Filming and Still Photography in Yosemite National Park

Filming

Changes to Commercial Filming Permits on Park Land

On January 22, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Price v. Barr determining the permit and fee requirements applying to commercial filming under 54 USC 100905, 43 CFR Part 5, and 36 CFR Part 5.5 are unconstitutional. In response to the decision, the National Park Service issued interim guidance on February 22, 2021, to manage filming activities. Under the interim guidance, filming activities may require a permit if they would impact park resources or the visitor experience. The National Park Service intends to update regulations addressing filming activities that are consistent with the outcome of Price v. Barr. Once effective, those regulations will replace and supersede the interim guidance.

Those interested in commercial filming activities on land managed by the National Park Service are encouraged to contact the park directly for more information about filming in the park and to discuss how to minimize potential impacts to visitors and sensitive park resources.

Do I need a permit to film?

Under the interim guidance, the National Park Service is not distinguishing between types of filming, such as commercial, non-commercial, or news gathering. Low-impact filming activities will not require a special use permit, but non-low-impact filming activities may require a permit to address their potential impacts on park resources and visitor activities.

Low-Impact Filming

“Low-impact filming’ is defined as outdoor filming activities in areas open to the public, except areas managed as wilderness, involving five people or less and equipment that will be carried at all times, except for small tripods used to hold cameras. Those participating in low-impact filming activities do not need a permit and are not required to contact the park in advance. If low-impact filmers have questions about areas where they want to film, they should contact the park directly.

Videographers, filmers, producers, directors, news and other staff associated with filming are reminded that rules and regulations that apply to all park visitors, including park hours and closed areas, still apply to filming activities even if a permit is not required. Check with the park staff for more information on closures, sensitive resources, and other safety tips.

Non-Low-Impact Filming

Filming activities that do not meet the description of low-impact filming require at least ten days advance notice to the National Park Service by contacting the park directly in writing. The park’s superintendent will determine whether the filming activities will require a special use permit for filming. Based on the information provided, a permit may be required to:

  • maintain public health and safety;

  • protect environmental or scenic values;

  • protect natural or cultural resources;

  • allow for equitable allocation or use of facilities; or

  • avoid conflict among visitor use activities.

Examples of requests that may require a permit include, but are not limited to: entering a sensitive resource area, filming in areas that require tickets to enter, or filming in visitor centers, campgrounds, or other visitor areas. The decision to require a permit rests with the park superintendent based on potential impacts to park resources or the visitor experience.

Download the special use permit application for non-low-impact filming [800 kb DOCX].

Contact the park directly if unsure whether or not a filming activity is considered low-impact or may require a permit.

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 filmers still required to pay fees to film in parks?

Under the interim guidance issued on January 22, 2021, the National Park Service is not collecting application or location fees, or cost recovery for filming activities.

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. A person who enters the park to engaged in low-impact filming (not requiring a permit due to meeting the criteria mentioned above) must pay the entrance fee even though they are entering the park for the purpose of filming. This is because advance notice is not required for low-impact filming and NPS personnel at the entrance stations will not be able to distinguish those entering the park for low-impact filming from visitors entering the park for recreation.

Still Photography

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:

  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.

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 commercial photography permit, download the commercial photography permit application [855 kb DOCX]. and mail the original application with payment (check or money order payable to National Park Service) to:

Postal mail:
Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen
Special Park Uses/Commercial Photography and Weddings
Yosemite National Park, National Park Service
P.O. Box 700
El Portal, CA 95318

Overnight (FedEx/UPS):
Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen
Special Park Uses/Commercial Photography& Weddings
Yosemite National Park
5083 Foresta Rd
El Portal, CA 95318

(print, complete application, sign, date, scan and attach application to an email).

In the subject line indicate you're inquiring about a commercial 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 commercial 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:

  • $200 projects with minimal oversight and coordination:

Commercial 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.

  • $300 projects with greater oversight and coordination (more complexity):

Commercial photographers with crews of three or more, involving one or more of the following: sound recording, interviews, NPS staff research, compliance, sensitive locations, commercial 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, cash 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 commercial 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.

Policy

It is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow commercial 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. Commercial 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).

Restrictions

The National Park Service cannot accommodate a project if:

  • Damage to natural, cultural, wilderness, and recreational resources is expected which cannot be mitigated;

  • Commercial photography activities that requires a permit would occur on weekends and holidays;

  • Other activities are already planned or expected to occur at the same time and place, and photography would be incompatible;

  • The activity involves access to areas normally closed for reasons of resource protection or safety;

  • The level of activity within the park is already so high that staff would be unavailable to work with commercial photography crew;

  • The project includes a portrayal of activities that are not permitted within a national park;

  • The production company is unwilling or unable to obtain necessary insurance; or

  • The production company is unwilling or unable to reimburse the National Park Service for costs or comply with National Park Service bond requirements.

