The National Park Service conserves and protects areas of untold beauty, grandeur and historical importance for current and future generations. The tradition of capturing images of these special places started with explorers who traveled with paint and canvas or primitive cameras. Sharing these images helped inspire the creation of national parks. Today, visitors to national parks continue to memorialize their visits through filming and photography.
Effective October 28, 2022, the National Park Service rescinded interim guidance that was in place during litigation regarding commercial filming/video and has returned to longstanding laws and regulations governing commercial filming in parks. Questions and answers about filming and photography are provided below.
When is a permit needed for commercial filming?
Under federal law, all commercial filming that occurs within a unit of the National Park Service System requires a permit.
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.
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.
What fees will I have to pay for a permit?
Federal law requires the National Park Service to recover its administrative costs for commercial filming and still photography activities that require a permit. 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 the permitted activities. The application fee must be submitted with your application.
The commercial filming application processing fee for Yosemite National Park is $300.
In addition, Federal law also requires the National Park Service to collect a location fee that provides a fair return to the United States for the use of park lands for commercial filming and for still photography requires a permit. The National Park Service uses the following fee schedules for filming and photography (for complex projects that require more oversight and management):
Permits issued for non-commercial filming may be subject to cost recovery charges, including an application fee, but a separate location fee will not be charged.
What terms and conditions will permits have?
Filming and photography permits will contain terms and conditions that are necessary to protect park resources and visitors. They will specify the location and time of the activity and the number of personnel and equipment that may be used. The permits also may require you 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 also may be required to post a bond to ensure the payment of all charges and fees and the restoration of the area if necessary.
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.
Are individuals entering the park to film required to pay entrance fees?
If a person enters the park for the sole purpose of filming and requires a permit, then the activity is non-recreational and that person does not have to pay the entrance fee. A person who enters the park for recreation must pay the entrance fee even if they engage in casual filming once inside.
Please contact the park’s commercial film permit coordinator if you have any questions regarding commercial filming in Yosemite.
When is a permit needed?
Price v. Barr had no impact on how the National Park Service regulates still photography, so there are no changes in how the National Park Service regulates that activity. Still photographers require a permit only when:
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.
Permit Application Process
To apply for all types of special use permits, submit an application:
For a film permit or still photography permit, download the still photography permit application and mail the original application with payment (check or money order payable to National Park Service) to:
(print, complete application, sign, date, scan and attach application to an email).
In the subject line indicate you're inquiring about a still photography permit along with your last name.
Please submit applications as far in advance as possible. Documents can be faxed to: 209/379-1853. For still photography permit information contact Catherine by email or by phone 209/379-1858.
Permits cannot be processed until we receive your original application and any required payments.
There is a non-refundable permit cost that must be submitted with your application. The cost is is as follows:
Still photographers, with crews of up to two people, with no talent or sound and minimal equipment,(i.e. camera and tripod), working in non-wilderness areas, that are open to the public.
Still photographers with crews of three or more, involving one or more of the following: sound recording, interviews, NPS staff research, compliance, sensitive locations, still photography in wilderness areas, commercial vehicles, props and additional equipment (i.e. monitors, lights, etc).
We cannot accept credit cards at this time. Money orders or checks payable to "National Park Service" are accepted.
Your request will be evaluated on the basis of the information in your application. If substantial staff resources are expended in the evaluation of the request, applicant will be billed for the additional costs. Therefore you are encouraged to attach maps, diagrams, vehicle and equipment lists, crew lists, etc. with your application to assist park staff in evaluating your request. Upon receiving your application, requests typically take a minimum of 30 days to process, if the application is complete and without alteration. Requests that involve multiple locations, complex logistics, visitor activities, or special projects will require additional time to process. Projects that require environmental evaluation, cultural resource review, or Native American consultation must be submitted no less than 90 days before the start of proposed activities, and may require additional time, dependent upon project complexity. In compliance with the requirements of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, applicants must submit their social security number or Federal Tax ID number when filling out the application for permit. Park managers will not sign location releases supplied by applicants.
Applicants should read the summary of still photography guidelines to facilitate an understanding of the permit process. If site scouting is planned prior to application period, contact National Park Service coordinator for guidance and restriction for specific locations.
It is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow still photography when it is consistent with the protection and public enjoyment of park resources, and avoid conflict with the public's normal use and enjoyment of the park. Aesthetic values such as scenic vistas, natural quiet and dark night skies are resources that we value. We are also sensitive to the environments around our park sites. There are restrictions associated with group size, the use of commercial vehicles, generators, artificial lighting, props, and sets. Still photography activity that requires a permit is strictly prohibited on weekends and holidays. Commercial vehicles must be in compliance with all federal and state laws and local ordinances. Inclement weather imposes road restrictions and limited access, in addition to tire chain controls in specific park areas.
