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Wednesday, 07 January 2015


Unfortunately this does nothing to eliminate the Ag-Gag photo/video bans:


Hi, Mike,

Okay, so how do we show support for this excellent bill? I'm liking Steve Stockman for his sense of freedom from interference by repressive goons.


An Ansel Adams Act is long overdue! I remember a story my father told me: In World War II, he visited a dam and tried to take a photograph (he used a Perfex camera back then). The guard yelled at him and said photography was prohibited. Then in the gift shop, he saw post cards for sale with the same scenes. Sigh....

I doubt that this bill has got any chance -- unfortunately, authorities in the US (and elsewhere) succeeded in making people think that security is the meaning of life.

It's about time.

Yes. But be careful what you wish for. I am personally in favor of being able to do my own landscape and similar photography without restrictions, as has been the case in the past. I'm also very much against restrictions on photography of public spaces, police officers, and so forth.

However... sometimes the brush is a bit too broad. The current regulations on "photography" also _regulate_ things that otherwise damage or interfere with _our_ access to these subjects, including the use of large crews to make commercial movies and advertisements in public parks, activities which keep the public away from normally accessible areas.

Clarity about what is and is not regulated is important, and there have been abuses (or potential) abuses in recent memory. But let's not let go of our critical faculties when we read a bill like this!

While I support the general spirit of this proposal, the details are concerning. The "unilaterally get a court order" mechanism is odd. We usually don't use the federal courts to regulate agencies in this manner. Instead, our system waits for someone to complain that the agency overstepped. But the prohibition on charging any fee is bizarre. Surely if someone films an elaborate Hollywood production in a national park, the park service out to charge them a fee? This reads like a legislative publicity stunt, not a serious bill.

Though Saint Ansel might appreciate the Congressman's compliment, Yosemite was already a National Park (1890) before Adams had taken his first picture in the Park.

Better title might be the "Ad Agency Wilderness Shoot Relief Act." As others have commented, there are valid reasons for permits/fees/insurance requirements for shoots on federal lands.

It won't affect the ability of security personnel to hassle you for photographing defense facilities, as it leaves in place 18 USC 795, which provides:

"Sec. 795. Photographing and sketching defense installations
(a) Whenever, in the interests of national defense, the President defines certain vital military and naval installations or equipment as requiring protection against the general dissemination of information relative thereto, it shall be unlawful to make any photograph, sketch, picture, drawing, map, or graphical representation of such vital military and naval installations or equipment without first obtaining permission of the commanding officer of the military or naval post, camp, or station, or naval vessels, military and naval aircraft, and any separate military or naval command concerned, or higher authority, and promptly submitting the product obtained to such commanding officer or higher authority for censorship or such other action as he may deem necessary.
(b) Whoever violates this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

Just curious. I wonder if this is strictly photography or film making. What about drones. I expect this bill to go through some tortured amendments. But at least the conversation is being had by the lawmakers.

Yet another end run attempt to prove the best way to become a self made 'person' is to have the Gov't give you something. While not likely to pass, it wouldn't hurt any to encourage your elected reps to make sure it doesn't. Anyone so adverse to paying the People nominal amounts for use of their property have ample opportunity for alternative market solutions ranging from private property to CGI.


Further to Doug's comment, it was actually a national park (1890) before Ansel was born (1902). Are all acts of Congress this sloppy? Perhaps they are...

First, re. Gene Forsythe's featured comment: it appears that any restrictions to freedom of photographing must be preceded by a court order, which should limit the chances of arbitrary prohibitions taking place.
It is a tragic irony that I got to know about this bill the same day freedom of speech came under attack: this morning, french satiric magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' was attacked by three mentally disturbed men acting under the invocation of Islam. The casualties, among which is cartoon veteran Charles Wolinski, paid a very high price for freedom of speech.
The news of an act meant to reinforce freedom of speech doesn't heal my sadness for this barbaric attack, but it conveys a very strong message. Freedom of speech is one of the most important values of mankind. It is necessary to preserve it by any legitimate means.

In many ways, a bigger problem are some state laws that criminalize making photographs of farms and other commercial enterprises visible from public rights of way. The clear intent is to deter investigative journalism.

What is this fetish that just because public park lands are owned by the "public" that anyone should be allowed to do as they please on it without fees or cost? Why would anyone think that? I own my house, but I still have to pay for maintenance on it. Maybe the public "owns" federal park lands, but we still have to pay to keep it maintained, and commercial users should have to pay more to use those areas because they cause it more stress. This is not a difficult concept to understand.

Only a couple of small problems - Stockman is no longer in congress, and the bill was introduced last session. It's dead already.

Cheers Mike,

This doesn't pass the "smell test" and I believe Ben's link to the "Variety" article tells the tale here. If the NPS is to oversee commercial use of Park Service lands then they must be given the resources to do so, fees will help that happen.

