2022 Changes to Commercial Filming Permits on Park Lands
Effective October 28, 2022 and following a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on October 21, 2022, the National Park Service (NPS) functionally reinstated previous laws and regulations related to commercial filming in national parks. The NPS has rescinded the interim guidance that was in place during litigation and has returned to longstanding laws and regulations governing commercial filming in parks.
This means that all commercial filming that occurs within a unit of the National Park System requires 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. Individual parks may require a permit for non-commercial filming if a permit is necessary to manage the activity to protect park resources and values, minimize conflict between user groups, or to ensure public safety. More details about filming and permits in parks are available online: Filming & Still Photography Permits (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
What is Commercial Filming?
"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. Examples include, but are not limited to, feature film, videography, and documentaries. Commercial filming may include the advertisement of a product or service, or the use of actors, models, sets, or props.
Does commercial filming by individuals or small groups require a permit?
Federal law requires a permit for all commercial filming, no matter the size of the crew or the type of equipment. This includes individuals or small groups that don’t use much equipment, but generate revenue by posting footage on websites, such as YouTube and TikTok. The primary focus of the NPS, however, is on commercial filming that has the potential to impact park resources and visitors beyond what occurs from normal visitor use of park areas. Examples of this type of filming are productions that use substantial equipment such as sets and lighting, productions with crews that exceed 5 people, and filming in closed areas, wilderness areas, or in locations that would create conflicts with other visitors or harm sensitive resources.
All filmers, no matter the size, must comply with all rules that apply in park areas, just like other visitors.
Does non-commercial filming require a permit?
Individual parks may require a permit for non-commercial filming if necessary to manage the activity, to protect park resources and values, minimize 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, student filming, and filming for personal use and enjoyment. If you have questions about whether a non-commercial film project requires a permit, please contact the park where you intend to film in advance.
In most cases, a permit is not necessary for visitors filming for personal enjoyment.
Do I need a permit to film?
A special use permit is required for any individual, business, or organization (including nonprofit groups and educational institutions) filming for a market audience or receiving compensation associated with footage or recordings made in the park. Some examples insclude:
- Commercial advertisements, feature films, entertainment broadcasts, documentaries, promotional or educational films (including non-profit and student projects)
- Filming for stock footage (regardless of equipment or crew size)
- Time-lapse photography if the final sequence will be used in a motion picture format for commercial purposes
- Use of large or unusual equipment, even for non-commercial purposes if activities warrant oversight by park staff
What fees will I have to pay?
The National Park Service will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for Motion Pictures/Videos. Cost recovery includes an application fee and any additional charges to cover the costs incurred by the National Park Service 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:
- Motion Pictures/Videos
- 1 – 2 people, camera and tripod only $0/day
- 1 - 10 people $150/day
- 11 - 30 people $250/day
- 31 - 49 people $500/day
- Over 50 people $750/day
When is a permit needed?
In most cases, still photography does not require a permit. A permit is required for still photography 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
the National Park Service would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.
A “model” means a person or object that serves as the subject for still photography for the purpose of promoting the sale or use of a product or service. Models include, but are not limited to, individuals, animals, or inanimate objects, such as vehicles, boats, articles of clothing, and food and beverage products. Portrait subjects, such as wedding parties and high school graduates, are not considered models.
What fees will I have to pay?
The National Park Service will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for still photography permits. Cost recovery includes an application fee and any additional charges to cover the costs incurred by the National Park Service 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 still photography fee schedule:
- 1–10 people - $50/day
- 11–30 people - $150/day
- Over 30 people - $250/day
Are there other permit requirements?
You may 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.
How do I apply for a permit?
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.
If you are planning a photography workshop, you may need a commercial use authorization. See the commercial use authorization page for more information.
First Amendment Activities
We encourage citizens to exercise rights guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the courts have recognized that activities associated with the exercise of these rights may be reasonably regulated to protect the public and park resources. Therefore, such First Amendment activities involving over 25 participants require Special Use Permits, and National Park Service staff may regulate the time, place, and manner in which they are conducted. Some examples are:
- distribution and/or sale of printed matter
- religious services
- public demonstrations or assemblies, etc.
- collecting signatures for petitions