Previous articles in this series have tried to advise people in Las Vegas who want to shoot pictures of models at Lake Mead, or anyone else shooting in land owned by the National Park Service, what the rules are. As we have seen, it’s not straightforward, no matter what the National office says.
If the status of what it’s actually legal to do with models in National Parks is confusing, it’s worse when you take a look at the “as applied” rules actually used by the park rangers and park staff charged with applying those rules. We can excuse them for being confused – this is not a clear situation – but we need to know how they think, because they represent “the law” in the parks.
A survey of the situation on the Internet is disheartening. There are numerous allegations of park rangers who take a strict stance in disallowing model photography (or other commercial photography) without a permit, often in ways that contradict their published guidance.
Here is the statement of a 30-year park ranger on what he believes the rules to be:
“A permit is required if your photographic activities involve any of the following:
– Taking photographs that involve product or service advertisement or the use of models, set dressings, props or equipment too large to be hand-carried;
– the potential for damage to park resources or significant disruption of normal visitor use;
– entry into areas not open to the public or before or after normal visitation hours.
Those seem pretty straightforward. As examples, don’t ask everyone else to move out of the way so you can get your shot, or bypass a closed gate, fence, or “area closed” sign. By all means, don’t cut off a tree limb for an unobstructed view or otherwise alter the natural setting. Some locations require everyone to stay on a boardwalk or trail to protect fragile natural resources, so avoid the temptation to stray out of bounds in such areas. If it’s obvious that you’re shooting an ad for commercial purposes, plan to get a permit.”
That’s not what most park rules say, it’s not what the regulations say, and it’s not what the National Park Service policy says, but after 30 years on the job, that’s what he believes the rules are.
Another park ranger presents a link to the National Park Service page on filming permits, which is consistent with their Management Policy, but not with the Regulations, or most local park rules as we have seen. He says, “Here is the line and its not blurry, I bolded the part that applied to you and the photographer.” And, he tells the readers, photographers are singled out, “Because 36 cfr is a set of regulations that rangers are charged to enforce,” despite the fact that the National Park Service tells us that the rules at 36 CFR 5.5 that he is referring to are not effective. But in this confusing mess, readers might be excused for seeing more blur than the ranger says is there.
The same park ranger emphasizes the importance to models and photographers of the rules, stating, “Citations can and are written, if you escalate the situation, an arrest may be warranted.”
These are not just idle statements, if you can believe some of the stories reported on the Internet:
“This past weekend I spent some time at a decommissioned fort in my area. The fort is part of a “National Recreation Area.” While I was taking photos of an old, shuttered (and probably condemned) building, a US Park Ranger drove up and asked me: “Are you here on your own or are you shooting for a company?” I assured him that I was here on my own (true). He warned me that there’s a “big fine” for taking commercial photos of “federal buildings.” (The government probably doesn’t have much use for this decaying structure anymore, but the ranger made it sound as though I was illegally photographing the Pentagon.)” http://photo.net/business-photography-forum/00SJvd
“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.” http://www.cameraontheroad.com/?p=1038
“With my attention focused on the national discussion of photography permits in the national parks, I thought I would check on my local national park. I have done photo shoots at the San Jose Mission National Park many times, for both editorial shoots and for individual clients.
What I found was proof that there are major contradictions out there and a definite need for the national system to give more specific recommendations.” http://photoblawg.wordpress.com/2008/07/07/photography-in-national-parks
“I was shooting pics and had a ranger tell me that because I was shooting with a ‘professional camera” and would have to desist because I didn’t have a permit. I was on vacation. A friend of mine, and a good guy, was really hassled when he was shooting at the Grand Canyon because he had a view camera and therefor had to have been shooting professionally according to the rangers.” http://blog.jackalopepursuivant.com/jackalopepursuivant/2007/10/filming-and-pho.html
Referring to shooting with a small DV video camera:
“I had to scrap a trip to Yellowstone and lost a lot of money because the park wanted me to pay $65 an hour to have a ranger follow me around on a photo tour I signed up for.
It would have cost over $4,000 in fees to have them make sure my tripod wasn’t a trip hazard but the professional photographers who were with me on the trip could shoot on a tripod without a permit or paying any other fees.” http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/under-water-over-land/81183-national-park-shooting.html
It’s true that these and other stories may not be representative of what visitors to National Parks will experience, since people are far more likely to write about problems than good experiences. Still, the park staff itself is caught in a confusing mess with the rules, and it’s not unlikely for them to make mistakes, whatever the real rules may be.
Despite the great uncertainty about what the law and rules actually require, if the park ranger says you need a permit – and his national headquarters agrees – you need a permit, at least until a judge tells you differently after your shoot had been interrupted and you have expended the money to challenge it in court. And there is no assurance you would win your case, despite all these problems.
This article is part of a series explaining the requirements of the National Park Service for permits for photo shoots involving models. The next article is at http://dampfang.com/modeling-in-las-vegas/photographing-models-on-federal-property-national-park-service-lands-part-eight
The beginning of the series may be found at http://dampfang.com/modeling-in-las-vegas/photographing-models-on-federal-property-national-park-service-lands-3
1. Park Ranger’s statement of the rules:
2. Second Park Ranger’s statements of the rules: http://www.modelmayhem.com/po.php?thread_id=502261&page=1#post10968704