As it is, decades of budget cuts have made it very difficult to staff and maintain our parks as things are, without having to babysit gigantic film crews. Because there is no such thing as a "50-71 cast and crew members" shoot that will have zero impact, and it would be irresponsible to trust any commercial outfit to self-monitor that they conduct their shoot within legal bounds, then implicitly, they need to be be advised and supervised by technical experts, such as NPS field biologists. There are actual costs beyond potential impacts on the land and wildlife (not to mention disruption to park visitors).

What is the purpose of our National Parks?

"The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world."

I don't see keeping commercial filming "cost-competitive" anywhere and Stockman's bill seems to be a ruse for doing just that. Ansel himself would thump Stockman upside the head for hijacking his good name.

In the meantime I'd love to meet just one hobbyist threatened by an NPS employee for merely taking photos or video. Perhaps it was bigfoot.


It's five years old now, but here is my view of what was introduced then in the UK to forbid photography.

Photographing In Public Places And The Preservation Of Democracy


I think Geoff nailed it!! And BH. Seems fine on the surface but you gotta check under the tarp. And if this Stockman dude is no longer in Congress, seems moot.

I took a series of photos of prisons in the scenery, "Prison Scene", but I would be hasseled by guards who said it was illegal to make a photo of a prison (public building) from a public way.

[Most guards of all sorts are just bored and looking for something to do. Hassling photographers is a good diversion for them. --Mike]

Can I nominate BH's comment for some sort of award? Lovely from start to amusing finish.

Having been a commercial photographer at one time, having lived in NYC for 35 years, having friends and family in all aspects of film production, and involved off and on with film production myself, I have a few comments.

Generaly it is not the taking of photographs that they care about , but if you use a tripod or light stands, and stop traffic then you need a permit , and to get a permit you need insurance. I never bothered with permits or insurance, but I was always ready to run if need be. The permits are about real estate

If you use the work commercialy, then you might need a property release if it you are on private property . Don't get the metropolitan opera in the background, they will sue unless you pay about a thousand dollars per arch.

If you use the photography in fine art or news context , then it's not commercial. Use it for advertising or charge money to see it or rent it out, then it's commercial. You would not believe the forms you have to fill out to rent artwork to a film company or TV show to indemnify them.

The tricky part is that in the minds of the park police, if you sometimes do commercial work for hire, then anything you put in your portfolio is "commercial" because you are using it to advertise yourself.

The law now does not restrict taking photographs, but it does restrict bringing in equipment and crews.

The amature with a view camera is screwed however. Talking your way out of things is an essential skill.

On the other hand if you want to close off streets, drive 100 mph, or herd sheep through Times Square, all you need is a film permit. Sometimes you see some crazy publicity event, and some kid with a VHS camcorder will be standing off to the side fulfilling the technicality of it being a film shoot.

This law doesn't seem to change anything, I thing it's more about mining , oil drilling and ranching.

Oh, if you get hassled on public land that isn't a park, I've heard that "timber survey" or "geological survey" are often useful,

Hugh, always wear a ReflectaVest in that sort of situation -- nobody messes with someone in a ReflectaVest. It's a store-bought badge of authority.

For those who don't see the need for such a bill, I would encourage you to listen to the audio in this taped telephone conversation from this summer between a Yellowstone National Park Official and a private photographer.

It's truly hard to listen to if you are a photographer, or even a citizen.


"P.S. Learning this does make me very curious, though—do outgoing members of Congress do this regularly, and, if so, what's the point?"

Without a doubt he is going to a highly paid lobbyist position and they probably asked him to do it as part of their overall strategy. They will probably push for some other business oriented fellow to pick it up and run with it.

This isn't a Freedom of Speech issue. It's more about the damage that commercial use causes.

I spent a great deal of my life working in Hollywood, doing both TV Commercials and Movies. When you bring in 100 people and several dozen vehicles you need to get the streets posted as No Parking (causing problems for the residents and businesses).

Same goes for public property. Here in costal Orange County, CA, Wedding Photographers were trying to run families off the beach. Now the Beach Communities have very expensive permits (about $500.00, varies). Nice going Wedding Photographers!

Same goes for National Parks, if you are disrupting the park goers experience, you should pay for a permit. It's just a Cost of Doing Business. Remember that this is a Capitalist Country, and you should not expect the Public to Subsidize you.

Yes the reflective vest thing works well. I have one around that says "contractor" on it. That way you are explicitly not on staff or an official if someone gets testy about impersonating an official. A white hardhat and a clipboard with a couple dozen pink and yellow pieces of paper, one of which you write the name of everyone who talks to you will make a certain type of official busybody find something else to do.

I hate to frame things this way, but Congress cannot "restore" a first amendment right by passing a law. They had no power to take a first amendment right away. I applaud the sentiment, but I don't think the bill passes the constitutional smell test.

