Commercial Filming and Photography



Changes to Commercial Filming Permits on Park Land per October 28, 2022

On August 23, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision reversing the order of the District Court. Price v. Garland 45 f.4th 1059 (D.C. Cir 2022). This decision became effective October 28, 2022, with the issuance of the Court of Appeals Mandate. As a result, the statute and regulations that governed commercial filming before the Price decision are again in effect.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? These actions return the National Park Service to the legal and policy framework for managing filming that existed before the District Court decision. This includes the authority to charge location fees and recover costs incurred as a result of commercial filming activities, including administrative and personnel costs.

FAQs about this change:

Q: I have a YouTube channel and I plan to film my #vanlife series in Pictured Rocks for several days with my partner. My channel has many followers and I get $ from the advertisers and through Patreon. Do I need a permit? Do I have to pay a fee? I don’t want to get arrested.

A: Federal law requires a permit and the payment of fees for commercial filming. These requirements were recently restored by the courts. However, our focus in addressing commercial filming is on larger activities, those that involve substantial equipment such as sets and lighting, or those involving more than 5 people, or filming activities that are likely to disrupt other visitors from their use of the park, or which involve entering closed areas, wilderness areas, or contact with sensitive resources. Requiring small filmmakers to obtain a commercial filming permit who otherwise comply with park rules while filming is not a priority. If you would like to have a permit, the park can issue you a permit for this activity, in which case you may be required to pay a fee. Regardless of whether you apply for a permit, you must comply with all park rules just like other visitors.

Q: I received a filming permit before October 28, but I have not started filming yet. Are the terms of my permit going to change?

A: No. You may film consistent with the terms of the permit that has already been issued.

Q: I applied for a permit before October 28 and have not received it yet. What rules apply?

A: The rules for filming that were restored on October 28 apply to your application. Your application will be considered in accordance with 54 USC 100905 and 36 CFR 5.5 and 43 CFR part 5, which was the law in place before the court case was resolved.

If you are unsure about how this legal change affects your commercial filming plans at Pictured Rocks, please contact the park directly by email. We want to discuss with you current filming regulations, possible fees, and how to minimize potential impacts to visitors and sensitive park resources.

Filming in Wilderness Areas

The National Park Service manages and protects more than 67 million acres of park lands and waters as wilderness areas. These areas have additional laws and policies to preserve their wilderness character for future generations. Filming activities in wilderness areas must follow all applicable laws and regulations that govern wilderness areas in the park, including prohibitions on structures, installations, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, motorized equipment, motorboats, or landing of aircrafts.

Except for casual filming by visitors, special use permits for filming are required for all filming activities in wilderness areas, no matter the group size or equipment used.


Still Photography

When is a permit needed?

Still photographers require a permit only when:

  1. the activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or
  2. 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
  3. a park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.

How to Apply for a Permit

To apply for a still photography permit within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, complete the following form with payment information and submit by email to: If you have questions or need additional information, please email us.

Form 10-932 Application for Commercial Filming and Still Photography Special Use Permit

Completed applications can also be mailed to:

Chief Ranger’s Office
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
P.O. Box 40
Munising, MI 49862

Payments must be made via Click here to make a payment.

All applications will be handled in the order they are received. Standard requests must be received at least 14 days before the proposed activity. Requests that involve multiple locations, complex logistics, and coordination with other NPS divisions or visitor activities may require a minimum of four weeks to process. A minimum of four weeks is also required to process permits for projects that need additional environmental compliance.

In compliance with the requirements of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, the applicant must submit their social security number of Federal tax ID number when filling out the application for a permit. Applications will not be processed if submitted incomplete or are received without payment.


What Fees Will I Have to Pay?

The park will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for still photography permits. Cost recovery includes an application fee ($100) and any additional charges to cover the costs incurred by the park in processing your request and monitoring your permit. This amount will vary depending on 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:

Number of People Commercial Still Photography
1 to 2 (camera & tripod only) $0
3 to 10 $50/day
11 to 30 $150/day
31 to 49 $250/day
Over 50 $250/day
Cost Recovery Charges

Additional cost recovery charges that may be assessed will be determined during the initial review of the permit application and the initial contact and consultation with permittees. Circumstances which may require additional cost recovery charges include:

  • Monitoring
  • Interviews
  • Scouting

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. Short-term policies must show coverage on an “occurrence” basis. All insurance certificates must be issued by an insurance company operation in the United States. The park must receive the original insurance certificate no later than one week before the scheduled activity.

Performance Bonds
Certain activities may trigger the need for the permittee to post a refundable damage bond. The amount of the bond will be equivalent to the estimated cost to NPS for clean up, repair or rehabilitation of resources or facilities that could potentially be impacted by the permit activities. At the conclusion of the permit, the bond will be returned to the permittee after costs of clean up, repair or rehabilitation are deducted. The performance bond can be in the form of a money order or cashiers check.

Sharing the Park
A permit does not give exclusive rights to the permittee or allow the permittee to restrict visitors from any location; therefore sites which attract a large number of visitors should be avoided. Normal visitor use patterns will not be interrupted for longer than five minutes, and only as specified in the approved permit. Visitors will be able to observe filming activity.

Restrictions and Conditions
All restrictions and conditions will be enumerated in the permit. The following activities are restricted and must be approved on a case by case basis; (1) use of children or animals, (2) discharge of blank ammunition and all black powder weapons, (3) mechanical or pyrotechnic special effects, (4) stunts, (5) amplified sound or music, (6) placing of large set dressings, (7) photography inside interiors of government administrative work areas, (8) photography equipment or activities on roadways, (9) access to closed areas or access to areas during non-visitor use hours.

The permit will specify the number of people and the types of equipment allowed. The NPS monitor on duty will not allow activities not specified in the permit.

Please note that the permit does not include authority to photograph park visitors unless agreed to by the visitor and a signed written release is obtained by the permittee.

Permit activities may be restricted based on weather, seasonal conditions or conflicts with visitor use (fire danger, wildlife concerns, busy weekends, etc.). Additional closures use limits and/or restricted activities are listed in the superintendent’s compendium.

Prohibited Activities
Activities having the potential to damage or significantly impact or alter park resources are prohibited. The following is a partial list of prohibited activities: (1) altering, damaging or removing vegetation, (2) vehicle use off established roads and parking areas, (3) use of insecticides, herbicides and pesticides, (4) loud noises that exceed 60 decibels or have the potential to negatively impact park resources or visitors experience, (5) smoking in building or vegetated areas, (6) use fragile vegetation areas, except on trails or already disturbed areas (as determined by the NPS), (7) flying aircraft below FAA recommended minimum altitude (usually 2,000 feet) above noise sensitive areas (National Parks), (8) writing on or discoloring any natural feature or structure.

Use of aircraft and helicopters is highly restricted. Sensitive wildlife habitat, expectation of solitude in wilderness areas, and safety are our primary consideration with regard to over flight activities. Therefore, aerial filming is rarely allowed.

Termination of Permit
All photography permits issued by the National Park Service are “revocable” on 24 hours notice or WITHOUT NOTICE if the terms of the permit are violated. Deliberate infractions of the terms of the filming permit or the deliberate making of false or misleading statements concerning intended actions in order to obtain a permit are causes for immediate termination of the permit and cause for possible prosecution. Permits will be revoked if damage to resources or facilities is threatened, or if there is a clear danger to public health or safety.

Last updated: May 12, 2023

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P.O. Box 40
Munising, MI 49862


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