"Big" cameras, public lands, oversight & nuisances.

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Ok, so it's last friday afternoon, I'm in Rhyolite NV., about 7:20 PM, and I've worked my way up what I think is an old RR right-of-way until I've finally got the angle and elevation I want for a shot of the old Bullfrog and Goldfield depot. I put the 210 G-Claron on and remove the front element and stretch the bellows on the Z VI out about as far as they'll go. I've got about 3 minutes until the sun will drop behind the hills behind me and my light will be gone, just enjoying myself to the hilt, when I notice an old yellow Honda trail 90 turn onto the right of way and head my direction. 40 seconds later the guy pulls up and he's got a BLM hat on and he says "Are you a commercial enterprise?" So much for that euphoria, not to mention the light.

Now I understand that we have designated these folks to oversee our real estate for us, and if 3 vans pulled up with lights and models and products I'd be cheering him on. But how do we help them to know that the folks that just happen to enjoy looking at the world upside down should be left alone? I've had similar experiences down the road in Death Valley, except they weren't near as nice as this guy. In fact if you've got a "big" camera in Death Valley, beware.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@sierra.net), August 20, 2001


The owners and managers of any land have every right to ask about visitors' motives, and their mere asking shouldn't spoil your euphoria (heavens, I'd be perpetually gloomy if I let each such incident spoil my day!). If they have no case, they'll leave you alone; if you're on land you shouldn't be, you can't blame the messenger for telling you so.

When I have these encounters, I always just smile and cheerfully say, "No, just a hobbyist." A smile can go a surprisingly long way.

Fwiw, I've had no trouble with view cameras in Death Valley, in a wide variety of locations. Again, though, I keep smiling when I encounter anyone and if they ask what I'm doing, I reassure them that I'm not a commercial enterprise--just a nature lover trying to get good pictures.


-- John (WhitmanDesign@aol.com), August 20, 2001.

Try going here for starters and hunting around: http://www.blm.gov/nhp/what/commercial/filming/

Looks to me like you dont really need a permit....

-- Tim Atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), August 20, 2001.

I have run into both types, going to the extremes both ways. I now carry a tape recorder with me to tape my field notes & when approached by any of these government jokers with a rotten attitude I turn on the recorder... quietly and without letting them know so I have the conversation on tape. It works wonders later in getting someone fired! I tell them NO, not commercial work. Some don't believe it no matter how much you say it as you are using a "professional camera". (since all cameras are designed to take pictures, that is their use and their only use... all cameras are 'professional cameras'). But rather than get into a discussion on it I often move on rather than get hassled by a jerk who keeps insisting I must be doing commercial work if I have a big camera. It matters not that my little old 5x7 & lenses cost less than a nice shiny Nikon F5.

I then at times go with the 'editorial' photographer stance since much of what I do is for publication. If they still get pissed they are in that catagory of government jackass that the tape recorder will be used to save my bacon & try to get them fired. I record it all & file a formal complaint later... starting with the office of my U.S. Senator. S*** rolls downhill & when it comes from this high it hits hard.

There is absolutely NO reason for most of these guys to ask any questions at all unless you are doing something wrong, in the wrong place or there is a situation that came up they have to tell you about, like you are standing on a rattlesnake or some such. Editorial and personal work are just fine on public land but big cameras or big lenses are idiot magnets of the finest kind. Set one up & some idiot comes over. An 'official idiot' is the worst... and most who work for BLF, Forest Service, National Park Service & various State agencies do not fall into this catagory. Most don't like these powermad fools any more than we do.

If all else fails, produce a business card from another business & go with the hobby line... since it is generally true. Many of us who photograph full time, especially in the outdoors, do this as a hobby after any commercial shooting is over. I find that having a few cards identifying myself as a Civil Rights attorney works very well, the implied threat of producing that card works like a charm. I don't 'say' I am an attorney, they just kind of assume it when I hand it to them, and I do have a good lawyer to call if there are any more problems.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), August 20, 2001.

Dear Jim

Look on the 'home page' of this forum under 'Travels' and you will see that Q.-Tuan Luong has posted an article about shooting in national parks and on public lands. I live next to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and have my regular encounters with rangers who do not understand that more than one camera or accessory does not necessarily constitute a commercial endeavour! Read the article, review the links and pay attention to the one published by the National Park Service which covers the real rules of photographing in national parks.

Often the rangers and other employees think they are doing good, but do not understand what the rules say. The intent seems to be to regulate the big production types of photo shoots where there are lots of crew, perhaps wandering into restricted areas and potentially damaging the park whether intentionally or otherwise. This forum had a lengthy discussion of an incident where damage may or may not have occured last year. Maybe they have just encountered too many 'figure' photographers using those areas and they believe they are upholding the public morals.

My advice is not to lie or be deceptive. Perhaps, print out the rules and carry them in your bag-I do. As long as you are in public areas where anyone is allowed to walk at reasonable times when the areas are open to visitors, you have the right to photograph provided you are not interfering with other park visitors. This is true even if you are selling the images later. What they do not want is the impression that such and such park or park employee is seemingly endorsing a product.

I would be pleased to hear other observations and discuss this further.

John Bailey

-- John Bailey (mdwphoto@aol.com), August 20, 2001.

