Permit Requirements

Federal Agencies

National Park Service

Bureau of Land Management

US Fish and Wildlife Service

US Forest Service

State of California

California State Parks

Northern California Agencies

Marin County Parks

Marin County Open Space District

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

City and County of San Francisco

San Francisco Parks

San Francisco Botanical Garden

San Mateo County

Santa Clara County

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

City of Palo Alto

Southern California Agencies

Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County Parks

City of Santa Barbara

City of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles Parks

Orange County

Orange County Parks

Still Photography and Permits
On US and California Public Land

By Jeff Conrad for the Large Format Page

Many photographers who take pictures in parks or on other public land never give permits a thought, yet permits are often required if the photographs are intended for sale at a profit.

Basis for Requiring Permits

Many public agencies require permits for photography done for “commercial” purposes, often without defining the term. But “commercial photography” has several different meanings among photographers and among public agencies. Photographers often distinguish between “commercial” and “editorial” work, sometimes with varying ideas of what belongs in each category; public agencies seldom recognize the distinction. At least ostensibly, most state and local agencies in California require permits for any photography for “commercial purposes,” possibly with the assumption that “commercial” is equivalent to “large-scale and disruptive.” These agencies typically regard as “commercial” any photography done with the intent of sale for profit, including editorial, stock, calendar, greeting card, and fine art. Some agencies even include images made for a commercial portfolio. In contrast, most federal agencies base permit requirements on the activity’s impact rather than on commercial intent, and accordingly require permits only when the photography involves models or props.

Many regulations that cover commercial filming and photography were written for motion picture and television production and large-scale commercial product photography. Commercial filming, and to a lesser extent, commercial product photography, can have significant impact on the locations in which they take place, sometimes involving large crews, considerable support equipment, numerous vehicles, temporary structures, and perhaps requiring temporary closure of areas, trails, or roads. The activity merits regulation to protect resources and avoid undue interference with the normal activities of others, and in most cases the cooperation that a permit elicits is well worth the effort to obtain the permit. Commercial still product shoots often involve only a few locations, so that planning for and obtaining permits is relatively straightforward. The cost of obtaining a permit is a customary business expense that is passed along to the client. There is little justification for jeopardizing a commitment to a client and needlessly antagonizing agency staff by failing to obtain required permits for such activities.

Small-Scale Commercial Photography

Professional photography that doesn’t involve models or props is usually on the border of what does and what does not require a permit. The photographic activity involved usually differs little, if at all, from that of a serious amateur or an ordinary visitor who would not require a permit. The impact of the activity often is so low that it’s nearly invisible, and not even considered when regulations are drafted. In contrast to motion picture or product shoots, editorial, stock, and fine art photography often involves short visits to many locations administered by many different agencies, so the logistics of obtaining permits and providing certificates of insurance can be considerable. In many cases, there is no immediate client, so the photographer must absorb the cost of obtaining the permits and providing indemnification.

As a practical matter, absent models, large equipment, or similar indicia of photography for commercial advertising, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between commercial and noncommercial intent on the basis of equipment or photographic activity, and some agencies concede that regulations based on “commercial” intent are essentially unenforceable. Nonetheless, at least ostensibly, California State Parks and many local agencies in California require permits for photography done with commercial intent.

Noncommercial Photography

Photography for personal use doesn’t usually require a permit, as long as the photographer follows the same rules as the general public. A few sites do restrict the use of certain equipment (such as tripods or artificial lighting), or certain activities (such as leaving a tour group or leaving a trail), but these restrictions are usually clearly stated as such, and not related to “commercial” intent.

Some agency staff may initially assume that anyone using a tripod, medium- or large-format camera, long lenses, light meter, or other “professional” equipment is doing “commercial” photography and requires a permit. However, such equipment is used by amateurs and professionals alike, and in most cases, sales to amateurs considerably exceed sales of the same equipment to professionals. Fortunately, staff at many sites are accustomed to visitors who are serious amateur photographers, and realize that “professional” equipment isn’t what determines commercial intent. Many agency staff are serious photographers, and routinely use such equipment themselves. A photographer’s claim that photography is for personal use often will not be challenged unless circumstances strongly suggest that the claim isn’t true.

