Over the last week I’ve gotten a bunch of questions and requests asking what I thought about the recent news with the National Forest Service proposal on photos in the wilderness and the thought of paying $1500 in permit fees, or facing $1000 in fines for each photo.

Why the Panic?
Part of the panic comes from posts like this one: National Forest Service will soon fine photographers $1000 for taking pictures. Although they did update the post, it’s still written in a way that makes people panic. Another one I read was US Forestry Service Wages War on Photography in National Forests. With headlines like that, it’s no wonder there’s panic.

This Isn’t New
Rules about commercial filming and photography have been around for years. At KelbyOne, we do classes in the parks and we’ve been getting (and paying for) permits to do those classes. I’ve also co-taught workshops with people at those parks, and the person in charge of the workshop has always needed a permit as well.

If you’re looking for more info on what’s been in place for a while now, here’s a great article I found on PhotoAttorney.com. When it comes down to still photography they break it down really well. Essentially if your work (video or still photography) uses models, actors or props – or if your work is in areas where the public is usually not allowed, or causes extra administrative costs for the park – then you’ll need a permit.

What About if I Sell My Photos?
So what happens if you go and capture a great photo at one of the parks and decide you want to sell it on your website? According to the definitions of when a permit is required, you aren’t required to get a permit (unless you’ve used a model, actor, or needed a set or props).

What About Reporters, News Outlets and Journalists?
This is really what caused the biggest outcry. Anytime first amendment rights get called in to question, you’re sure to cause an uproar. But the Forest Service did issue an update last week that I read about on FoxNews.com.

The U.S. Forest Service vowed Thursday that a proposed policy change will not interfere with news-gathering groups’ constitutional rights to take pictures on federal wilderness property, following a backlash from First Amendment supporters.

“The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” agency Chief Tom Tidwell said. “The directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only. If you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required.”

What About iPhone Photos/Video?
I’ve seen this one talked about a lot. I even got in to a Twitter debate with some one over it. Apparently what rules do get put in place will address iPhone video and stills. And why shouldn’t they. The quality of video and stills coming from phones is top-notch. So if you whatever you’re doing falls under “commercial” video or still usage, then you should get a permit regardless of what camera you’re using.

My Thoughts
I’ll keep this short and sweet. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know what the U.S. Forest Service is actually thinking or doing, so this is just my personal thoughts. But I can tell you that I really don’t think they’re after you, me and our families walking around the parks taking photos of ourselves with our iPhones (or DSLRs). And I don’t think they’re after you and a few of your photographer buddies who go on a hike to capture some great photos. Heck, I don’t even think they’re after you if you take photos and try to sell them on your website (provided they don’t fall in to any of the “commercial” use rules mentioned earlier).

I guess time will tell right? But I’m guessing that every landscape and outdoor photographer out there that’s freaked out because they don’t think they can take a photo in a park anymore (without paying $1500), is over-reacting a bit. We’ll see though.

Have a good one!


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