If you’re a photographer or wedding and event professional who works in National Parks, you KNOW it can be incredibly difficult to determine if, when, and where you will need a permit. Official websites can be confusing, terminology used can be unclear and despite your best efforts.... you may end up without a permit.
At The Legal Paige we KNOW it’s a rough process and we’re hoping to bring you something soon to help you through it! Before we do that though we wanted to share some tips when you’re working in any kind of National Park, Seashore, or other public park.
Should You Get a Permit?
According the National Park Service, photographers are required to get a permit when:
- The activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; OR
- The activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; OR
- Park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.
Remember the “OR” is disjunctive, meaning you only have to have one of these things impact you to have to get a permit.
Thus, if you answered YES to any of the above questions you will likely NEED to get a permit (see below on some caveats concerning how various national parks do differing things related to their CUA permitting process)!
Tips for the Permitting Process!
After talking with my good friend, Maddie Mae of Adventure Instead (who is basically a guru of this subject in terms of adventure elopement photography), she sent me over these few tips for photographers and I had to share them with you:
Understand there’s 2 kinds of permits:
- Special Use (usually the couple applies for to have their wedding/elopement); and
- Commercial Use (usually the photographer/videographer applies for)
Go to Google Search and type in “special use permit <insert national park>” AND “commercial use permit <insert national park>”
Read all the information you find AND find park contact info.
After you’ve found the contact information for the park you’ll be working in, contact that person for the park via email (sometimes special use and CUA’s are handled by the same person... sometimes they aren’t).
We have found that finding a “District Fee and Permit Specialist” in that specific park is particularly helpful. Then, when you chat with the person, describe your event and/or elopement in detail, ask for clarification and procedures/pricing for permits, and --MOST IMPORTANT-- get a response in writing! This will serve as evidence/proof that you did indeed contact a park official and get the necessary information.
Note: Some park officials will tell you one thing, and other park officials will tell you something different. Oh, AND... each park does things differently, so don't assume that because you need a CUA in one park, that you have to acquire a CUA in another park. This is why contacting a park official in the park you intend to do photography or videography is important!
DON’T DO THIS AT THE LAST MINUTE! Maddie Mae suggests applying for a permit at least 60 days out from your wedding or event date. This is a safe bet to allow you to get your permit in time.
Permits are SO important for the protection of natural spaces that we all love to enjoy. People who profit off of national parks should be held to a specific standard.
Whether that’s an elopement photographer getting a permit for shooting photos at a unique remote location, OR a YouTuber who is profiting off their videos through ads, sponsors, and views.
Permitting, laws and regulations that deal with National Parks are there for a REASON! We have to protect our lands. (Happy to debate you all on this, so feel free to slide into my DMs). So make sure you do your research and do your best to comply with park laws when you’re working in these spaces.
National Park Commercial Film and Photo Permits - https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/commercial-film-and-photo-permits.htm
National Park Commercial Use Authorizations - https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/commercial-use-authorizations.htm
THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.
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