Lands of the United States were set aside by Congress, Executive Order, or otherwise acquired in order to conserve and protect areas of untold beauty and grandeur, historical importance, and uniqueness for future generations. The tradition of capturing images of these special places started with explorers who traveled with paint and canvas or primitive photo apparatus. It was the sharing of these images that led to the designation of these areas as national parks and monuments. Visitors to national parks today continue to memorialize their visits through videos and photographs.
When is a permit needed?
All commercial filming activities taking place within a unit of the National Park System require a permit. "Commercial filming" means the film, electronic, magnetic, digital, or other recording of a moving image by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience with the intent of generating income.
Non-commercial filming may require a permit if a permit is necessary to manage the activity to protect park resources and values while minimizing conflict between user groups or to ensure public safety. Examples of non-commercial filming include, but are not limited to, filming for tourism bureaus, convention and visitor bureaus, and student filming. In most cases, a permit is not necessary for visitors engaging in casual, non-commercial filming.
Still photographers require a permit only 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.
How do I apply for a permit?
Permit applications are available through each park's administrative office or website. Contact information for parks can be found on their websites; visit Find a Park to locate the park where you would like to film. You should submit a completed application along with the application fee to the park where you want to film or photograph as far in advance of your planned date as possible. In addition, you should request a meeting with park staff if your proposed activity is unusual or complex. Early consultation with park staff will help them process the submitted application in a timely manner.
What fees will I have to pay?
The National Park Service (NPS) will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for commercial filming and still photography permits. Cost recovery includes an application fee and any additional charges to cover the costs incurred by the NPS in processing your request and monitoring your permit. This amount will vary depending on the park and the size and complexity of your permit. The application fee must be submitted with your application.
In addition, the National Park Service has been directed by Congress to collect a fee to provide a fair return to the United States for the use of park lands. The National Park Service uses the following fee schedule:
- 1–2 people, camera & tripod only - $0/day
- 1–10 people - $150/day
- 11–30 people - $250/day
- 31–49 people - $500/day
- Over 50 people - $750/day
- 1–10 people - $50/day
- 11–30 people - $150/day
- Over 30 people - $250/day
Permits issued for non-commercial filming may be subject to cost recovery charges, and you may be required to obtain insurance naming the United States as additionally insured.
Are there other permit requirements?
You will be required to obtain liability insurance naming the United States as additionally insured in an amount commensurate with the risk posed to park resources by your proposed activity. You may also be asked to post a bond to ensure the payment of all charges and fees and the restoration of the area if necessary.
What about photography workshops?
If you are planning a photography workshop, you may need a commercial use authorization. See the commercial use authorization page for more information.
Last updated: May 31, 2018