Federal agencies do not consider commercial intent in determining when a permit is required for still photography; if the photography involves “models, sets, or props,” a permit is required. It is not yet clear whether photographic equipment other than a camera and tripod will be considered a prop.

News Photography

Coverage of breaking news is usually protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and accordingly doesn’t require a permit, but some agencies require that it be done under supervision of agency staff to ensure adequate protection of site resources.

Know and Obey the Rules

Whenever possible, be familiar with the applicable statutes, ordinances, regulations, and local rules before arriving at a site, and ensure that your activity is in compliance with the rules. This sometimes requires a bit of effort, but if you follow all the rules, the chances are good that no one will bother you. And if you’re ever questioned by agency staff, the discussion will usually be more productive if it is obvious that you know the rules and have made all reasonable effort to comply with them. Agency staff aren’t always familiar with the laws, and may sometimes question a claim that you don’t need a permit, so it may help to carry printed copy or know how to quickly access the material from a mobile device. In some cases, this may suffice to convince whomever has approached you that you’re not doing anything that requires a permit.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you and agency staff may agree to disagree. If you’re certain that you’re correct, it’s reasonable to be firm in asserting your position, but always a good idea to be polite in doing so, even if you feel that you’re being treated unfairly or rudely. Although the First Amendment protects considerable abuse hurled at law enforcement personnel, that protection may be less honored in the field than a courtroom. And if you come across as belligerent, you’re less likely to be seen as sympathetic by anyone who may witness the exchange. The safest approach is to always assume that the exchange will be recorded and posted on YouTube.

If all else fails, asking to discuss the situation with a supervisor or someone else at the site’s headquarters who can verify the requirements may effect a resolution; it probably helps if you can point to specific material that can be readily located. But common sense should always prevail—sometimes it may be better to walk away from a nasty confrontation and return another time.

Avoid Surprising Agency Staff

Some sites are less accustomed to serious photographers than others. If a site has a staffed visitors’ center or entrance station, it may help to mention your intent to photograph and ask if the site has any special rules for photography or if any sensitive areas require extra precautions; this will ensure that you’re apprised of the rules and of any special restrictions such as remaining on trails. Agency staff will appreciate the consideration; they’ll often try to be helpful, and may point out photo opportunities that you would otherwise miss. In many cases, an individual photographer will not be asked about commercial intent, even at places that nominally require permits. At the very least, checking in ensures that agency staff are aware of your presence, and are less likely to panic at another visitor’s report that a filming crew has invaded the site.

No Special Privileges

Possession of a camera does not bestow privileges that are not available to the general public. If a photographer, professional or amateur, requires access to a location closed to the public, access to a site outside of normal visiting hours, or special assistance from agency staff, a permit is usually needed.

Authority for Requiring Permits

The authority to require permits comes from federal, state, or local statutory or administrative law, and the governing law is the definitive reference for the conditions for which permits may be required. Finding the governing law is not always a simple matter, however. Laws that cover photography appear under a variety of general topics, and are described in various ways. Although photography is often specifically mentioned, some agencies simply interpret prohibitions of “commercial activity” as the bases for requiring photography permits. Definitive interpretations of the latter instances may depend on court decisions; because questions related to photography permits seldom reach appellate courts, such interpretations are often unavailable. Most requirements for local agencies are covered in county or municipal codes, but some entities, such as the City of Palo Alto, authorize certain officials or departments to issue regulations without formal action by a legislative body, so simply searching a code may not suffice. If an agency indicates that permits are required, there often is a sound legal basis, but discovering that basis is not always easy. Even agency staff, especially at the local level, are often unaware of the governing laws.

The United States Code is available on the Cornel University Law School’s Legal Information Institute website and on the US House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel website. The Code of Federal Regulations and the Federal Register are available via the US Government Printing Office’s GPO Access website. The California Codes are available on the State of California website, and the California Code of Regulations is available online from Westlaw. Many city, county, and special-district codes are available on their agencies’ websites.

