Too pricey and restrictive, or just about right? Have your say on the Forest Service’s photo guidelines


posted Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 5:50 PM EST


Want to take photos or shoot movies on the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands controlled by the US Forest Service, and then sell your works without first obtaining a permit? Arguably, since the introduction of the 1964 Wilderness Act that has been illegal. The act states that "except as specifically provided ... there shall be no commercial enterprise ... within any wilderness area", and commercial photography likely doesn't fall under those special provisions.

Still, many photographers have doubtless sold works taken in national forests and national grasslands in the half-century since that act was passed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3rd, 1964. More recently, the Forest Service has issued guidelines that allow some commercial still and video photography on the land it controls, but with requirements that the service first screen your intended use, and that a permit be issued -- for a fee, of course.


Precisely what entails commercial photography and thus requires a permit is far from clear, with only completely non-commercial photography, breaking news photography and videography provided with a clear exception. If you plan to sell your work then a permit would seem to be advisable, and as pointed out in an article by Salem, Oregon's Statesman Journal newspaper, the requirement that applications be screened before a permit can be attained raises the possibility of censorship.

The good news is that, while these more recent rules have been around for a while, they're not final and not yet rigidly enforced. The public has an opportunity to air its views through November 3rd, and information as to how to do so can be found here. And of course, you can share your thoughts here too -- just be sure to key the Forest Service in as well!


What say you, Imaging Resource readers: Is the value of completely unspoiled wilderness worth surrendering the opportunity to shoot commercially in the midst of those beautiful environments without fees and censorship? Or should the Forest Service be more clear about what consititutes commercial activities, and allow commercial photography, especially for the lone photographer who isn't materially altering the environment with their presence?

(via PetaPixel. Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and Borah Peak images courtesy of Fredlyfish4 / Flickr; used under a Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0 license. Dixie National Forest image courtesy of Joseph Cesare / Flickr; used under a Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0 license. Images have been modified from the original.)