Permits To Photograph On Public Lands

When I say permits to photograph on public lands I’m talking about federal lands. To be more specific in this instance, BLM land.

As you know, I’ve been doing my Girl In A Skirt sort of kind of project. It’s basically me taking pictures of my wife in various settings while she’s wearing a skirt. Pretty basic, huh? I started it out on a whim when we were in Arches National Park. While there early last spring we thought it would be cool to have her wearing a funky skirt and pose for some shots. It was then that the Girl In A Skirt was born. We’ve got all kinds of plans for the Girl In A Skirt. Those first few shots were very impromptu, but it got me to thinking that it sure would look cool to do some of these shots with a studio strobe. Flash makes everything better.

Plus, my wife is willing. I’m lucky. She’s tall; 5’11” and fit. It’s a perfect learning opportunity with a willing awesome model.

So, then we did some flash shots on the hill just above our house. Like this one:

Girl in a skirt on a mountain top with flash photography

ISO 100, 35mm, f14, 1/200 sec

This one’s pretty cool. Although I used a speed light it was still spur of the moment. We walked up the hill, set up the speed light and popped off some cool shots. Now, keep in mind, I have no intention of selling any photos that I’ve taken. It hasn’t been something that I’ve even thought about. Sure, if someone offered to pay me some cold hard cash to take some photos, yeah, I’d do it. But it’s not even on my radar. Well, to be entirely honest, it would be nice for someone to see enough value in what I do to pay. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he? Frankly, I don’t think I’m good enough. Yet. I take photos because I love it.

Then we got to talking about different locations and the Bonneville Salt Flats came up. Although neither one of us had been out to the Flats before, we both instantly though, Oh, yeah. That would be cool. I did some research and checked out some photos that others had done out there. Yeah, baby. We’re heading to the Bonneville Salt Flats. I talked about that shot a bit on a previous post. I discussed how we set up a 300ws strobe, put out a gear box for my wife to sit on and cooked off some shots. They turned out pretty freakin’ good.

Girl In A Skirt

ISO 100, 50mm, f16, 1/200 sec

At least I like it.

I posted them up on my Flickr page and didn’t really think much more about it. They did get a lot of favs and views which, admittedly is cool. But that’s about it. Remember, I’m just a rank amateur using photography as one means to hang out with my wife and son.

Then in one of the comments on one of the photos, a person mentioned that I may want to look into the permitting requirements vis a vis permits to photograph on public lands. What??? A permit? Permission to take photos on public land? Surely you jest. But then I did some research on it, specifically regarding BLM land and, yes, you do in some circumstances need to purchase a permit to photograph on public lands. Was I crossing into the realm of activity that would require a permit? Looking at the BLM permitting website, and utilizing basic comprehension of the English language, it appears as though I may have done just that. I started a discussion on a photography forum and a few people poo pooed the notion, stating that permits are only required for commercial/professional photographers. But, from the website:

Casual-use activities (i.e., noncommercial activities occurring on an occasional or irregular basis that result in little or no impact to public lands) involving still photography or recreational videotaping do not require a permit.

Still Photography. Public land visitors and recreational, professional and amateur photographers do NOT need a permit to take still photographs unless they will:

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

Here is how I interpret it. Did I use a model? Well, what is the definition of “model”? Well, this definition in part says:

  • a person or thing that serves as a subject for an artist, sculptor,writer, etc.
  • a person whose profession is posing for artists or photographers.

Now, granted, I’m not paying my wife. Modeling is not her profession. So, in that regard, we may well not be meeting the definition.

However, the sets or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities is what has me thinking. Technically, the light stand used for the strobe and the box on which my wife sits are props as would be a tripod if I had used one; which I do occasionally.

So, a reasonable reading of the language in the permit guidelines clearly indicates that I would need to get a permit to photograph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the manner that I did. That may not be the reality, though. Clearly, a phone call to the BLM local field office is in order which is exactly what I did. But, in the middle of the day, there was no answer. I let it ring 50 times and no answer. I’ll keep trying because I want to get clarification.

So, you may wonder what I will do if in fact I will be required to attain a permit to shoot photos in the manner I did out on the Flats.

That answer is easy. Screw them. I’ll shoot photos as I please and NOT buy a permit. If I get written up, I’ll cross that bridge, but there is no way in hell that I’m buying a permit to shoot photos of my wife for fun.

However, if, by chance, someone were to offer me money to take some cool pics of them on BLM land (I can only dream) then, yes, I would buy a permit even though being required to buy permits to photograph on public lands is, in my opinion, bullshit.

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