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Park Service Imposes Permit Fees for Wedding Photography on the Mall and Monuments

As many of you may or may not know, the National Park Service has imposed permit fees for still photography on the National Mall and around the monuments. Unfortunately, wedding photography currently falls under this category. Now it will cost you between $50 and $250 to have your picture taken on the mall or at one of the monuments on your wedding day.

There has been a permit process in place for the National Parks for many years. In the past, the permits were free and reasonably easy to get, so many photographers would get the permits just as a precaution regardless of whether they were actually needed or not. As of May 15, the Park Service has imposed fees for these permits as mandated by Congress. The fees are as follows:

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

At present, I’m not clear on whether these fees are per location, or just for the day.

Obviously many photographers are upset about this issue and you should be too. After all, it is you, the client and private citizen that will end up paying these fees, not the photographers.

The problem is not necessarily that the Park Service is charging fees, it’s that what we do as wedding photographers doesn’t seem to be the covered by any of the criteria which requires a permit. The permit regulation as written, reads:

The location fee for still photography applies only to those still photography activities that require a permit from the NPS. A still photography activity requires a permit when it takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; when it 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 when we would need to provide management and oversight to:
(i) Avoid impairment or incompatible use of the resources and values of the site; or (ii) Limit resource damage; or (iii) Minimize health or safety risks to the visiting public.

So a permit is required if you are photographing in an area not open to the general public, if you are using models or props, or additional staff oversight is required. The regulation makes no mention whether the photographer is being paid. “Commercial photography” is NOT mentioned as one of the written criteria.

However, the local park authority in Washington, DC has determined that additional staff oversight and management IS required for wedding photography on the National Mall due to the large number of visitors and events that take place there each year. Exactly what additional services they are providing is not clear.

It is my opinion that the real intent of this law was create some regulation over large productions on the Mall, such as filming a scene from the West Wing, a large advertising shoot requiring lights, generators or electricity and models, or simply any production that would impact use of a facility by a casual visitor.

I believe that the Park Service really has no idea what it is that we are doing that they are requiring us to get a permit for. In fact, on Channel 9 on Tuesday evening Park Service spokesman Bill Line said that photographers who bring in special lighting, tripods, and scrims need to get a permit. That’s fine and I would agree, but in reality very few wedding photographers go to those extremes on the wedding day! There’s just not time! Most photographers jump out of the car with the bride and groom and ONLY the gear they can carry on their shoulders…usually one or two small cameras and a bag with a couple of extra lenses. In fact, most photographers spend less than 15 minutes at any one venue.

The Channel 9 reporter pressed Line about wedding photographers who travel light and are only in the park for a few minutes. Line responded that it becomes an issue of “commercial” photography, that is, does money change hands? Is the photographer being paid for taking the pictures? If so, Line claims a permit is required. Again, “commercial photography” is NOT one of the criteria spelled out in the permit law. Line’s statement is in direct conflict with what Park Service Special Use Manager Lee Dickinson told me via email. Ms. Dickinson said that the decision to require permit fees for wedding photography was “based on management concerns, and not on the commercial nature of the activity”. Obviously there is confusion even within the Park Service about what the actual permit requirements are. There are certainly discrepancies between how the law is written and how it is being implemented.

I think the Park Service should also consider the intended use of the images as a criteria. It’s not like wedding photographers are taking pictures of the monuments and selling them to the masses. Wedding photographers are taking pictures that end up in the personal family photo albums of private citizens, just like the pictures taken by any tourist on the Mall. These wedding images are not being sold on post cards or billboards, they are for the personal and private use of the couple. The Park Service is also telling District residents that they have fewer rights in their own city on their wedding day than a bus load of tourists from Des Moines.

The sad thing is that the permit requirement effectively ends any spontaneous decision by a couple on their wedding day to drop by any of the monuments. No longer can you make a spur of the moment decision to stop in front of the Capitol and have your picture made on the way to your reception. National Park boundaries extend beyond the National Mall as well and include Lafayette Park across the street from White House and Rock Creek Park.

I certainly agree that if you are dragging lights, generators, reflectors and scrims into the National Parks that a permit should be required. Those kinds of productions certainly impact the facility and impede the normal flow of pedestrian foot traffic. However, a bride and groom popping into the grounds of the Jefferson for a quick 5 minute photo-op with a photographer carrying a couple of cameras on his shoulders should not be subject to those same kind of regulations and fees.

I hope that you will all make some noise and let’s try to get this changed.

The full text of the regulation can be viewed here.

To obtain a permit, call the permit office at 202-619-7225.


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