Commercial Filming & Photography

Application Process

Filming Application - Short Form

Filming Application - Long Form

For more information:

e-mail us

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Attn: Chief Ranger's Office
9922 Front Street
Empire, MI 49630

231-326-4740 - Voice
231-326-4719 - Fax

The National Park Service (NPS) and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore require an application to be submitted for review of the project. The Filming application - Short Form is to be used for still photography and some smaller video/film projects. The Filming application - Long Form is to be used for more complicated video/film projects where more information is required to evaluate the application. The completed application must be submitted with $100.00. The $100.00 is a non-refundable application and administrative charge. This fee should be in the form of a certified check made payable to the National Park Service.

Remember, you are dealing with a Federal agency and we have guidelines and time lines we must follow when considering projects which involve potential impacts to our park resources. Moreover, we must do this within the pre-existing projects and workloads. In other words, do not expect a one-day turnaround. Give us as much lead time as possible. Include us at the idea stage. It is easier for us to adjust to changes as the plan evolves, than for us to try to rush through a review of a finished plan that needs to be implemented tomorrow. Up to two weeks may be required for administrative review of a complex proposed filming activity while smaller projects can generally be reviewed within three business days. Please allow adequate time for this review process as questions may arise that would delay a decision.

If Your Application is Approved:

Upon approval of the application, you must present a certificate of insurance and a $100.00 permit fee. If it is deemed that a monitor (NPS employee) is to be assigned to your project, there will be a minimum fee of $50.00 per monitor per hour.

Public Law 106-206 instructs the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to "establish a reasonable fee for commercial filming activities or similar projects on Federal lands…" In April, 2006, the National Park Service published a final rule removing the prohibition against the NPS charging a fee "for the making of motion pictures, television productions or sound tracks…" Since May 15, 2006, a location fee is now charged for all commercial filming and still photography permits. The location fee is in addition to cost recovery charges that are currently being collected.

The proposed Departmental rule requires the use of a Department-wide location fee schedule. Until that schedule is finalized, the NPS will phase in the location fee in a two step process. A notice of the schedule will be published in the Federal Register. Beginning May 15, 2006 and valid until the final rule is published in the Federal Register, the following location fee schedule is in effect:

Motion Pictures/Videos Commercial Still Photography Location Fees:

Motion Pictures/Videos

Commercial Still Photography

1 - 2 people, camera and tripod only*


1 - 10 people


1 - 10 people


11 - 30 people


11 - 30 people


31 - 49 people


Over 30 people


Over 50 people


*Wildlife photographers and videographers with crews consisting of 1-2 people will not be charged the location fee. Permitting and monitoring fees will still be applicable when required. This exception is intended to address nature videographers who may spend over 200 days filming in a park.

General liability insurance is required. This is an original certificate of insurance with a rider stating that the U.S. Government, National Park Service, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is named as additionally insured. This proof of insurance must be provided to the park before the permit is issued and filming begins. Insurance amounts may vary depending on the complexity of the project as well as risks. The general bond schedule is:

  • Personal liability: $300,000
  • General commercial liability for video or film production companies: $1,000,000
  • When using boats, employing stunts or other higher risk activities: between $2,000,000 to $5,000,000

Some projects may require a performance bond or cash deposit. The purpose of the bond is to ensure that the natural area or historic feature is left in as good a condition as it was prior to the filming, and to cover any unpaid costs incurred as part of the project. Generally, bonds or deposits will be required in amounts at least equal to the estimated cost to the Government for clean up and/or restoration that would be necessary if the permittee fails to perform the restoration process to the satisfaction of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's personnel.

All filming 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 terms contained in 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 for possible prosecution. At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Permission is required; Forgiveness is NOT an option.

Please remember that this is a National Park Service site and we are protecting resources for generations to come. We take that responsibility seriously.

Commercial photographers and their crew, who obtain a filming permit from the NPS, are recognized as being in the park for non-recreational purposes for the duration and purposes of that permit, and as such, are specifically exempted from paying entrance fees under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA) and the current Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).