Call in advance and obtain latest road conditions and restrictions in addition to weather advisories and forecasts at: 209/372-0200 (press 1).
The National Park Service cannot accommodate a project if:
A permit is required when the still photography involve the use of talent, professional crews, set dressings, or props; when they involve product or service advertisement; or when the activity could result in damage to park resources or disruption of visitor use. A permit is also required if the photographer wants to photograph in areas not open to the public, or before or after normal visitation hours. If you are uncertain whether your project requires a permit or not, contact the park for additional information. If you already know that your project does not require a permit, you can call the office to check the schedule and avoid conflicts with other activities. Generally, permits are not issued for still photography on weekends or holidays.
Proof of insurance is required and documentation must carry liability (minimum of $1 million) issued by a U.S. company. Insurance certificate must identify the production company by name and business address. If permittee uses a different name than listed on insurance policy, the relationship between insured company and permittee's company must be identified. The United States of America will be named "additional insured" on the insurance certificate. The address should also include, National Park Service, Yosemite National Park, Office of Special Park Uses, P. 0. Box 700, El Portal, CA 95318.
Generally the minimum acceptable amount of liability insurance is $1 million each occurrence. High-risk activities or activities which may have the potential for resource impact require higher liability amounts. Smaller, low-risk projects or still photography may be eligible for a reduction to $500,000. Contact our office for details. A request for a permit may be denied if there is no proof of adequate insurance. Personal or homeowners liability is not acceptable. Certificate should be generated by the insurance company. Hand written "certificate holder" information is unacceptable. We will accept a faxed copy of the certificate until your insurance company can mail us the original.
A refundable damage bond, drawn as a separate payment, may be required for those projects that have a high potential for resource damage or potential for site restoration. The bond amount is determined by estimating the cost of monitoring and site restoration, should you fail to adequately care for or complete clean up of the site. This amount will be specified in the permit. The permittee is responsible for removal of equipment, props, and trash, and restoration of the site to original condition, or in a condition satisfactory to the National Park Service. If this is not done, all or part of the damage bond will be retained to offset clean-up/recovery expenses. If it is not needed, the bond is released when the on-site National Park Service representative signs off that site restoration is complete and all site use charges have been paid. If a surplus remains after the costs have been reimbursed, the surplus is returned to the permittee. If the bond does not cover all the costs, you will be billed for the difference.
Pre-Still Photography Permit Conference
The permitting process provides the park and the applicant an opportunity to discuss the proposed project and to establish reasonable conditions to protect National Park Service and Yosemite National Park interests. If the impacts of the project can be mitigated to the Superintendent's satisfaction, a project request may be approved, but only using a National Park Service monitor.
After the approval of an application, and before the activity begins, the permittee, will meet with the permit coordinator for a pre-photography conference. A visit to potential photography sites in the park will usually be made at this time. The permit coordinator will determine the need to scout each site or alternatively hold a pre-permit conference via telephone or in our field office.
The conference is intended to accomplish the following:
By the end of the meeting, the permit coordinator should have enough information to prepare the permit and request approval from Superintendent or designate.
Important: Any activities not specified in the permit will not be allowed. No activities on National Park Service property may begin until the permit has been approved by the park and agreed to by the permittee. All permits include the requirement that the site be cleaned and restored at the end of your use. Permits will not be issued for still photography on weekends and holidays. Normal visitor use patterns should not be interrupted for longer than five minutes, and only as specified in the approved permit.
Remember to include us in your plans for tech scout of the site. That will be the time to further discuss details with those directly involved. A National Park Service representative will indicate the staging areas, scenic vistas, environmentally sensitive areas closed to still photography, etc. If you need assistance with site scouting, a ranger can be made available to assist.
Normally in a national park, you cannot cut brush, dig in the ground, or move natural features. Digging in the ground of a national park usually involves environmental review and monitoring by an archeologist and/or vegetative specialist. Working in environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, sequoia groves, meadows, and wilderness areas is restricted. We have created the project clearance review process to efficiently evaluate requests for complex projects which may include extended use of a site (more than a week), or potential to impact the resource. All projects involving project clearance review require the posting of a refundable damage bond. For more information call or email the permit coordinator at 209/379-1858.
Park Entrance Fees
Still photographers and crews that obtain a still photography permit from the National Park Service, are recognized as using the park for business purposes for the duration and purpose of that permit, and as such, are exempted from paying entrance fees. All vehicles entering the park must show a copy of the approved still photography permit at entrance stations.