For convenience, this article includes the text of many of the cited statutes, ordinances, and regulations. Any of these laws is subject to revision, however, so the best approach is to obtain the most recent version from the official source.

Photography on Federal Public Lands

In the late 1990s, several members of Congress sought to provide additional revenue to national parks by eliminating a provision in the Code of Federal Regulations that prohibited charging a location fee for commercial filming. Several bills were introduced in both the 105th and 106th Congresses; the scope of the legislation was expanded to include still photography and cover all public lands administered by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior. The resulting legislation mandated requiring permits for photography that involves models or props, prohibited requiring permits in most other situations, and prohibited issuing permits for activities that could adversely impact resources or site operations. It became Public Law 106-206 when signed by President Clinton on 26 May 2000, and was codified at 16 USC 460l-6d.

Final implementation of Public Law 106-206 fell to the individual agencies, and developing the implementing regulations proved to be an arduous and lengthy task. The US Forest Service regulation took effect in 2004; the regulation for the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service did not take effect until September 2013.

The new regulations are similar to 36 CFR 5.5(b) that governed still photography in national parks for several decades, and which required a permit for photography “of any vehicle, or other articles of commerce or models for the purpose of commercial advertising.” But there are some differences. The new regulations require a permit when the photography uses “a model, set, or prop,” and the definitions of these terms differ from the conventional meanings. “Models” include items such as vehicles or other commercial products photographed to promote their sale or use, and “sets and props” include equipment and other items that do not appear in the final image. The Forest Service definition of sets and props states that “a hand-held camera or a camera mounted on a tripod” is not a prop, and the definition for the agencies in the DOI states that “a camera on a tripod, without the use of any other equipment” is not a prop.

The USDA and the DOI published proposed fee schedules for filming and photography in August 2013. The schedules include categories for “more than a camera and tripod”; it remains to be seen how literally this will be taken—for example, whether items such as an external flash, a handheld light meter, or a collapsible reflector or diffuser will be considered props.

Still vs. Motion Images: Advances in Technology

Many digital still cameras include the ability to record high-quality video as well as still images. In most situations, it is nearly impossible for an observer to determine whether the photographer is recording still or motion images, so that regulations that depend on the distinction between still and motion recording may prove difficult to enforce. This could be especially significant on federal public lands, where noncommercial recording of motion images is subject to no restrictions, whether or not the recording uses actors, models, or props.

Permit Requirements for Various Agencies

Laws and policies for a few public agencies and private entities are summarized below.

National Park Service

Neither a permit nor a fee is required for still photography, unless the photography

  • Uses a model, set, or prop; or,
  • Takes place at a location where or when members of the public are not allowed; or,
  • The NPS would incur costs for providing on-site management and oversight to protect agency resources or minimize visitor use conflicts.

A photography permit will not be issued if the NPS determine that it is likely that the activity would:

  • Cause resource damage; or,
  • Unreasonably disrupt or conflict with the public’s use and enjoyment of the site; or,
  • Pose health or safety risks to the public; or,
  • Result in unacceptable impacts or impairment to National Park Service resources or values; or,
  • Violate the Wilderness Act (16 USC 1131–1136) or any other applicable Federal, State, or local law or regulation.

When a permit is required, the fee varies with the size of the crew. A certificate of insurance naming the US government as additional insured is usually required; the amount of insurance varies with the risk posed to park resources.

Permit requirements are governed by 43 CFR 5.2. Model and sets and props are defined in 43 CFR 5.12; the definition of prop explicitly excludes “a camera on a tripod, without the use of any other equipment.”

National Park Service policy on filming and photography is described in several documents available on the NPS website:

Permits are issued by each park administrative office, which may be located using the Find a Park web page. Additional information and permit applications are available on some individual park websites.

Contact Lee Dickinson, Special Park Uses Program Manager, at 202-513-7092 or Lee_Dickinson@nps.gov for questions about permit requirements.

