You’d Better Have Permission To Shoot

One of the most consistent requests I get from readers is for info about all the paperwork and business side of the photo & cinema industries. Given that our Executive Producer, Kate, handles all that, I’ve talked her into doing a series of posts that get down to the brass tacks. This post is about that ever-important piece of paper that few photographers obtain–or even know how to obtain the location PERMIT. So here’s Kate to give you all the important info you’ll need…
——-

Hello everybody. Kate here. One of the most overlooked parts of making your location-based photo shoot “legit” in terms of being within the law and being “professional” is obtaining a shooting permit. A location shooting permit is a document that gives you permission (usually from local, city, or federal governments) to be shooting in public places. I know that the process can seem a little intimidating (ok, totally sucky) if you have never applied for a permit before, but once you know the basics, the process is rather easy, and is actually quite similar from agency to agency, location to location. In this post, I’ll cover when you need a permit, who to contact, how to apply, and then show a specific example.

When do you need a permit?
If you are just walking around with your camera and shooting casually, you generally don’t need a permit. You will, however, need a permit if you are shooing on public property OR if your shooting will impact others and/or the environment. The threshold varies from location to location, but generally, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a commercial shoot?
  • Will your filming disturb traffic or pedestrians?
  • Will you need to use tripods, dollys, wires, a generator or other equipment on sidewalks or streets?
  • Are you using the public space in a special/different way than it is intended?

If you answer yes to ANY of these questions, you likely need a permit. This is where one of two things may happen. If you have a producer or a location scout, they take over and get the job done. Location scouts, producers, and production companies can save you tons of time and will have great insider information. Alternatively, if you’re without one of those specialists–like most small productions–you’ll need to crank through this permit process yourself. (Don’t fret. You CAN do this.)

Who do I talk to? How do I get started?
Start with finding the right contact at the right agency. Try reaching out to fellow photographers in the area, producers, or production assistants. Reference the local ASMP chapters or other trade organizations. Use your network. Pickup a copy of the local “production index” (try Googling ‘production index + your city for a start…) for the city in which you’re shooting. Ultimately, the goal is to find the government agency websites who issue permits for your locations of interest. As an example, here in Seattle, it’s the Mayor’s Office of Film & Music. This is where you can track down the proper permitting forms. In most cases, this information is online and you can download the forms or at least find the right person to get the process rolling.

Applying for the permit

  1. Start by making contact. Call them. Let the agency know that you’ve found the forms online and that you plan to permit. Make certain that your location is covered under their jurisdiction. Ask questions. Let them know when and where you hope to shoot and find out if there are any conflicts during your proposed time. Also, ask if there is anything that you’ve overlooked about the process so that you can ensure you get the application correct the first time.
  2. Allow yourself enough time. Some permits can be processed quickly, within a few days, while others require up to 10 days or even more. Time is often not a luxury I have, so I always begin the process as soon as I know the city in which we will be shooting, even if that just means starting the conversation with the contact at the permitting agency.
  3. Read the fine print… carefully. There can be hidden information. This is an official government form and each agency can be very specific about what they need and how they need it. Don’t be intimidated, just be thorough.
  4. Complete the forms.
    ~Fill in every blank.
    ~Type or print legibly.
    ~Describe EXACTLY what you plan to shoot at the location so there is no confusion.
    ~Be honest.
    ~Provide maps/sketches if necessary or helpful.
    ~Triple check your dates for shooting.
    ~Build in time for schedule changes/weather delays if possible.
    ~Make it easy for someone to approve your permit. If everything is correct and accurate, all they have to do is give you your permit. And they’ll love you.
  5. Submit your form and follow up to make sure the form is received and is being processed.
  6. Pay your fee and/or damage deposit.
  7. Get your certificate of insurance. This is a document from your insurance agent that proves that you have liability insurance (protects you if someone gets hurt, damaged, etc). This is necessary for most permits; however, I know that in Seattle specifically, small productions are not required to present insurance. If you don’t have this insurance for your company, you CAN get short term insurance for just the shoot. Call your agent.
  8. Fulfill any additional requirements of permit. These requirements may include: police assistance, parking passes, community notification, rules of the area, etc. The agency, their website, or the forms will help direct you to these resources.
  9. Make sure you receive the final signed permit. You MUST have the final permit with you at all times. THIS IS ESSENTIAL! Rangers, city officials, security guards, and police really will stop you and ask to see your permit. The bigger and more intrusive your shoot, the more likely you’ll be asked.

