Let’s talk about permits | Friday Chatter

Ok… so this may or may not be one of my least favorite topics to dive into, but it is a very important one that has been so relevant this month (Looking at you, cherry blossoms!!) Let’s dive into the world of permits, friends!

Did you know that many, many locations in D.C. and the surrounding areas require permits or specific photography permission for a session to happen? I was having this very conversation with a group of my girlfriends the other night, and they were SO surprised to find this out. This made me realize that this is a conversation I should definitely be having on the blog, and I am excited to dive more into it with you today!

Fun fact: most, if not all of Washington, DC is owned or operated by private owners, National Park Services, the Federal government or the Capitol Police. This means that most places in the DC area have a related fee, application or permit process that impacts my cost of doing business, not only for the literal permit fees but also time for completing, following up and tracking permit applications.

As a photographer, the topic of permits (and permit fees) is always one of the most anxiety inducing conversations that I have to have with my clients before booking. It is so tough inform my clients that permits that often come with large additional fees are required for their DREAM location. I always feel like such a fun sucker when I have to break the news, but in reality, these permits are so necessary to ensure that we are able to have a fun and stress free session together!

So…what are permits?

Simply defined, permits are an official document that gives someone the authorization and permission to do something. There are many locations, especially in DC, that require photographers, videographers and other artists to register everything they do on their property. It makes sense—you wouldn’t want someone breaking into your backyard for a quick photo session without your permission, would you? I’ll admit, it can be such a pain and the fees make me frustrated, but the process is pretty easy! I am required to work within the regulations at each location, so permits are required for ALL sessions when applicable. Don’t worry… I’ll handle the not-so-fun paperwork for CKP clients–all I ask is that you take care of the associated permit fees!

Where do I need a permit?

Great question! This varies A LOT, and policies at various locations change quite frequently. I am hesitant to list any specific information because policies change pretty often and do vary based on activity and group size. If you are wondering if your dream location requires a permit, your best bet is a quick Google search (and if it is in DC, your best bet is that it DOES require a permit–budget accordingly). If you are hoping to have your session at a winery or other private property, your best bet is to call or email ahead of time to inquire about their policy.

I currently track a lot of DMV permit requirements through the amazing Kat Forder. She has done all the dirty work and has an updated and running list of permit regulations on her blog. Check them out here! You may just be surprised about what locations require permits! I am always happy to support in the permit research department, so feel free to ask away if you have a question about a specific location. I’ll see what I can do!

What happens if we don’t have a permit?

I will admit that I have photographed at certain locations without a permit and have been safe and got through the session without being stopped. However, I will never, knowingly, do it again. (I will say that some locations do not have their photography policy clearly listed online, and I can only work with the information that I’m given.) Not only are organizations cracking down (Hi, NPS!!), but as a small business owner, I do have to operate within the law and need to be respectful of the locations I am utilizing for work. Ethics, y’all. I can’t help that my parents raised me as a rule follower. Even more than that though, I’ve heard horror stories of photographers having memory cards from a session confiscated, being given pricey tickets and citations, being detained (!!!), and also being asked to leave or escorted off of property. This is just not a situation that I would ever want to place a client in. It isn’t fun, it isn’t relaxed, and it is easily avoidable. By registering ahead of time and carrying our permit, we avoid all the trouble and can enjoy our time together.

Why does this matter to me?

I want you to know that I am the first to understand being on a budget. Photography is an investment, and often, permits can feel like an investment too! However, I will say that a gorgeous (and stress free) session at a stunning location is totally worth the extra cash. I want you to know that permits may be applicable to your location of choice before you make any plans. Please look into the photography policy (or ask me about it!!) before setting your heart on one specific location. Also, please understand that permits are frustrating for me to deal with as well. It breaks my heart to charge you additional fees for something that is completely out of my control, but it is my hope that you understand why they are necessary. A few other things that I want you to be aware of:

  • Certain photography policy and permit regulations can impact the date/time/availability of a locations. Some locations only allow a certain number of sessions a day or have restrictions on photography when events are going occurring. Additionally, some locations do not allow any professional photography! How disappointing would it be to forget to do our research, to get to a spot and realize that we weren’t even allowed on the property?! Pre-planning & permit procuring is key, which brings me to my next point:
  • Permits DO require planning ahead. The permitting process takes some time. I always like to have at least 3 weeks notice to secure documents, just to be safe, but can often get away with two weeks! It is best to err on the side of caution though. Planning ahead is always your best bet!

Quick random side note before I sign off here: I just wanted to let all of y’all that may be intimidated by the National Mall permit process know that NPS is amazing to work with! I have been in touch with them multiple times this week (Shoutout to their amazing POC and her patience!!), and each time, they were so incredibly helpful and pleasant. HOORAY! They truly make it easy to comply with their regulations, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that!

Thanks for tuning in today, friends. If you have any questions, thoughts, comments, ideas or permit tips & tricks, I would love to hear ‘em! Leave me a comment below (or send me an email!!)

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  1. Theresa says:

    Hi- I have a question about permits. How does it work if the date changes? ie. If the cherry blossoms aren’t blooming on the date on your application, and you need to change the date? Especially if it needs to be changed to an earlier day? Just wondering if you knew, or not…

    • Caity Kramer says:

      Once you mail the permit application to the NPS office, their contact will get in touch with you via email. She was amazing about getting in touch with me last year when the blooms were very unpredictable. I have only ever changed my permit date to be later, but I would imagine that, if you mention you are waiting for cherry blossoms on the permit application, they would understand to get in touch with you if the bloom date is bumped up. Hope this helps!

  2. […] below do require reservations or permits. If you would like to have a session on the National Mall, click here for details on the permit process! (I always happily walk clients through this process, just a […]

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