Last updated September 2013

Bureau of Land Management

Permit requirements are governed by 43 CFR 5.2, and are essentially the same as those for lands administered by the National Park Service; the policy is posted on the BLM website. For most photographers, the new regulations work to the same effect as policy described in a letter issued jointly by the BLM and the Forest Service in August 1994.

When a permit is required, the fee varies with the size of the crew, and varies from state to state. A certificate of insurance naming the US government as additional insured is usually required; the amount of insurance varies with the size and nature of the activity.

The most current information about BLM regulations and policies related to still photography is usually available on the BLM filming web page. That page and its subpages include permit application forms, and a list of contacts for popular filming locations.

Contact Vanessa Engle in the Lands and Realty Group at 202-912-7339 or vengle@blm.gov for questions about permit requirements.

Last updated September 2013

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Permit requirements for lands administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are essentially the same as those for lands administered by the National Park Service. Permit application forms are available on the Special Use Permits page. The contacts page includes a list of refuge managers.

Last updated September 2013

US Forest Service

Permit requirements for National Forest System lands are essentially the same as those for lands administered by the National Park Service; neither a permit nor a fee is required for still photography, unless the photography

  • Uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural cultural resources or administrative facilities; or,
  • Takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed; or,
  • Takes place at a location where additional administrative costs are likely.

Permit requirements are covered by 36 CFR 251.50–51. At first glance, § 251.50(c)(2) appears to require a permit for all still photography; however, “still photography” is defined in § 251.51 to be that which would require a permit under the conditions stated above. For most photographers, the regulation works to the same effect as long-standing policy covered by previous versions of Section 2725.51, Commercial Still Photography, of the Forest Service Manual; that policy also was described in a letter issued jointly by the BLM and the Forest Service in August 1994.

Policy directives are given in Chapter 40 of Forest Service Handbook 2709.11, Special Uses Handbook; the beginning of § 45.5 includes definitions related to commercial filming and still photography. The complete Forest Service Manuals and Forest Service Handbooks are available on the Forest Service website.

When a permit is required, the fee varies with the size of the crew. A certificate of insurance may be required if the activity poses sufficient risk; the amount of insurance varies with the size and nature of the activity.

The most current information about US Forest Service regulations and policies related to still photography is usually available on the Forest Service Filming Special Uses page; that page also includes national and regional filming contacts.

Last updated September 2013

California State Parks

Any photography for “profit and sale” requires a permit and a certificate of insurance, with the State of California named as additional insured. There is no fee unless the photography requires monitoring by park staff; in many cases monitoring is not required for still photography. Additional information about insurance requirements is available on the California Film Commission website.

  • Permit requirements are seldom waived when a photographer contacts the district office and states the intention to photograph for sale for profit.
  • Most field park staff do not raise the issue of commercial photography with an individual still photographer, regardless of equipment, unless the photographer specifically mentions it, or is part of an entourage that includes models, props, and assistants.
  • Sometimes, however, park staff may approach a photographer who appears to be using “professional” equipment and ask if she is shooting commercially. In rare instances, photographers so approached have been asked to show identification and been detained for warrant checks, and in a few cases, have been asked to leave the park, or have been cited, sometimes with equipment or imaging media confiscated as evidence. To be completely safe, a person planning stock or similar photography may wish to contact the appropriate district office. A list of district offices and telephone numbers is available on the DPR website.

Some parks require that visitors remain with tour groups or on designated trails, or prohibit the use of certain equipment, such as tripods or artificial light. When such restrictions are in effect, enforcement usually is very strict, with violation often resulting in a citation rather than a warning.

The requirement for commercial photography permits is covered by Title 14, § 4316 of the California Code of Regulations. Only parks owned and operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation are covered; if a park is owned by the state but operated by another organization, the operating organization’s rules apply. For example, San Bruno Mountain State Park is operated by San Mateo County and is therefore covered by San Mateo County rules.

