After the plane landed with the photo crew, stylists, art director and models aboard, I was the first one off. I spotted the client waiting at security, all smiles.
“Did you get all the permits?” I asked.
The client’s smile faded.
“Can we shoot downtown?”
“Not quite yet,” the client said.
“The national park location?” I asked.
When shooting on location, assume you’ll need a permit for everything, and each permit will take longer to get than you hoped. As a commercial venture, you have none of the freedom ordinary tourists have to take photos (especially on public land). You can’t expect to operate “under the radar” of law enforcement either—the glamorous look of a photo crew working on location seems to attract the attention of passing law enforcement officers who will stop, smile and ask for your papers.
How difficult is it to get a permit? I’ve found private entities (e.g., companies, individuals) are usually accommodating and helpful. Public entities (e.g., cities, states, federal agencies) may be another story. For example:
• Our location for shooting a home catalog’s cover was a remote and lovely waterfall in Oregon’s Cascade mountains. Unfortunately, nobody could figure out who owned it. Federal, state and lumber company officials all thought it might be theirs, but weren’t sure. We finally got the lumber company to issue a permit on the theory that any permit was better than none. And yes, a smiling Forest Service officer did show up and ask to see our permit.
• Our location for photographing the new products for another home catalog was on national forest land. Unfortunately, the regional office recently underwent some budget cuts, and stopped issuing photo permits for three months while it caught up on other work. We shot elsewhere.