Tips

  • If you don’t hear back, don’t assume the worst. Be proactive and follow up politely. Don’t underestimate the power of the phone call. These folks are BUSY.
  • Remember that most cities see shoots coming in as an economic benefit and they want your business.
  • Some cities have roving permits, which allow you to cover a much more broad area with your permit (instead of designating a specific street or streets). This may be available if you have a very small crew, aren’t disrupting traffic or pedestrians and don’t have much equipment.
  • Some locations will have different permits for different size crews. If you can keep your crew small, you can keep the permit much cheaper and simpler.
  • Make sure your locations have bathrooms.
  • Remember that being on location is like a guest in someone’s house. Treat everyone and the location in a way that would make them want to invite you back.
  • Shooting on private property? This is different. If the location is not public, just contact the owner directly for permission. You may still pay a location fee, but you will likely have a rental agreement in lieu of a permit. Don’t forget your location release!

Here’s a specific example:
We shot part of a Lululemon campaign in Joshua Tree National Park. I thought it might be helpful to share with you the actual paperwork completed and submitted and the permit and rules that they issued.

1. First, you can see information about shooting in Joshua Tree and download various applications here.

2. We did just that. Here is our completed application:

Application Page 1

Click to Enlarge

Application Page 2

Click to Enlarge

3. Once our application was approved, we received the final permit you see here, which we then took on location the day of the shoot:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

4. Here is the final ad we shot that day in Joshua Tree: Say No To Camel Toe.

And there you go… Permitting 101 to help you obtain your permits for future shoots. Please feel free to use the comments section for any questions or further considerations.

You may be interested in:

74 Responses to You’d Better Have Permission To Shoot

  1. Alvin Toro March 10, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Great post Kate. Thanks for sharing.

  2. John Cornicello March 10, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Thanks, Kate!

  3. Dave Block March 10, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Thanks Kate! You guys rock for thinking about sharing things like this.

  4. Jeff Tamagini March 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    great insight Kate…Chase is lucky to have you around ;-)

  5. Christopher Cauble March 10, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Great post and thank you for the information!

  6. Normand Desjardins March 10, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I love the ad… seriously! :-) ))

  7. Trudy March 10, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    This is really great…just the type of post I’ve wanted since watching CreativeLIVE this past weekend with the HD dSLR filmmaking teaching.

    Also, the ad is great…made me chuckle. Thanks.

    • Kate the Producer March 11, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      I loved the creative from this campaign… so very clever! Lululemon is such a cool brand.

      • neilmaster January 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

        too bad it’s such a shitty company.

  8. Dan Kaufman March 10, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    well written and very informative. an excellent “heads up” look to inside the business of photography. Thanks Kate and Chase.

  9. Jesus Hidalgo March 10, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Excellent article! There’s a very important process (or at least there should be) “behind” the camera that most of us are not aware or have not dealt with, and it is pivot to have a successful on-location photo shoot.
    Thank you Kate (and Chase) for posting such a helpful article!

  10. Mitch March 10, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Thanks for these great posts on technical and business aspects of photography. Keep it up!

  11. Wendy March 10, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    I’m new to the business side of photography and can’t thank you enough for posting information about things I didn’t know about. Keeps me on my toes and coming back for more. Thank you!

  12. Ed Hall March 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Thanks for the greatly informative article. Hope there will be more of these “things you really need to know more about” posts. Thanks again Kate and Chase.

  13. Callum Winton March 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks Kate.
    Do you need to estimate the cost of this for the client estimate in advance, or do you build the estimate following a creative meeting with the client so you know where and what will be required?

    Ta
    CW

    • Kate the Producer March 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      @ Callum: I always try to get as much creative information as possible before estimating, but definitive creative is not always be available. Earmark some funds for permits based on the number of locations you intend to shoot. Note the difference between a quote and an estimate… your estimate is your best guess of the costs with the information you have at the time of estimating. It’s a good idea to state your assumptions in writing when you deliver your estimate.

      • Callum Winton March 16, 2011 at 9:54 am #

        Thanks Kate.
        I’n not dealing with the big fishes you guys have, so my clients expect the quote and estimate to be the same thing :s
        But I always include a contingency in my quotes showing a 10% varience to cover any unexpected costs.

        Never have to use it yet, but it’s there if I need it :)

        CW

  14. Lonnie Dawkins March 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Good information. Thanks for sharing.

  15. nikky March 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    This is gold.
    Thanks Kate!