The rulemaking history for § 4316 suggests that the intent was to regulate large-scale, potentially disruptive activities such as those of motion picture filming crews; however, the DPR generally interpret the permit requirement as applying to any photography that is intended for sale, including editorial, stock, and fine art. Some DPR personnel have reportedly interpreted § 4316 as requiring a permit for photography that is used in a portfolio, entered in a photo contest, or even simply posted on a website.

Photography at Hearst Castle is covered in Title 14, § 4600 of the California Code of Regulations; photography at the California State Railroad Museum is covered in § 4613.

Department policy is described in California Park and Recreation Commission Policy IV.4. That policy, as well as other information related to filming and photography in California State Parks, is included in Guidelines for Filming in California State Parks on the DPR website.

Last updated June 2012

Marin County Parks

Section 10.03.150 of the Marin County Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services Code requires a permit from the Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services for any commercial photography or related activity in Marin County parks.

To issue a commercial photography permit, the Department require

  • A certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000, and naming Marin County as additional insured.
  • A fee of $300 per day (or $75 per hour). Additional charges may apply if the activity requires monitoring by park staff.

Contact the Department at 415-499-6387 for additional information. A staff directory and park rules are available on the Department website.

Last updated June 2012

Marin County Open Space District Lands

Section 100.02.160 of the Marin County Open Space Code requires a permit from the from the Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services for any commercial photography or related activity on District lands. The regulation for open space lands is nearly identical to that for county parks, and the policy for open space lands is the same as that for parks.

Parks and Open Spaces are currently under common administration. Contact the Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services at 415-499-6387 for additional information. A staff directory and complete open space rules are available on the Department website.

Last updated June 2012

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

A permit and fee are required for any commercial photography; the fee varies with the intended use of the images.

Tripods may not be placed in the flower beds.

Contact the Garden at 510-643-2755 for additional information.

Last updated June 2012

City and County of San Francisco

Photography that doesn’t involve models, props, or crews usually doesn’t require a permit. However, photography that requires assistance from City employees or “interferes to any substantial degree” with the use and enjoyment of streets, sidewalks, or other public property requires a use agreement with the San Francisco Film Commission. To execute a use agreement, the Film Commission require

  • A completed use agreement form.
  • A certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000 ($2,000,000 aggregate) and naming The City and County of San Francisco as additional insured.
  • A fee of $100 per day, which is valid for any location in the city.

Permit requirements are covered by Section 57.6 and the definitions in Section 57.1 of the San Francisco Administrative Code.

Chapter 34 of the San Francisco Police Code requires a permit for a photographer not associated with an established photographic studio who takes pictures of people in public places with the express purpose of selling the pictures to those people.

Use agreement forms and additional information are available on the Film Commission website. The Film Office may be contacted by telephone at 415-554-6241 or by email at film@sfgov.org.

San Francisco Parks

San Francisco parks are under the jurisdictions of several different agencies.

San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

A permit is required for all commercial still photography, including editorial, stock, and fine art.

  • The Department require a certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000 and naming The City and County of San Francisco as additional insured.
  • Fees charged by the Department are based on the impact of the activity, and vary with the location, the amount of assistance or monitoring required, and whether or not the activity requires exclusive access to the area in which the photography takes place. The complete fee schedule is available on the Department web site.

Some locations, such as Coit Tower, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, prohibit the use of tripods because of restricted space. The restrictions are clearly indicated at the entrances to those locations. Monopods are allowed at the Conservatory of Flowers.

Section 7.12 of the San Francisco Park Code requires a permit for commercial photography in San Francisco parks, and Sec. 7.17 requires the permit to be shown to a Recreation and Park Department employee or police officer upon request.

Union Square Park is managed by MJM Management Group under contract with the Recreation and Park Department. MJM Management issue permits, and require that they and several other entities, as well as the City and County of San Francisco, be named as additional insureds.

Additional information about City parks and rules for filming and photography are available on the Recreation and Park Department website.

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

A permit is required for any commercial photography, governed by Section 7.12 of the San Francisco Park Code. Permits are issued by the Recreation and Park Department.

Tripods may not be placed in the flower beds; however, an exemption can sometimes be obtained with a photography permit.