This is a more nuanced problem than simply being nice to photographers. The problem is that there are all sorts of photography, ranging from pulling out a cell phone to mounting a major movie production. These obviously need different levels of permitting from none to substantial. The laws and regulations need to reflect the different levels of impact on the park, not simply whether photography is happening or not. But sadly, this is not always true.

I see this at an egregious level in the California State Park system. In this system, any commercial photography requires a permit. That means that if I want to sell a print of a cell-phone shot I made in a state park, I must have obtained a permit prior to making the photograph. The permit fee is at least $50, and the permit covers one day. Note the "prior to" bit. If I take a photo with no commercial intent, and later decide to sell prints, I'm out of luck. I either have to violate the regulations or forego selling the prints. And yes, I've double-checked this with the relevant park officials. The permitting process is designed for large productions. You have to say how many catering trucks you plan to have on-site, for instance. And you have to have insurance with specific requirements. Try to find someone to write you a one-off policy for a day of shooting at the local state park that's at all affordable.

So I'd like to see sensible regulations designed to promote reasonable use. If I have a production large enough to need catering trucks, it's entirely reasonable that this should be subject to prior approval and fees. If I'm walking around with a camera and tripod, not blocking trails, not impacting the environment any more than a non-photographer visitor, I shouldn't have to get special permission.

The Stockman bill, already dead as previously noted, doesn't do anything to distinguish between the movie production and the individual photographer. So while it may or may not have been intended to make life easier for large, deep-pocketed productions, that's certainly one effect.

If they eliminate Sec. 3 (c), then there might be some value here. Unfortunately, I think Sec. 3 (c) is the entire point of the bill and the rest is just camouflage and cover.

Unless the bill is reintroduced, it's all moot anyway.

I'm a Canadian, so my opinion isn't worth a hill of baked beans, but this bill seems like a step in the right direction to me. Despite trying times and set backs since 9/11, America is still an a place where real political freedom has a chance to survive. I think that if this became law, it would certainly help. It may not be perfect, but the spirit of the bill is pro freedom of speech and pro photography. It's too bad it's more or less dead.

"(8) Ansel Adams' photographs helped build public support to make Yosemite into a National Park."
New to me that Yosemite didn't become a National Park til the mid 20th century. Wikipedia says it got that status in 1916.

Sometimes having a Queen as a head of state seems like a better option.

I'm sure she'd take you back if you asked politely.

The Kathleen Madigan reference made my morning. That was a hilarious bit!

For twenty years I was a location scout for the film industry. In 2003 I quit the business, at that time the fees to film on Federal lands, i.e. National parks was either nonexistence or nominal. There were however many costs involved directly related to the filming i.e. the use of park rangers and or police, sheriffs, etc. The same with most state parks. There were a number of rules that the film companies needed to obey (how can one not when you have rangers overseeing everything) that the general public did not need to obey.

The comments here suggesting that this bill is only for commercial enterprizes is sadly mistaken. This bill whether altered to charge a fee to commercial enterprizes or not needs to be passed. In the end it protects all of us from unfair laws passed through the infamous "Patriot Act".

As a sidenote after I had quit the business, I accompanied a former collegue of mine on a scouting day. His assignment included scouting a mothball fleet in the SF Bay Area. He had gotten permission beforehand. Even then we were accosted by men in all black uniforms (later identified as Blackwater personnel) with shotguns leveled at us. It was not a warm and fuzzy feeling we got.

Carleton E. Watkins not Ansel Adams took the early photos of Yosemite


I really wasn't aware that part of the constitution had been repealed. Education not legislation is a far more pressing problem it would seem. Try as they might congress won't be able to pass a bill that makes folks smarter or better at doing their job.

I posted a comment on this right out of the gate, and I'm gratified to see that lots of other people see right through this. Because photographers are — justifiably in some cases — sensitive about being hassled while making personal photographs in national parks, monuments, forests, and other lands, they tend to jump to the conclusion that anything that sounds like it protects them is a good thing.

Make no mistake though — this bill is not from people who are your friends, it is not for you, and it is not designed to ensure your access to these areas. It has two primary goals. One is to further restrict the park service, et al by limiting their ability to reasonably control what happens in parks and by reducing their already meager funding. The second is to gratify a few big companies who currently have to pay (a small portion of) the reasonable costs to the system when they, for example, shut down access to parts of the park and require rangers to control citizen access while they make movies and film car advertisements.

I can assure you that Ansel Adams would be aghast at the use of his name to promote such a scam. THAT is the real story here.

So far the Feds haven't required a landscape photographer who is selling his work like Ansel Adams did to get a commercial permit, but that isn't the case at the state level. For example, in Wisconsin state parks if you are going to sell landscape shots made in the parks as prints or otherwise, you're required to obtain a permit that covers your visit.

We need to make sure that never happens on federal land. If there is no impact greater than the average park visitor there should be no fees even for commercial photography. If there is greater impact then there should be.

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