A minimum cancellation fee of $100 per scheduled monitor will be charged to permittee if permit coordinator is not notified within 48 hours. In addition, you are responsible for all National Park Service costs up to the time of cancellation. If the cancellation is weather related, we will attempt to make accommodations. Administrative costs are mandatory and non-refundable. You can leave a voice mail message with the Office of Special Park Uses (SPU) if you are canceling on a weekday (209/379-1858). On evenings and weekends, leave a message with SPU and the monitor assigned to your project.These costs will be estimated and half of this amount must be paid before photography begins, with the balance to be billed to the photography company. All other costs incurred by the National Park Service for management of still photography activity will be recovered. If park personnel is utilized to assist in identifying locations, then permittee will be charged for that monitoring or scouting cost. You can leave a voice mail message with the Office of Special Park Uses if you are canceling on a weekday (209/379-1858). On evenings and weekends, leave a message with the monitor assigned to your project.
Denial of Permit
Still photography permits may be denied for any of the following reasons:
As noted in permit conditions, non-compliance with any of the permit conditions could result in revocation of the permit. In addition, the permit contains other conditions or factors relating to revocation:
Weather or seasonal limitations
For still photography activities which are perceived to interfere with visitor use or, further congest highly visited areas, or have the potential to impact park resources without proper supervision and care, at least one employee of the National Park Service will be assigned to the crew. Degree of monitoring is based on crew size, equipment, props, scope of the project, location(s), time of day, and time of year:
Before initiating any location set-ups or dispersal of equipment, a National Park Service representative MUST be on site. Failure to comply with this requirement could result in the revocation of the permit.
Breaking news is an event that cannot be covered at any other time or at any other location. For additional Information contact the Public Affairs Office at: 209/372-0248.
Photography of scenery has traditionally been part of a visit to a national park. Photography does not require a permit if it involves only hand-carried equipment (tripod, interchangeable lenses or flash), and does not involve professional crews, product or service advertisement, or use of models, props or sets.
A still photography permit is required when:
Activities having the potential to significantly impact, alter, or damage park resources are prohibited. The following are also prohibited:
The use of domestic animals is permitted if humane treatment is accorded the animal at all times and park regulations related to domestic animal use are strictly observed. For example, dogs, cats, and other animals must be under physical restraint at all times. Wildlife captured elsewhere may not be used in any in-park still photography, whether trained or not.
Permit Fees and Monitoring
The National Park Service is required to recover all costs associated with permits for still photography. All administrative costs involving permit application and processing are nonrefundable and will be charged to permittee. We may require that charges be paid before work can begin on National Park Service property. Any additional costs will be posted as they occur. Charges must be paid within 14 days of the invoicing.
If park employees are requested to assist with site scouting, the fee schedule above applies. Please call in advance to schedule a meeting with a site scout if you would like assistance from our staff.
Location Fees for Still Photography
Note: Since our costs are based on the services we provide, we do not differentiate between profit and nonprofit documentary projects. By law the National Park Service may not waive recovery of costs for projects that are produced to promote an industry, influence Congressional initiatives, or influence the outcomes of elections.
The permittee is required to adhere to county and state fire safety standards, regulations, and laws. The permittee and vehicle operators are responsible for obtaining current road and weather conditions, and for strict adherence to travel advisories and vehicle chain control requirements, when in effect. The Yosemite National Park information line: 209/372-0200 (press 1). Call before traveling to the park.
Depending on the nature of a project and the potential hazards associated with it, permittee may be required to have on-site medical, water safety and/or fire personnel.
Restricted activities and conditions will be enumerated in the permit. The following activities are restricted and must be approved on a case-by-case basis:
Special conditions and restrictions will be noted on the permit and we will specify the number of people and the exact types of equipment allowed. All federal, state, and local laws and regulations apply to the operation of vehicles, and equipment. The monitor on duty will not allow equipment, vehicles and activities not specifically stated in the permit. No posting of signs park roads is allowed.
Use of aircraft, helicopters, or gliders is strictly regulated in the park. Wildlife nesting habitat, expectation of solitude in wilderness areas, and safety are our primary consideration with regard to over flight activities. Therefore, aerial photography is rarely allowed and extremely restricted in the park.
Still photography may be restricted from May through September, due to conflicts with visitor use and congestion. All vehicles must be parked in designated areas only; no off-road traffic. The Tioga Road and the Glacier Point Road (and areas accessed by those routes) are closed during winter and usually re-open in June. The Mariposa Grove Road is intermittently closed in winter due to icy conditions. See the Superintendent's Compendium for additional closures, use limits, and/or restricted activities. Permit activities and location access may be restricted based on weather or seasonal conditions (fire danger, standing water after rain, nesting season, etc.) Nesting sites (aeries) for the peregrine falcon have been identified and restrictions have been applied to those areas (air and ground) surrounding the aeries.
Last updated: November 13, 2023