Contact the Director’s office at 415-753-7090 for additional information.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum is operated by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the nonprofit San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

San Francisco Port Parks

Some parks are under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco. Section 6.11 of the San Francisco Port Code requires a permit for any commercial photography in those parks.

San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Parks

Yerba Buena Gardens, Pier 40, South Beach Harbor, and South Beach Park are under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, although conduct in these parks is covered by the San Francisco Park Code, and permit requirements are the same as for other San Francisco parks. Yerba Buena Gardens is managed by MJM Management Group under contract with the Redevelopment Agency. MJM Management issue permits for Yerba Buena Gardens, and require that they as well as the City and County of San Francisco be named as additional insureds.

Permit Contacts

Permits for different locations are issued by different agencies and private entities:

  • For parks under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco, contact the San Francisco Film Office at 415-554-6241 or film@sfgov.org.
  • For outdoor photography at Yerba Buena Gardens, contact the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival at 415-543-1718; permits are issued by MJM Management Group (415-820-3550).
  • For Union Square, contact MJM Management Group at 415-477-2600.
  • For Pier 40, South Beach Harbor, and South Beach Park, contact Harbormaster Jim Walter at 415-495-4911 ext. 1045 or James.Walter@sfgov.org.
  • For all other locations in San Francisco parks, contact the Recreation and Parks Department Film Permit Office at 415-831-5528.
  • For all other locations in San Francisco, contact the San Francisco Film Office at 415-554-6241.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Areas within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Permit requirements are the same as those for National Parks. See the GGNRA’s Filming and Photography page for additional information.

Last updated June 2012

San Mateo County Parks

Section 3.68.080 (w) of the San Mateo County Code requires a permit for commercial photography. To issue a commercial photography permit, the Parks and Recreation Department require

  • A certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000, and naming San Mateo County as additional insured.
  • A fee of $217 per day per park.

For additional information, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 650-363-4020 or at ParksandRecreation@co.sanmateo.ca.us.

Last updated June 2012

Santa Clara County Parks

Section B14-54.4 of the Santa Clara County Code requires a permit for commercial photography; Section B14-11.1 defines as “commercial” any photography that is “performed under contract for profit or may be sold for profit at a later date.” A permit may be obtained in person at the Parks Administration office in Los Gatos or by phone from the Parks Reservations Office at 408-355-2201. In most cases, a permit can also be obtained on the spot from a park ranger.

  • An annual permit is available for $150, valid for most Santa Clara County parks.
  • A certificate of insurance is normally not required, but may be required for larger photographic projects, such as those involving sets, that put the county at greater risk.

For additional information, contact the Parks Reservations Office (number above), Reception at 408-355-2200 ext. 0, or by e-mail at parkinfo@prk.sccgov.org. For large shoots that may require special conditions, contact the Parks Use Coordinator at 408-355-2220. Additional contacts are listed on the Department website.

Last updated June 2012

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Lands

Section 603 of the Regulations for Use of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Lands requires a permit for any “filming operation involving the use of film equipment, lighting, props, or other similar materials, except for a single still, motion picture, video, digital or other camera, for commercial purposes.”

To issue a permit, the District require

  • A completed permit application.
  • A fee of $350 per day ($175 per half-day), which is valid for any preserve operated by the District.

A certificate of insurance is seldom required for still photography.

For additional information, contact the District at 650-691-1200 or by e-mail at permits@openspace.org.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District administer 26 bayland and foothill open space preserves covering nearly 50,000 acres in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties.

Last updated June 2012

City of Palo Alto Parks and Preserves

Permits are required for all commercial photography; they are intended to cover large-scale activity such as commercial product advertising but not to limit small-scale activity such as individual nature photography or photography involved with weddings or similar events. In many cases, permits can be waived for small-scale activity for which the photographer observes all other regulations such as remaining on trails; in most cases, there is no fee or insurance requirement.

Section 2.08.050 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code authorizes the city manager to prescribe regulations for the use of any City property by members of the public. Chapter 22.04 requires compliance with regulations for use of city property and prohibits commercial activity without a permit. Section R1-21A of the Park and Open Space Regulations a permit for any commercial photography.