I have never had a problem using a view camera in Death Valley in 30 or more trips. I have had several other "conversations" with official persons in other locations. They start off with feigned nonchallance (sp?), then they strike up a conversation, then they work in a question designed to find out if you are a "professional photographer." This has happend many times, exactly the same technique used, and I think it is trained. I'm not a professional, I answer the question directly and without an attitude and they lose interest in me. Comments like: "I like old wooden cameras" early on help get them off the idea that fancy/weird equipment means you are working on a commercial venture. My impression is that if you are not on a commercial assignment per se, they don't care. If somebody some day decides to buy one of your pictures, they don't care. At least this is what I've heard from the ones who relax and talk about the issue. I've never seen a BLM person or anyone else official at Ryolite. Pity the area was not better protected over the years, check out the way it looked for Edward Weston in California and the West. Some of the buidings he photographed are rubble now. I don't think the photographs do much damage, it's the people who don't photograph they should worry about.

-- Kevin Crisp (KRCrisp@aol.com), August 20, 2001.

Hi All,

Shooting in National Parks here in Oz poses some of the same restrictions - albeit, usually, policed in a more relaxed fashion than I see in this thread. What is really annoying, though, is that local Municipal Councils will impose "shooting fees" for photography undertaken on beaches such as Bondi, outdoor attractions like the Darling Harbour precinct and the Sydney Opera House forecourt.

This has absolutely nothing to do with upholding moral values or preserving the environment - it is a blatant and capricious means of sharing in the spoils of Commercial endeavour. As an example the Sydney Opera House Trust requires a full declaration of the nature of the assignment and will then impose what they consider to be an appropriate fee for the scale of the shoot. Others just have a flat fee - $500.00 for Sydney beaches or $ 1,800.00 for Darling Harbour.

Where it gets really stupid is that most of the 'Professional' photos taken in places like these are done on 35mm tranny or digital. The shooters are invisible in a sea of tourists. But take out a large format camera and there's a lot of explaining to do - with mixed results.

Surely, in most of our western democracies the law of "innocent until proven guilty" should apply. If we explain our purpose in a concise and civil manner we should be taken at face value. Sadly, however, this is a fading memory with the introduction of armed security personnel, often with the IQ of a fence post and the culture and aesthetics of yoghurt, whose sole endeavour is to flex their authority.

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), August 20, 2001.

Walter, you hit it right on the head with "Sadly, however, this is a fading memory with the introduction of armed security personnel, often with the IQ of a fence post and the culture and aesthetics of yoghurt, whose sole endeavour is to flex their authority." It's the same attitude many of us have run into at airports, trying to get hand inspection without having some idiot open the box of exposed sheetfilm.

I console myself with the realization that such people are not hired for such low-paid positions because of their brains.


-- Anthony J. Kohler (arbitrator@uneedspeed.net), August 20, 2001.

Walter, that was a very interesting post. However, I spent the better part of two days photographing the Sydney Opera House (the world's most beautiful building IMHO) with a 4x5 monorail and was never questioned. The only place I was stopped was in the Royal Botanical Gardens. But this was three years ago, and maybe things have changed.

-- Stewart Ethier (s_ethier@parkcity.net), August 21, 2001.


You can be in luck; as I said at the head of the post these matters are policed in a somewhat relaxed fashion at times, but the Botanical Gardens, Mrs Macquarie's Chair and Centennial Park are all under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Agriculture and they are very keen on fiscal fertiliser.

I hope you liked what you saw and captured, anyway.

Cheers ... WG

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), August 21, 2001.


Somewhere up the posts someone recommended printing out the National Park Service regulations on photography. I carry copies of these with me in the field. They clearly state that a license or permit is not required for the kind of work you were doing. One thing to be careful of is whether your location is national or state land. Nevada has stricter regulations regarding photography on state parks and sites and generally large format photographers would require a permit (with a small fee) to be on location. The Nevada State Parks website also provides regulations on photography.

Good Luck,

-- Kevin (kkemner@tatesnyderkimsey.com), August 21, 2001.

Ditto New Mexico state land. More restrictive than BLM; you need a permit. Often in really really open areas out west, including NM, it's not always easy to know whether you're looking at private (ranching), federal, Native American, or state. A good detailed map/gazetteer is a partial answer; the County Assessor's Offices are the real answer (in N.M. for sure), as are commercial title and "abstract" offices, who generally answer phone inquiries cheerfully. Private land is complex. You just have to get the owner or manager on the phone and ask. BLM -- as explained above, as long as you're not interfering w/ anyone else's use (and this includes ranchers who are grazing such land pursuant to Taylor Grazing Act leases), do as you like. Pueblos/Reservations -- You can pretty much forget it; the only opening I know of is to write the Pueblo Governer and ask permission. It will be denied. -jb

-- Jeff Buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), August 21, 2001.

Well, you colonials certainly suffer for your art and I thought that America was the land of the free? My advice is to pack everything up and come over to England where apart from railway stations, supermarkets!! and military installations, you can roam at will with your large format cameras.

Don't come via France though as these days you cannot even do street photography without suffering a writ for invasion of privacy. H C-B could not operate these days.

-- Clive Kenyon (clivekenyon@hotmail.com), August 22, 2001.

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