According to USAToday, Washington Post, among others, the US National Park Service will break a long running tradition and will be charging for wedding photographer in their national parks. Permits will be required as well.
The new policy took effect on May 15 of this year and requires professional photographers to pay $50 to $250 to photograph wedding groups. The size of the group influences the price. This new permit and fee policy is not required in every park within the National Park System. For now, it seems that only the most popular parks will impose the fee, including parks within Washington, D.C., the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Statue of Liberty, Alaska’s Denali National Park, Texas’ Big Bend National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
Currently, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture charges fees for photography and film usage in some of their areas. These government agencies along with the National Park Service are hurting under the drastic budget cuts over the past 10 years, including the continued government policy to put all the monies earned by the park system into a big lump sum to the government, which hands back a drop from the original park bucket.
How does this impact the non-wedding professional photographer, especially the nature and travel photographer? It is another effort to encroach upon our rights as photographers to photograph in public access areas.
The excuse given for these permits is the additional financial and environmental impact on the park service from photographers using their area. They claim that photographers and filmographers damage the area and increase traffic and garbage. While this may be true for movie, television, and large group photography, it isn’t true for the one or two people with camera equipment photographing a scenic, wandering wildlife, or closeup of tree bark.
The distinction between permit and permission is narrowing. Yet, if you look closely, it is determined by the use of props and models. It’s the “props” issue that effects most nature photographers, as they seldom use people in their images.
A tripod can be claimed as a prop, as can a reflector, diffusor, or off-camera flash on a monopod or tripod. Equipment outside of what you can hold in your hand can be interpreted as “professional”. Though, big lenses are also misinterpreted as “professional”, even when used without a tripod. When inconsistent rules and regulations about photography permits are issued, park rangers have been known to equate “professional” with “permits” instead of “props and models” as the determining factor.
According to the North American Nature Photography Association:
We have spoken to a knowledgeable official of the National Park Service and are pleased to report the following:
*THE RULES ARE NOT BEING CHANGED CONCERNING STILL PHOTOGRAPHY.*
Federal legislation (Public Law 106-206), which has been on the books for several years, provides that the Park Service cannot require a permit or assess a fee for still photography if the photography takes place where members of the public are generally allowed and the photography does not involve models or props which are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
The Park Service is not proposing to require permits for this kind of still photography and, indeed, the Park Service could not legally do so because it would be in violation of the federal statute…
…So go out to the National Parks and shoot. So long as you are shooting the landscape and the local wildlife at times at which and from places where members of the public are generally allowed, fees and permits cannot be imposed.
For many years in our camera bags we have carried worn copy of the National Parks and Wildlife Service Photography Policy and a copy of the letter from the National Park Service (Anthony J. Bonanno) to NANPA advising us of our rights for photographing in National Parks. We’ve never had to pull these out as proof that we can photograph without a permit, but we never know when that time will come. We recommend you do the same.
In addition, we also recommend that you fire off a few emails to the US National Park service letting them know how you feel about your rights as a photographer, pro or not, being infringed.