Thursday, May 27, 2010

New York City Photo Shoot Permits - Get Over It

In New York City, the government entity that is charged with managing the city's assets on behalf of the people of New York, so that the city gets its' due for the use of city assets, and does not interfere (or if it does, you may more) with the comings-and-goings of New Yorkers, is looking to implement a fee of $300 when you are exploiting the city assets beyond what every other citizen is doing (i.e. walking around enjoying them.) This isn't some restriction on your movements, it's business, and you should get over it as some personal affront, and pony up (which you're passing on to your clients anyway!)

While $300 per shoot may be a bit excessive, and perhaps a $300 annual permit with, say, a $25-$50 per shoot application processing fee may be more appropriate, especially for the level of production that most still photographers bring to the assignment, production in the city puts a burden on the local government, and photographers should step up and recognize their responsibility to chip in. So, if you're an out-of-town photographer coming into the city and shooting on city property, you should pony up that $300 annual fee plus a the nominal shoot fee, and New York based photographers would be paying it once a year plus the per-shoot fees.

(Continued after the Jump)

Permits and permitting fees are nothing new. They are a form of a property release for the location you are working in, along with being an indicator that someone in authority has reviewed your stated intentions for doing what you propose, and acknowledges that what you are doing is proper, and does not leave it to the beat cop who nows little about what's happening, or why.

"But I pay taxes, this is my property too, why should I have to pay to use it?" This argument is about as productive as saying to a cop who pulled you over for speeding "hey buddy, I pay your salary...", to which more than one cop has pulled out a shiny penny, handed it to the driver with the issued citation, and said something along the lines of "here's your portion back." Your right to use collectively owned resources is subject to the approval of the others who also own it. It's like a restaurant deciding to use city sidewalks to make money by adding a few more tables.

What does a permit get you? In many cases, exclusive use of that space, and on larger productions, you can have a security guard (often in the form of a uniformed off duty police officer) direct your fellow citizens around the shoot area so they're not in your background, or tripping over cords. In some instances, exclusive use permits may cost more than ones that just validate what you're doing is ok.

The National Park Service has been charging for permits for several years now, and that makes sense. While it is hard to differentiate the avid hobbiest who takes his camera, tripod and long lens into a remote park to try to photograph some elusive animal, versus the photographer with a tripod who is making a living shooting stock of the same animals in the same way, so too is it difficult to differentiate the "family friend" amateur photographer who is doing bridal portraits at the Lincoln Memorial versus the $10,000 wedding photographer doing the same thing. Yet, the differentiation must be drawn when you are operating a portion of your commercial business on public property. Think about it this way - if you earn $5,000 a wedding, and do 20 weddings a year, that's $100,000. If out of an eight-hour wedding day, you shoot at the various monuments in DC for one hour, 12.5% of the time you are earning money each day you are doing so on publicly owned property. So, how much of that $12,500 in gross revenue should the government be entitled to? Well, at 2% the fee would be $250.

What about the insurance requirement that people are complaining about? Frankly, it is irresponsible for any photo editor/art director to allow a shoot to commence at their assigning without knowing that the business that employs them is protected from the accidents or errors that occur under the direction and control of the photographer they assigned. I know I can't walk into the Four Seasons Hotel, for example, to shoot a wedding reception without having provided them with a certificate of insurance proving I have coverage, nor can I do a photo shoot in the DC metrorail system without doing the same. Further, it's absolutely a poor business practice to not carry that insurance to cover yourself.

There are, however, challenges to this permiting issue. Is this effort a deceptive way to rid the streets of the paparazzi? As written, I can see that a paparazzi is engaged in a shoot for commercial gain, and thus, could they could be eradicated from the streets around celebrity apartments for not having a permit. What about news gathering? For all the altruistic statements about it, news gathering is a commercial endeavor, and thus, would news photographers be required to get a permit to cover breaking news? I know that a phlanx of 6 photographers back-walking someone in the news, or a horde of 15 still and videographers back-walking, say, Bernie Maddoff can run into granny on the street and knock her down and cause injury.

In the end, the fee is going to be imposed by New York City, and soon, other jurisdictions as well. Miami has permits and fees for the shoots that take place on public beaches too, so this is all the more reason why you should be passing along these expenses to your clients, and not complaining that it's coming out of your profits, because it shouldn't be in the fist place.

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