  16. Abhi March 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    What if I’m taking pictures in any of the subways, Just to create a personal body of work. The answer to the 4 questions mentioned being a NO and without causing inconvenience to any one?

    -Abhi.

    • Kate the Producer March 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      @ Abhi: Every city will have its own threshold/tolerance level, but generally, if you are functioning like a tourist, you are fine for shooting. Just keep in mind that if you intend to use the images commercially, meaning that you will make money from what you shoot, you want to obtain the proper permissions from any recognizable locations.

      • Abhi March 12, 2011 at 9:32 am #

        Thanks for the reply. The best part about following this blog is getting replies from the guys who post the blog for all or most of the Q in the comments. Last 2/3 blog posts and I’ve got replies from you and Chase. That makes me read your blogs repeatedly! Hope that you never delete you older posts.

        -Best,
        Abhi.

  17. Stoney Vintson March 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Not all cities are grateful to deal with your permit process. There is a city that starts with S to the south of Seattle that will treat you with disdain as you apply for a permit.

    • Kate the Producer March 11, 2011 at 10:20 am #

      I think that you can definitely find people in these agencies who don’t appear grateful, but I always attribute that to being overworked and dealing with some stressed out folks –producers, scouts, etc on super short time lines– who may, at times, be a challenge to work with. I imagine they have to put up with a ton of angry/frustrated people coming at them who want them to do everything faster and better. Try to win them over with kindness :)

  18. Jeremy Almeda March 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Just say No to Camel Toe! Haha. Funny. But in response to this post, Just last night I met an individual at a Mall up north to purchase a new lens, the name of the mall I would prefer to leave out. I will mention the name of my new lens though- The Canon 135L F.2, my first L lens very exciting! Anyways upon testing the lens we were approached by mall security and asked to not take photos. We politely agreed and stepped outside to continue the test shots. A few minutes later we were surrounded by the Mall security who threatened to confiscate our equipment, detain us, and call the “real” cops. Of course they didn’t say the “real” cops, and ironically referred to themselves as professionals? I didn’t realize that Mall security rent-a-cops were now such a sought after profession? Well to wrap things up I will just say that we, refused to give up our equipment and left the premise immediately. We were followed by 5 security officers through the parking lot and across the street. I was really excited about the 135mm length too! It got some really great expressions of our new friends from across the street! I wanted to post some to my blog/facebook but was afraid of them pressing charges. So alas this is my vent. Thanks Chase! And yes, be sure to get permits for your shoots, and remember that it’s not a good idea to test equipment on private property- if you don’t have permission. To give the mall cops some credit, I know that we shouldn’t have been in there testing the lens, but it was raining out, what’s a guy to do?

  19. Shane Parker March 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    This is the core of why I’ve always followed this blog; great info guys!

  20. Jordan Wright March 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Very helpful info, looking forward to your future posts/blogs.

  21. Rick Lewis March 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    What a great article. Thanks Chase and company! I was in such a serious mood reading it right up to the point I saw the tag line, “Say ‘No’ to camel toe”. I’m still laughing……

  22. Will Foster March 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    This is a very interesting post, and definitely something that I tend to avoid (to keep my costs super low) but should definitely take into consideration for any commercial photo shoots that I may pursue. Thanks Kate!

    • Kate the Producer March 11, 2011 at 10:24 am #

      @ Will. Some cities that are super film friendly, like Seattle (we are so lucky!), offer very cheap local permits to encourage shooting. Seattle has $25 a day film permits… a great deal!! Perhaps your city offers something similar?

  23. Ryan March 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Thanks for the post Kate. I have some questions here, so say if I am shooting for personal stuff on the street alone, but the pictures might potentially turn in to print for sale (if they were good), do I need a permit on that? Tripod might be used somehow for long exposure shot (rare).

    Thanks

    • Kate the Producer March 11, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      @ Ryan. Not usually, but really depends on where you are. Check with whoever has jurisdiction of the area, but I’d guess you’d be fine in many places.

  24. Rabi March 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    Really helpful stuff. The vast majority of my work is newspaper photojournalism, so I don’t have to worry about permits; however, as I’ve been moving to video I’ve been starting to get commercial work and I’ve been completely in the dark as to permits.

  25. paolo March 11, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    is this a real ad? “say no to camel toe”??!?!