For Baylands Preserve, call 650-617-3156; for Foothills Park and other open space preserves, call 650-329-2423. Additional information, including the Open Space and Park Regulations, is available on the Open Space and Parks page.

Foothills Park is open only to Palo Alto residents and their guests; other parks, including Pearson-Arastradero and Baylands Preserves, are open to the public.

Last updated June 2012

Santa Barbara County

Section 14C-5 of the Santa Barbara County Code requires a permit for still photography on public or private property in unincorporated areas of the County or on property controlled by the County within incorporated areas.

Section 14C-6 (d) of the County Code provides an exemption for photography that is solely for private or family use.

Section 14C-6 (f) of the County Code provides an exemption for small-scale photography. The exemption is usually granted for stock and similar photography that doesn’t involve models, props, or crews, but the exemption must be requested in writing from the County Film Permit Officer.

Section 14C-13 of the County Code requires a certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000 and naming the County of Santa Barbara as additional insured as a condition for issuing a permit.

The Santa Barbara Film Commission provide a list of permit contacts for various locations in Santa Barbara County. Detailed permitting information, fee schedules, and a permit application are available in PDF on the Film Commission website. Contact the County Film Permit Office at 805-568-3074 for additional information.

Santa Barbara County Parks

Photography in Santa Barbara County parks that does not qualify for a permit exemption under Section 14C-6 (f) of the County Code requires a permit review fee and a use fee. Fees for use of parks, buildings, and grounds other than the County Courthouse range from $30 to $450 per day. Fees for use of the County Courthouse range from $30 to $1,000.

Permit requirements for Santa Barbara County parks are described in greater detail on the County website.

Last updated June 2012

City of Santa Barbara

All commercial still photography, including stock, editorial, and fine art, requires a permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation. To issue a permit, the Department require

  • A completed permit application.
  • A certificate of insurance providing general liability coverage of $1,000,000 and naming the City of Santa Barbara as additional insured.

The Waterfront Department normally require that photography in the Harbor area or on Stearns Wharf not interfere with vehicle, vessel, or pedestrian traffic. Amateur photographers with large tripods or other “professional” equipment who are concerned about being questioned by Department staff may wish to check in at the Harbor office before photographing.

Section 15.16.010 of the Santa Barbara Municipal Code prohibits practicing or conducting any occupation, business, or profession in any City park or on any City beach without a contract with the City of Santa Barbara, and the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Santa Barbara City Council interpret any still photography intended for sale for profit as conducting a business.

Section 17.13.030 of the Santa Barbara Municipal Code requires the permission of the Waterfront Director, permits from the City, and payment of appropriate fees for commercial photography on Stearns Wharf.

Section 17.28.100 of the Santa Barbara Municipal Code states similar requirements for commercial photography in the Harbor.

The Santa Barbara Film Commission provide a list of permit contacts for various locations in Santa Barbara County. Detailed permitting information, fee schedules, and a permit application are available in PDF on the Film Commission website. Contact Susan Jang-Bardick, Facilities & Special Events Supervisor (SJang-bardick@SantaBarbaraCA.gov or 805-897-1999) or Cindy Leyva (Cleyva@SantaBarbaraCA.gov or 805-897-1982) for additional information.

Business License Tax

Section 5.04 of the Santa Barbara Municipal Code requires an annual business license tax for a photographer who shoots for sale for profit, and is based in Santa Barbara or sells images in Santa Barbara. A photographer may choose to be licensed as a professional (description C on the application form) and pay a fixed fee, or as a home-based business or other business based outside City limits (description A4) and pay the tax based on gross receipts. Additional information, including an application form, is available on the City of Santa Barbara website.

