US Forest Service Isn’t Curtailing Photography

There has been somewhat of a storm brewing this week about the US Forest Service instituting a policy that was said to require photographers to apply for a permit to shoot in national forests or risk a fine of up to $1,500.

Despite the fact that the Service issued a clarification of the proposed rules on September 25, making it abundantly clear that they would only apply to commercial photographers and videographers working with props and a crew and that the fees would be minimal, the story has kept on gathering steam and resulted in unwarranted outrage among photographers.

It looked like a storm in a glass of water from the get-go, blown out of proportion by some eager reporters at local papers and The Washington Post. Yet, our favorite photography site managed to pick up the story yesterday and later issued an update, clarifying the Forest Service’s real stance via a link to a story in The Washington Post on September 26.

Fact is that the Service clarified its position a week ago and that all the excitement among the photographic community was wasted energy. The press release by the National Forest Service from September 25 contains  the following key sentence: “The proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.”

It seemed a good story, but it wasn’t one. Sorry.

Comments

  1. Anthony Medici says:

    The problem remains this statement:

    “Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs.”

    That means that if you take a picture with another person in it, and sell it, you meet the criteria to be considered someone that needs a permit. The other person could be a fellow hiker or fellow photographer in your group. But that person becomes a “Model” if you place them in the picture. If you then sell the picture, you could be fined.

    Putting a person in the frame didn’t mean I paid to put the person in the frame. Nor does it mean the person got compensation for being there. Most models want one or both. It seems obvious to me that the people making these rules don’t understand that as they don’t actually define what a model is.

    • I think you’re taking too much of a legalistic view of this. The forest service needs to preserve the habitat and manage the flow of people on its land, just like most authorities do. The key seems to be managing relatively large productions that include multiple people, vehicles and equipment, which is typical of a commercial shoot and video productions. Nothing seems to point at them wanting to limit first amendment rights or the rights of a photographer who is not setting up tons of gear to shoot on the forests under their management.

      Now, I do agree with you that it’s better if all of this gets more clearly defined in the process now under way.

      • Anthony Medici says:

        John, Thank you for replying. The problem is that it is a legal issue too. A small group of photographers, traveling together for safety, could be cited under the current proposal and it would be left to each person to fight the fine in court or pay it.

        I don’t feel they are really working on defining exactly the type of conditions that need to be met for a photographer to need the license or be subjected to the fine as the section containing the noted quote hasn’t changed in years.

        I’ve also read a recent story that tells of a photographer being fined because he sold an image that contained a fellow hiker in it. They quoted that exact line and said that the person in the picture was a model, therefore, he should have gotten a license.

        That also means that if you take a picture of your family and decide that it is good enough for a travel magazine, you’d also be subject to the fine.

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