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Pricey Permits Hurt Self-Employed Photographers

Photographers Fight Back
How many photographers out there have ever photographed at a national park or anywhere that requires a government Special Use or Filming Permit?  With high price tags, unclear definitions, or narrow application windows, seeking a permit can be quite stressful for photographers, prompting several photographic associations to speak out.
Representing approximately 40,000 photographers across the United States, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) frequently receives telephone calls and e-mails regarding photography permit requirements.  Because of this, PPA, Commercial Photographers International, the Society of Sport / Event Photographers, the Student Photographic Society, and Evidence Photographers International Council have banded together and responded to the Department of Interior.
The Department of the Interior proposed streamlining Special Use Permits as they apply to motion and still photography on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife service lands.  On one hand, the proposal to make the permit guidelines and fee schedules consistent with those of the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service is laudable.  However, the above photographic associations also expressed reservations with the high costs of fees and definitions provided in the proposed rule change.
Fees Eat into Profit Margin
For instance, photographers pay a location fee between $50 and $250 for use of the land and a varying cost recovery fee for application processing and operating costs associated with the photo session.  With such fees, applying for a permit could greatly impact a photographer"s bottom line. Further, having to pay the cost recovery component-whether or not a permit is granted-is likely to cause photographers to generate losses.
PPA maintained that "a professional photographer covering a school class or family portrait-working with only a tripod and a reflector-should not be equated with a movie set or a large-scale photography shoot for a magazine ad.- Additionally, PPA asked for further clarity in the Department"s definitions of "commercial photography,- "model,- "sets- and "props.-  Why?  It seems that photographers" greatest confusion stems from determining how to classify their shoot, which would influence whether or not they should apply for a costly permit.
While no final rule decisions have been issued by the Department of Interior, PPA and its allied organizations will keep a vigilant eye on issues relating to film and still photography permits. Such rules and ordinances can greatly impact individual photographers and their bottom lines as small business owners. Go to to learn more about the issue.

By Neil Whitehall
Get Photography Jobs, Contributing Editor

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