Nevada law and the Nevada Administrative Code have a simple definition of when you need a permit to take photos in their parks. It totally depends if the pictures will be or not sold.
Nonetheless, Parks Department policy is that anyone who takes pictures of a model assumes they are doing “commercial photography” even if they have evidence to the contrary. After a lengthy discussion with both a park and the Deputy Administrator of the Parks Division, they confirmed this interpretation. And it’s worse than just getting a permit; There’s a tedious process you have to go through before filming, even if it’s just two people, and as an approver you’re severely limited as to where you can shoot.
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose there are two guys, Bradley and Randy, who are staying at a state park in Nevada.
Bradley is an internationally renowned commercial photographer. He was commissioned by a top ten advertising company to produce photos for a foreign luxury car manufacturer. Their idea is to take pictures of iconic American landscapes and Photoshop in their cars to make their product feel more “American”. Bradley gets a $50,000 advance to take the pictures and gets an additional $20,000 each for each picture they use in their ads. For two months he hiked through the various state parks in Nevada with his camera and took pictures.
Randy made a lot of money in the tech industry. He used it to buy a Nikon D810 and a really big lens. He’s also used that money to attract a high-maintenance girlfriend, Suzy. Suzy is “a model” — she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, because she graduated from Barbizon and got a job handing out flyers at a local liquor store. Since she was paid to do it, she proudly tells that she is a “professional model”. Occasionally, while driving around the park, Randy lets Suzy get out of the Maybach and photographs her. He loves the power he feels directing her and she loves being photographed by it. When they get home, just know that Suzy will proudly post these pictures on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Because that’s what “professional models” do.
Do any of them need a permit for “commercial photography” in the parks? Let’s see if we can figure it out…
Laws and regulations tell us:
“Commercial Photography” means photography undertaken for a commercial purpose, including but not limited to the sale of a Photographic Image as a product or for use in an advertisement, feature film, portrait, television production or portfolio, and archiving of an Image by a person of photographic skill , equipment or resources to offer a photographic product for sale. [Source: NAC 407.0071, emphasis added.]
Well, Bradley’s the big commercial photographer who takes pictures to sell them in commercials and gets paid a lot for it, so he needs a permit. Right?
Not so fast. The Nevada Park system has a number of rules, one of which states:
The division does not charge individual photographers shooting for personal or commercial use when they are alone without props or models. Commercial photography done by one person does not require permission or additional fees.
So Bradley’s off the hook. He can keep all that hard-earned cash and shoot freely without restriction. But what about Randy?
Randy has a problem. His girlfriend is “a model”. Worse, she considers herself a “professional model” and so does the Park System. Neither of them knows what “professional model” means, but whatever. Randy is there with Suzy, so he needs a “commercial photography” permit. That his images are for social media only, not for sale or promotion means nothing. It doesn’t matter that he has no chance of ever becoming a professional photographer. It doesn’t matter that he has never earned a cent selling pictures and will never play. That what he’s doing doesn’t meet the law’s definition of “commercial photography” doesn’t matter. He’s there with Suzy, photographing Suzy and needs permission to do so.
For Randy to take pictures of Suzy, all he needs to do is get $300,000 liability insurance, make sure the park is named insurance, submit an application with a $50 fee, and survey the park drive without Suzy, then make an appointment with a park ranger, get approval for places he wants to take pictures of her, and he’s ready to tour the park with Suzy the next day.
Now he’s still not allowed to photograph her in places he hasn’t approved. If they’re driving past a group of tourists at a particularly appealing spot that Randy missed in his survey, and all of those tourists are taking selfies and photos of each other, Randy can’t stop the car and take a picture of Suzy, no matter how many times she whines .
And if he happens to be in the park after 5pm, which is very likely because Suzy really isn’t a morning person, he’s not allowed to photograph her either because that’s the rule if you have a permit. It doesn’t matter that all the other tourists can happily snatch away until sunset – Randy can’t.
All of the above is sourced from the law, the Nevada Administrative Code (NAC), and the rules that the park system publishes to describe how it administers the law and code. At this point it might be worth pointing out that the provisions of the Code and the rules that implement them are subject to the authority of the Administrator whose charter to issue those provisions and rules is also included in the charter. In this case, the relevant law states:
Any regulations regarding the behavior of persons within the park or recreational facilities must:
- (a) be aimed at one or both of the following:
- (1) Prevention of damage or misuse of the facility.
- (2) Promoting the inspiration, use, and enjoyment of the people of this state through the preservation and use of the facility.
(Source: NRS 407.0475)
It seems that according to the wisdom of the Nevada Park System, all of the things Randy needs to do that are in bold above are to help him find inspiration and joy in taking his photos of Suzy. Or maybe to impose those requirements on Randy, but not on the other thousands of tourists who use the park, take pictures of themselves in the park, but don’t happen to have a girlfriend who is “a model” kind of protective of all the other tourists.
Author’s note: A copy of this article has been sent to Nevada Parks Division management to verify accuracy, but they have not responded.
About the author: Roger Talley is a former professional fashion photographer who has now retired for over a decade. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Talley has authored a book on modeling, The Professional’s Guide to Modeling. You can find more of his work on his website and in his portfolio.
Photo credit: Cover photo by Anthony