Permit Requirements

A permit is required when the commercial 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 commercial photography on weekends or holidays.

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. 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.

Bond

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-Commercial Photography 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:

  • Review the final terms/conditions, scheduling, and any special instructions pertaining to the respective project

  • Complete an on-site visit, if necessary

  • Provide an original certificate of insurance, and if required, a bond

  • Pay estimated costs, if required

  • Sign and obtain a copy of the Special Use Permit

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 commercial 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 commercial photography, etc. If you need assistance with site scouting, a ranger can be made available to assist.

Environmental Review

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

Commercial photographers and crews that obtain a commercial 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 commercial photography permit at entrance stations.

Cancellations

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 commercial photography company. All other costs incurred by the National Park Service for management of commercial 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

Commercial photography permits may be denied for any of the following reasons:

  • Resource damage: if it is determined by the Superintendent or his/her designee, that the commercial photography activity represents a threat to the resource, including wildlife.

  • Supervisory requirements: if supervisory requirements for the proposed commercial photography project will place unreasonable burdens on staff capacity, irrespective of the permittee's willingness to pay supervisory costs.

  • Disruption of visitor activities: if the proposed commercial photography would conflict with the visitors' normal use of the park.

  • Prohibited or restricted activities: permits will not be issued which would allow commercial photographers to enter areas closed to the general visiting public, or which would allow activities not permitted to the visitor except for cooperative activities as an agent of the National Park Service.

Revocation

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

  • Visitation levels

  • Fire prevention requirements

  • Non-permitted stunts, use of vehicles, special effects or equipment use

  • Unauthorized access to park facilities, structures and resources

  • False information (making deliberately false and/or misleading statements in order to obtain a permit

Monitoring

For commercial 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:

  • When a project involves substantial numbers of people and equipment, or if it involves a location that is environmentally sensitive or heavily visited, supervision will be on-site and continual.

  • A ranger or representative may spot check during the commercial photography to assure compliance when the operations involve only a few people or minimal amounts of equipment, or take place in areas where there is little, if any possibility of resource impact, inconvenience to visitors, or violation of permit conditions.

  • The Superintendent may bring in other employees to assist in those instances when the scope of the project exceeds the park's ability to properly manage the activity. The resulting staff costs will be recovered from the permittee.

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.

Media

Breaking News

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.

Still Photography

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:

  • Product or service advertisement is involved;

  • Talent/models, props, crews or sets are involved;

  • The project has the potential to disrupt other park activities or visitors;

  • More than just hand carried equipment is utilized;

  • Project requires access to an area normally closed or restricted to general public use;

  • Access into an area outside of normal public use hours is required;

  • Project carries with a potential risk to park resources;

  • Activity raises safety concerns that can be mitigated through issuance of permit with restrictions.

Prohibited Activities

Activities having the potential to significantly impact, alter, or damage park resources are prohibited. The following are also prohibited:

  • Altering, damaging or removing vegetation or commercial photography in wetlands

  • Vehicle use off established roads and parking areas

  • Use of insecticides--herbicides and pesticides

  • Nudity

  • Use of meadow areas except on trails or already disturbed areas as determined by the NPS

  • Any artificial lighting or use of power equipment in wilderness (other wilderness restrictions apply)

  • Night commercial photography with artificial lighting

  • Commercial photography of wild animals in captivity (exception with park wildlife management operations)

  • Smoking in buildings, on boardwalks, or in vegetated areas

  • Harassment of wildlife or introduction of wildlife captured elsewhere

  • Pyrotechnics

  • Commercial photography in wilderness areas

  • Use of equipment that inhibits public views of popular scenic vistas

  • Digging, scraping, chiseling, or defacing natural features for commercial photography purposes.

  • Operating a drone

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 commercial photography, whether trained or not.

Costs

Permit Fees and Monitoring

The National Park Service is required to recover all costs associated with permits for commercial 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.

Permit Fees

$200 - 300 (see "Permit Application Procedures" above)

Hourly rate

$50/hour for two-hour minimum

4 to 11 hours

$500/day (flate rate)

11 hours +

$500/day (flat rate) plus $50/hour for each hour exceeding first 11 hours

Cancellation

$100 minimum (see below)



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.

Site Scouting

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

1-10 people

$50/day

11-30 people

$150/day

Over 30 people

$250/day


Congress has authorized the National Park Service to charge location fees for the use of park lands and facilities for commercial photography purposes. Site use charges will be estimated based on the information you provide in your application.

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.

Safety Considerations

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:

  • Construction and/or placing of large set dressings

  • Commercial photography inside interiors of government administrative work areas

  • Photographic equipment or activities on roadways

  • Access to closed areas or access to areas during non-visitor use hours

  • Generator use

  • Foggers

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.

Aircraft

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.

Closures

Commercial 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: September 27, 2021

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