professional Photographers of America’s (PPA) service center frequently receives telephone calls and e-mails regarding photography permit requirements. Because of this, PPA, Commercial Photographers International (CPI), the Society of Sport & Event Photographers (SEP), the Student Photographic Society (SPS) and Evidence Photographers International Council (EPIC) responded to two different entities: the Department of Interior and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (MOTFB).

PPA maintained that “a professional photographer covering a school class or family portrait—working with only a tripod and a reflector—should not be equated with a movie set or a large-scale photography shoot for a magazine ad.” Additionally, PPA asked for further clarity in the Department’s definitions of “commercial photography,” “model,” “sets” and “props.” Why? It seems that photographers’ greatest confusion stems from determining how to classify their shoot, which would influence whether or not they should apply for a costly permit.

In regards to the MOTFB proposal to amend Title 43 of the Rules of the City of New York, PPA CPI, SEP, SPS, and EPIC submitted comments for the second time. MOTFB wants to include Chapter 9, an ordinance requiring photographers, filmmakers and others to obtain a “first come, first serve” permit when photographing, filming or otherwise broadcasting on city property.

Despite continuing to offer permits on a “first come, first serve” basis, MOTFB took a step in the right direction in its newly revised draft released on October 29, becoming more favorable to the photography industry. For instance, the ordinance now relates to “obstruction of daily activities” rather than to the specific number of people and type of equipment involved in any given photo session.

While no final rule decisions have been issued by either the Department of Interior or the MOTFB, PPA and its allied organizations will keep a vigilant eye on these and other issues relating to film and still photography permits. Such rules and ordinances can greatly impact individual photographers and their bottom lines as small business owners.

Professional Photographers of America (PPA), an international nonprofit association for professional photographers, exists to assist its more than 19,000 members in achieving their professional, artistic, and fraternal goals; promote public awareness of the profession; and to advance the making of images in all of its disciplines as an art, a science and a visual recorder of history. For more information, visit

The Society of Sport & Event Photographers (SEP) is a private, nonprofit association dedicated exclusively to serving the needs of sport and event photographers. SEP marshals the resources of the event photography industry and delivers them to its members via their exclusive online content, Action News publication and live events. For more information, visit

Commercial Photographers International (CPI) is an energetic, nonprofit membership organization focused on the changing needs of commercial photographers. Led by successful commercial photographer volunteers and a skilled professional staff, CPI has put together information, resources and materials for photographers in this rapidly changing industry. For more information, visit

The Student Photographic Society (SPS) was founded in 1999 to provide career-building resources, networking opportunities, and information resources to photography students.

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