Filming and Still Photography

Film crew in Big Bend
When film, photography, and sound recording activities occur in national parks, they must be consistent with the protection of park resources and avoid conflict with public use and enjoyment of the park.

The National Park Service (NPS) is mandated to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (16 U.S.C. 1) For this purpose the Department of the Interior developed RM-53, which governs filming, photography and sound recordings in National Parks. Under these guidelines NPS units have the authority and responsibility to manage, permit and/or deny filming, photography and sound recordings in ways consistent with park management and mission.

It is the policy of the NPS to allow commercial photography, still photography, filming and sound recordings to the fullest extent possible while providing for the protection of park resources and ensuring the enjoyment of those resources by park visitors. Before any permit will be granted, consideration will be given to potential park resource impacts, as well as impacts to visitor use, access to park sites, or park administration.




All Commercial Filming Requires a Permit

Permits are required for any project that generates an electronic media, film, still photography or video production for television, the motion picture industry, public interest or private multi-media which consists of production crews and vehicles, broadcast equipment, props/sets, talent/actors, construction, trailers, housing, animals, or aircraft. Projects may involve feature films, documentaries, game shows, soap operas, shopping networks, religious telecasts, talk shows, docu-dramas, travelogues, commercials, infomercials, public TV presentations, or DVD’s, CDs, videos for training, sales, education, promotions, entertainment, etc.

Most Still-Photography Activities Will NOT Require A Permit.
A Permit IS Required If the Project:

  1. Involves the use of a model, set, or prop
  • Model means a person or object that serves as the subject for filming or 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, placed on agency lands so that they may be filmed or photographed to promote the sale or use of a product or servce.
  • Sets and props mean items constructed or placed on agency lands to facilitate commercial filming or still photography including, but not limited to, backdrops, generators, microphones, stages, lighting banks, camera tracks, vehicles specifically designed to accommodate camera or recording equipment, rope and pulley systems, and rigging for climbers and structures. Sets and props also include trained animals and inanimate objects, such as camping equipment, campfires, wagons, and so forth, when used to stage a specific scene. The use of a camera on a tripod, without the use of any other equipment, is not considered a prop

  • For the purposes of NPS guidance, a portrait subject is not considered a model. Examples of portrait subjects include, but are not limited to, wedding parties, high school/college graduates. But, photography involving portrait subjects may require a permit if it also includes the use of props or sets, or is conducted in an area closed to the public, or needs to be managed by the NPS.
  1. Requires entry into a closed area.
  2. The NPS would incur costs for providing on-site management and oversight to protect agency resources and minimize visitor use conflicts.

Generally, Permits are NOT Required for:

  • Visitors engaged in filming/photography intended for their personal use and enjoyment.
  • Filming of breaking news (an event that cannot be covered at any other time or location) by news crews.
  • Filming that is conducted pursuant to a cooperative agreement or contract with the National Park Service.
No Drone Zone
The use of drones is prohibited in Big Bend NP and Rio Grande WSR


Videographers, filmers, producers, directors, news and other staff associated with filming are reminded that rules and regulations that apply to all park visitors are to be strictly followed. This includes NO DRONES, no entry into closed areas, group size limits, no closures of park roads or areas, no ground disturbance, or moving of natural features, etc. Approved filming and photography permits will contain specific conditions that must be followed. Check with the park filming permit coordintor for info on closures, sensitive resources, and other safety tips.

Insurance Requirement

Proof of insurance is required and documentation must carry a commercial liability (minimum of $1 million) issued by a U.S. company. Insurance certificate must identify the production company by name and business address. The United States of America will be named "additional insured" on the insurance certificate.

A refundable damage bond, drawn as a separate payment, may be required for those projects that have a high potential for resource damage or need for site restoration.

Pay filming/photography permit fees online
Pay your filming/photography permit fees here.

What fees will I have to pay?

The National Park Service will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for commercial filming and photography permits.

Application Fee:

Required, non-refundable. This $150.00 fee covers the cost of permit processing and administrative costs. This fee must be submitted along with the application.

If the filming application is approved, additional costs may apply such as:

Location Fees:

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 location fee schedule:

Commercial Filming

  • 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

Still Photography

  • 1–10 people - $50/day
  • 11–30 people - $150/day
  • Over 30 people - $250/day

Monitoring Cost:

Filming activities authorized by permit may require continuous, on-site supervision by the NPS to assure full compliance with all conditions of the permit. Monitoring will be charged at the rate of $50 per hour per staff member with a minimum of two hours per staff member, per day. The scope and complexity of the filming activity will determine the level and type of supervision. Fees may include travel time for employees involved between filming location(s) and employee duty station(s).


All interviews of park personnel will be assessed at the hourly rate.
This will not apply to pre-approved filming or photographing of NPS staff members performing their regularly scheduled work activities.



How to Apply for a filming or photography permit

  1. Allow for a minimum of 21 days to process any photography permit application. Complicated projects will take more time.
    We are unable to expedite filming/photography permits to meet your last-minute project schedule.

  2. It is highly recommended that you contact Big Bend National Park filming permit coordinator Tom VandenBerg (432-477-1107) to discuss your project before you begin the application process.

  3. Complete an Application for Special Use Permit (form below).

  4. Application packet must include:

  1. Complete Application form (see below)
  2. $150 non-refundable application fee, MUST use
  3. Certificate of General Liability insurance issued by an insurance company operating in the United States.
  4. Detailed production schedule and proposed locations.
  5. Detailed equipment list.
  1. Send application packet to:

Film Permit Coordinator,
PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

  1. Requests will be evaluated on the basis of the information in the application. Therefore you are encouraged to attach details to assist the park staff in evaluating your request.

  2. Your application will be carefully reviewed by park management, and if approved, a permit with specific conditions will be issued for signature.

  3. Location Fees may apply depending upon the size and length of the photography project.


A request for a filming or photography permit may be denied if:

  • There is potential that resource damage or impairment of their value would occur that cannot be mitigated or restored.
  • There is potential to unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park; or interfere with visitor use, access, and programs.
  • There is likelihood that the activity poses health or safety risks to the public or crew.
  • The project includes a portrayal of activities that are not permitted within a national park.
  • The requested activity will violate any other Federal, State, or local laws or regulations
  • The activity is contrary to the mission of the NPS and the purpose for which the park was established
  • The activity would interfere with park management or administration;
  • Tha activity would interfere with concession operations or other public facilities.
  • Other activities are already planned or expected to occur at the same location.
  • The requirements for supervising the project exceed the staffing capacity of the affected park.
  • The production crew is unwilling or unable to provide proof of insurance or reimburse the NPS for costs.

Frequently Asked Questions:

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.

When do I need a permit to film in National Parks?

Under federal law, all commercial filming that occurs within a unit of the National Park System requires a permit. 423 units make up the National Park System, and includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Preserves, National Battlefield Parks, and more. If you believe that your filming or photography activity may require a permit, you should submit a completed application to the park where you want to film or photograph as far in advance of your planned date as possible.

What is considered 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.

If I’m a social media influencer, do I need 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. All filmers, no matter the size, must comply with all rules that apply in park areas, just like other visitors.


Last updated: April 26, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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