On-camera appearances by employees are allowed under the following conditions:

  • The employee is selected and/or approved by park management, and is depicted performing his or her normal duties, or serving as a subject matter expert.
  • The employee's appearance supports NPS goals and has a beneficial effect for the Service.
  • The role is not scripted.
  • The employee is paid by the park as part of his or her regular working hours. The permittee will reimburse the park for this cost as part of the monitoring cost recovery.
  • If the filming requires overtime or back filling of positions, the NPS will be reimbursed for any such additional costs through the permitting process.
  • The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees apply. Generally, employees are forbidden from accepting gratuities from prohibited sources. However, there are exceptions that allow employees to accept modest items of food and refreshment.
  • Off duty Government employees may work for filming companies only if they do not perform or appear to perform official duties. Personnel engaged in approval or supervision of the permittee are not allowed to engage in off-duty employment with the filmmaker under any circumstance. The Superintendent must approve off-duty employment requests.

Government Property and Symbols:

Government property, including the uniform, will not be used, loaned or rented to a film company, or diverted from its normal use, for filming purposes except as stated in 43 C.F.R. 20.735.15 - Rental of NPS equipment on a reimbursable basis pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 1.

Government Symbols: Use of the NPS Arrowhead in titles, credits or other deliberate disclosures requires the permission of the NPS Director (36 C.F.R. 11.2 and Special Directive 93-7).

Special Directive 93-7 declares that use of the Arrowhead is controlled through law and regulation. Hence, under 36 C.F.R. 11.2, the Director may authorize the use of the Arrowhead "for uses that will contribute to the purposes of education and conservation as they relate to the program of the National Park Service." The NPS may actively assist filming and photography activities that promote public understanding and appreciation of the National Park Service, and the Director may authorize use of the arrowhead symbol for such filming projects. All other uses are prohibited, such as advertising, promotional or directly commercial purposes.

Incidental filming of the symbol which may include the shoulder patch of an uniformed employee, an NPS vehicle or an entrance or similar sign is not prohibited.

Commercial Filming and Photography:

The National Park Service encourages filming and photography when it will promote the protection and public enjoyment of park resources, provided that the activity does not violate the criteria listed below:

  • Is appropriate to the purpose of which the park was established.
  • Is inspirational, educational, or healthful or otherwise appropriate to the park environment.
  • Will foster an understanding of, and appreciation for, park resources and values, or will promote enjoyment through a direct association with, interaction with, or relation to park resources.
  • Can be sustained without causing unacceptable impacts to park resources or values.
  • Resource protection (natural and cultural) will prevail over any permitted activity, and non-mitigatable degradation of the park's resources will not be allowed to occur.

PERMITS will be required if the project involves any of the following:

  • Involves the use of a model (or any on-camera talent), set, or prop, or when the filming, video taping, sound recording or still photography could result in damage to park resources or significant disruption of normal visitor use.
  • Involves access into areas not normally open to the public.
  • Coverage of breaking news never requires a permit but is subject to restrictions and conditions necessary to protect the park resources, public health and safety and to prevent impairment or derogation of park resources, values or purposes.

Applications may be denied for any of the following reasons:

  • Damage to resources is expected which cannot be prevented or mitigated.
  • Other activities are already planned or expected to occur at the same time and place, and filming or photography would be incompatible.
  • It involves access to areas normally limited to administrative access or closed for resource protection or safety reasons.
  • The level of activity within the park is already so high that we would not have staff to assign to work with you.
  • The project includes portrayal of activities which are not permitted within a recognized park.
  • The production company is unwilling or unable to obtain the necessary insurance.
  • The production company is unwilling to reimburse NPS for costs or comply with NPS requirement for posting a refundable bond.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will not censor the content of any filming project, nor require finished film products for review, files or documentation purposes; however, a storyboard or layout may be helpful during the review process.

Permits issued for commercial photography specifically prohibit implied or stated endorsement by the National Park Service. Identifiable NPS equipment, uniforms, buildings or insignia may not be portrayed in commercial advertising in any way that would imply NPS endorsement of the product.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

9922 Front Street
Empire, MI 49630


(231) 326-4700

Contact Us