  26. Ted McAusher March 11, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t have to worry about disrupting traffic at this point in my photog career. Nonetheless I liked the post because it allowed me to see something I otherwise wouldn’t. Thanks Kate!

  27. Laurent Egli March 11, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Wow great info! Fortunately for me it is much easier here in switzerland but it’s a great check list to make sure all the spots are covered. If you ever find the time I’d love to read about how you deal with Personal authorisations and running after that guy in far back left of the picture to get his approoval. How do you guys handle that? Otherwise tanks a million for your implication in bringing life to social photography. Laurent Egli Geneva Switzerland

    • Gus February 20, 2012 at 5:42 am #

      Hi Laurent,
      What are the rules in Switzerland. Do you need permission to film in the street?

  28. RobyFabro March 11, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Kate, does the location shooting permit cover the public streets and the buildings in the proximity of the shooting area? Even if some of them are privately owned?
    I asked that because I was once stopped taking photos of a cancer researcher on a side street by two security guys, coming out from a close by building just to let me know I needed a permission to photograph the building; which I was not! …Mind I had no permits at all, so I moved somewhere else.

    • Kate the Producer March 11, 2011 at 11:13 am #

      @Roby. Sounds like you handled that situation perfectly. If you did have a permit, you should have been fine, so long as you were doing what was approved in your permit. Generally, when you are issued a permit, one of the stipulations is to notify local business of your activities. Had they known ahead of time, they could have notified security ahead of time.

      Two things to consider in your shooting:
      1) Will your activities affect other business/people/etc? If so, wheter required or not, it’s a good idea to give folks the heads up. You can avoid so many problems this way.

      and
      2) Will your images include any copyright material as a “substantial part” of your work? This now moves from the permitting department to the legal department, so always check with a lawyer to be sure. But generally, IF you need permission, make sure you get it… that includes people, billboards, some buildings, private property, art, music, etc.

  29. Chris Bernard March 11, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I love hearing from the rest of the team. Often helpful. Kudos!
    Chris – chrisbernardphotography.com

  30. fas March 11, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    I did not know one needs to procure permission to shoot.

  31. DavidinSeattle March 13, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    Thanks for this post! Very helpful and informative :)

  32. nate geslin March 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    yet another wonderful post with very useful information. Thanks, Kate! I’m really looking forward to more posts from you about the business side of things. I know for me, thats the area I seem to have the most questions about.

  33. DanielKphoto March 14, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    Very helpful! Thanks a lot Kate :)

  34. Adam March 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Wow, thanks!

  35. Eugene Hermstad March 15, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    So glad I live in Norway and don´t need to worry about this.
    Before it was all about taking photos, today its all about handling documents the right way before you are allowed to photograph.

    And I don´t think it will get any easier in the future. :P

  36. Mike March 16, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    This is something I haven’t thought too much about. Thanks for sharing how the process works and how to quickly obtain a permit!

  37. Graffight March 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Do you need a permit if you are just doing portraits? If it’s not commercial, but you are getting paid, should a permit be required for an on location portrait shoot?

  38. Linda M. March 22, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I know you’re always working and now I know some of what you’re doing. This is very interesting. It doesn’t sound like you have the frustration that some people have had with permits which is great. Good going girl. You’re a great executive producer.

  39. Weston March 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Great information, I have always wondered the steps to take if I ever need to do a fairly large set up on location. Thank you for posting this!

  40. Double Tax October 25, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    There’s a saying, that if you want to achieve greatness then stop asking for permission. Works for my friends http://vimeo.com/26200018

  41. Twitter Money November 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Ahoi, nice article and blog, but you should check some reviews for some spam. Just a hint or use Akismet or alike. I’m running it on my blog and it’s really cool! Greetz

  42. Phyllis Deglopper January 19, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you really know what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my website =). We could have a link exchange arrangement between us!

  43. Drew Gardner February 22, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Hi Kate

    I hope you are well.

    Really cracking, good advice.

    All too often ‘nuts and bolts’ like this get forgotten.

    Preparation and forethought is everything.

    What is more as you well know, it adds value to you as a shooter, particularly if your competitor does not think ahead.

    Regards to Chase and Scott

  44. Gavin Farrington Photography February 22, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    @Graffight – I keep wondering the same thing. I do a lot of engagement sessions in public areas. Of course this is “commercial” in the sense that I’m being paid to do work for a client, but many licensing facilities don’t have a straight answer when it comes to whether this is “commercial” in their sense of the word. Further, since these types of shoots don’t involve freestanding equipment or crews, they often don’t have an appropriate pricing structure for them. It can be frustrating trying to do things right under these circumstances.

