Filming and Still Photography

The National Park Service (NPS) is mandated to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (16 U.S.C. 1) For this purpose the Department of the Interior developed RM-53, which governs filming, photography and sound recordings in National Parks. Under these guidelines NPS units have the authority and responsibility to manage, permit and/or deny filming, photography and sound recordings in ways consistent with park management and mission.

 

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Filming

Changes to National Park Commercial Filming Permits

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 CRF Part 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.

If you are interested in commercial filming activities on land managed by the National Park Service, please 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. Contact Big Bend National Park filming permit coordinator (432-477-1107) to discuss your project.

 

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. For questions about areas where they want to film, please contact the park film permit coordinator.

Videographers, filmers, producers, directors, news and other staff associated with filming are reminded that rules and regulations that apply to all park visitors are to be strictly followed. This includes NO DRONES, no entry into closed areas, group size limits, no closures of park roads or areas, no ground disturbance, or moving of natural features, etc Check with the park filming permit coordinator for info 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 film permit coordinator. 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.

You may be required 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 may also be asked to post a bond to ensure the payment of all charges and fees and the restoration of the area if necessary.

Contact the park filming permit coordinator 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 44 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 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.

 

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
    1. Model means a person or object that serves as the subject for filming or still photography for the purpose of promoting the sale or use of a product or service. Models include, but are not limited to, individuals, animals, or inanimate objects, such as vehicles, boats, articles of clothing, and food and beverage products, placed on agency lands so that they may be filmed or photographed to promote the sale or use of a product or servce.
    2. For the purposes of NPS guidance, a portrait subject is not considered a model. Examples of portrait subjects include, but are not limited to, wedding parties, high school/college graduates. But, photography involving portrait subjects may require a photography permit if it also includes the use of props or sets, or is conducted in an area closed to the public, or needs to be managed by the NPS.
  3. a park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.
 

What fees will I have to pay?

The National Park Service will collect a cost recovery charge and a location fee for still photography permits. 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 your permit. This amount will vary depending on the park and the size and complexity of your permit. The application fee must be submitted with your application.

In addition, the National Park Service has been directed by Congress to collect a fee to provide a fair return to the United States for the use of park lands. The National Park Service uses the following fee schedule:

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

How to Apply for a photography permit

  1. Allow for a minimum of 10 days to process any photography permit application.
  2. It is highly recommended that you contact Big Bend National Park filming permit coordinator (432-477-1107) to discuss your project before you begin the application process.
  3. Complete an Application for Special Use Permit (below).
  4. Application packet must include:
    1. $150 application fee (check payable to National Park Service).
    2. Certificate of General Liability insurance issued by an insurance company operating in the United States.
    3. Detailed production schedule and proposed locations.
    4. Detailed equipment list.
  5. Send application packet to: Film Permit Coordinator, PO Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834
  6. Requests will be evaluated on the basis of the information in the application. Therefore you are encouraged to attach details to assist the park staff in evaluating your request.
  7. Your application will be carefully reviewed by park management, and if approved, a permit with specific conditions will be issued for signature.
  8. Location Fees may apply depending upon the size and length of the photography project.
 
 

A request for a photography permit may be denied if:

  • There is potential that resource damage or impairment of their value would occur that cannot be mitigated or restored.
  • There is potential to unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park; or interfere with visitor use, access, and programs.
  • There is likelihood that the activity poses health or safety risks to the public or crew.
  • The project includes a portrayal of activities that are not permitted within a national park.
  • The requested activity will violate any other Federal, State, or local laws or regulations
  • The activity is contrary to the mission of the NPS and the purpose for which the park was established
  • The activity would interfere with park management or administration;
  • Tha activity would interfere with concession operations or other public facilities.
  • Other activities are already planned or expected to occur at the same location.
  • The requirements for supervising the project exceed the staffing capacity of the affected park.
  • The production crew is unwilling or unable to provide proof of insurance or reimburse the NPS for costs.
 

Are there other permit requirements?

You may be required 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 may also be asked to post a bond to ensure the payment of all charges and fees and the restoration of the area if necessary.

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.

Last updated: March 11, 2022

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park , TX 79834-0129

Phone:

432-477-2251

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