Last updated June 2012

City of Los Angeles

Section 22.350 of the Los Angeles Administrative Code requires a permit, an application fee, and proof of insurance to use any City property for any commercial still photograph of, or including any City property. The Los Angeles City Council have delegated the authority to issue filming and photography permits to FilmL.A.; to issue a permit, FilmL.A. require

  • A completed permit application. The application fee is $45 ($450 if the crew size is 15 or greater).
  • A certificate of insurance naming the City of Los Angeles as additional insured. The required coverage is $500,000 ($1,000,000 if the crew size is 15 or greater).

For additional information, see the FilmL.A. Film Permits page or contact FilmL.A. at 213-977-8600 or info@filmlainc.com.

City of Los Angeles Parks

All commercial still photography, including editorial, stock, and fine art, requires

  • Reserving the site through the Los Angeles Park Film Office. The fee is $50/day ($100/day if the crew size is 15 or greater).
  • A permit from FilmL.A. To issue a permit for Los Angeles City Parks, FilmL.A. require
    • A completed permit application. The application fee is $45 ($450 if the crew size is 15 or greater).
    • A certificate of insurance naming the City of Los Angeles as additional insured. The required coverage is $500,000 ($1,000,000 if the crew size is 15 or greater).

Certain activities may require monitoring by park staff and the payment of additional fees.

Special locations, such as Griffith Observatory, require additional permissions and fees. The staff at Griffith Observatory are particularly sensitive to commercial photographers attempting to avoid payment of fees, and are likely to approach any photographer using a substantial tripod or other “professional” equipment.

Section 63.44 B.3 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code requires a contract with the Recreation and Parks Department to practice or conduct any trade, occupation, business, or profession, and the RAP interpret any still photography that is intended for sale for profit as conducting a business.

For additional information, see the FilmL.A. Film Permits page, or contact FilmL.A. (213-977-8600) or the Los Angeles Park Film Office (323-644-6220).

Last updated June 2012

Orange County

Sec. 5-3-337 of the Orange County Codified Ordinances requires a permit for all still photography on County property; however, Sec. 5-3-338 exempts photography that is solely for private use.

To issue a permit, the County require a certificate of insurance indicating general liability coverage of $1,000,000, and an endorsement naming the County of Orange and as additional insured. The County require some specific language, on both the insurance certificate and the endorsement, that many other agencies do not require, and that may not be included on standard insurance forms. These requirements are described in the insurance instructions; the photographer’s insurance carrier should read the instructions carefully. Permit forms and insurance instructions are available on the Customer Care and Permit Services web page.

The fee for still photography is $150 per day, with a $500 surety deposit. The fee is good for any location in the County, provided that all locations are listed on the permit application and appropriate arrangements have been made with County personnel responsible for those locations. An annual permit for portrait photography is available for $150 plus a $500 surety deposit. Processing a permit application requires a minimum of three days.

For additional information about permits for locations other than harbors, beaches, and parks, see the Customer Care and Permit Services page or contact Dean Capalety at 714-667-8836.

Orange County Harbors, Beaches, and Parks

Permits for photography in County harbors, beaches, and parks are issued by OC Parks; fees are the same as for other areas in Orange County. To issue a permit, OC Parks require a certificate of insurance indicating general liability coverage of $1,000,000, and an endorsement naming the County of Orange and the State of California as additional insured. OC Parks require specific language not required by many other agencies, so the insurance instructions should be read carefully. Nominal time to process a permit application is five days, but this often can be reduced if an insurance certificate meeting all requirements is submitted with the application.

An annual portrait photography permit is available for $150 plus a $500 surety deposit; the permit can also be used for most other still photography. Insurance coverage must remain in effect for the entire year for the permit to remain valid. A photographer with an annual permit must make arrangements with the supervising ranger for the park, or other designated personnel, 48 hours in advance of the planned activity; if the activity would minimally disruptive, the 48-hour requirement can often be waived, but the supervising ranger must still be notified.

Information about County parks, including contact information, is available on the Orange County Harbors, Beaches, and Parks website. Permit applications and sample insurance documents are available on the OC Parks Filming & Photography Permits page.

For additional information, contact OC Parks at 949-585-6427 or one of the other numbers listed on the Filming & Photography Permits page.

Last updated June 2012