  45. David Eichler July 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Gavin makes a good point. If applied strictly, some permit requirements would seem to cover any professional activity where the photos are being done for financial gain in some form, which I suppose could even apply to news, art or stock photography. Or, does “commercial” photography really only apply in practice for photography done for commercial clients, as opposed to private individuals? Are most portrait photographers really getting permits to shoot in public areas when it is just them and a camera, or maybe with an assistant holding a reflector or flash?

  46. Natalia Pherigo December 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    I read this post fully regarding the comparison of hottest and previous technologies, it’s awesome article.

  47. seri ilan scripti March 1, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am encountering issues with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else getting similar RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  48. Marci March 13, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    This helped a ton! thanks Katie! :)

  49. Ashleigh May 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Hi Kate! Thanks for your awesome article :) Quick question: I already shot my web series inside someone’s house. They were there on the shoot day and gave full permission to use the property, but I forgot to get a release from them. They are not willing to now sign a release. Since we already shot there and the owner was present and allowed us in, do we need a release? Can the home owner stop me from using the footage from that day?
    Thanks!

  50. givenchy t-shirt June 20, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    Deryn never does things by halves and this was the biggest fashion show outside Dublin. In fact, it was easily comparable to the Brown Thomas Supermodel Show in Cork, if less bling. Brown Thomas had Helena Christensen; Khan had Lainey Keogh and Mary O’Rourke.

  51. film indonesia baru March 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi there, I desire to subscribe for this weblog to take newest updates, therefore where can i do
    it please help out.

  52. edin chavez March 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Great post. Thank you Chase!!!

  53. Michael R March 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    What is the Performance Bond (in this case $500) and what does it protect who from?

  54. Leighton DaCosta March 31, 2014 at 3:08 am #

    Thank you so much for this. Especially the examples. More than helpful.

    LD

  55. Addison Geary March 31, 2014 at 6:22 am #

    Thanks Kate,

    A potential client once asked me to shoot group shots of their students at a ballpark, a national historic site, on the art museum steps and then in a crowded indoor market, all in the same day. When I told them I would need to get permits they asked me if I couldn’t just run in real quick and grab the shots. I told them no, that I was sure that I would stopped at one or more of the locations and would not be able to fulfill the assignment. I never heard from them again and that was fine with me.

  56. Miquel Borgelt April 20, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    I would suggest you to come up with posts a bit more often. In this way, having this kind of a valuable site I imagine you will certainly rank better in the search engines. I also subscribed to your Rss. Continue this good job.i want quote your thread’s in my blog.waiting for your responds.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. FILM PERMITTING 101 WITH CHASE JARVIS « Seattle Office of Film + Music - March 15, 2011

    [...] Chase Jarvis By popular cyber-demand, renowned Seattle photog Chase Jarvis has enlisted the help of his executive producer and wife, Kate Jarvis, to launch a new blog series dedicated to tackling important shooting logistics artists can sometimes overlook. Cue, “You’d Better Have Permission to Shoot,” a candid blog-tutorial wherein Jarvis outlines all of the key steps to obtaining a film permit in Seattle and beyond. The post covers subtopics including, “when a permit is needed” and “where to start” in addition to providing a step-by-step run-down of the whole process, using Jarvis’ Lululemon campaign shot in Joshua Tree National Park as an example. Check out the entire post via the link above, where you can also have a gander at some of the other installments in the blog series. [...]

  2. Know Your Rights As A Photographer | Chase Jarvis Blog - February 19, 2012

    [...] not about shooting commercial projects in public which require a permit! But don't fear – we have detailed all that commercial stuff for you in this awesome post here… [...]

  3. Know Your Rights as a Photographer & Filmer! [PSA from JGL + ACLU.org] | Chase Jarvis | An information resource for Photographic Studio Lighting Kits and Equipment. |  - February 20, 2012

    [...] not about shooting commercial projects in public which require a permit! But don't fear – we have detailed all that commercial stuff for you in this awesome post here… [...]

  4. Photographers — Know your rights @ Steve Bargelt Photography - February 27, 2012

    [...] for commercial projects the rules are a bit different… check out Chase Jarvis’ post on the subject for details about shooting commercial projects. TweetYou might also enjoy:No Related Posts Click here to cancel [...]

Leave a Reply

Highslide for Wordpress Plugin