Created on August 25, 1916, The National Park Service oversees 61 national parks in the United States. I would imagine most of us are familiar with a few of the parks due to their popularity in the realm of photography. The NPS also oversees numerous other parks and units that very few people do not know.

Last week, several tidbits of information came to light that is very important to those of us head to the parks. The first one showed up in the Nightscaper Facebook group from famous Nightscape photographer Royce Bair, via Christine Kenyon.


The first tidbit comes from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. Artificial lighting, to include Low-Level Lighting and light painting is now prohibited. This prohibition does not include the use of light to guide one’s self.

In a post that Royce Bair made on the Facebook Nightscaper Group, he stated that Christine would give an update regarding the use of artificial lighting in all the parks of the western US at the Nightscaper Conference in Utah in May.

If you have not joined the Nightscaper Facebook Group, I encourage to. Not only will you see some outstanding photography, but you will be kept up to date on any rules you need to be aware.


The other tidbit of information is regarding Yosemite National Park in California. This information was self-generated by myself so when you are done reading it, feel free to laugh at my misfortune.

During a recent discussion in a local to Yosemite photography group that I belong to, someone posted a reminder for photographers to get permits before they have photography sessions in the park. The group is made up mostly of portrait photographers. As you can imagine, Yosemite is a popular destination for portrait sessions, weddings, and elopements. That is in addition to the overall popularity of the park itself and how crowded it can get during peak times and seasons.

Since I do portrait sessions and plan on using Yosemite in the near future for some of those sessions, I paid attention to the conversation. No big deal until another photographer dropped this line in the middle of the discussion:

Question: “If the couple has their permit, do I need a second permit?”

Answer: “If the couple getting married has a permit then you don’t need a permit unless you’re using the photos commercially to advertise your business.”


That information came straight from Catherine Carlisle-McMullen, the Filming, Photography, and Weddings Program Manager for Yosemite. That comment made me pause because I have a photography business that has a Facebook page for advertising purposes. Although the conversation was about portrait photography, I felt that I needed to email Catherine for some clarification.

tunnel view
Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park. It is a favorite location for tourist and landscape photographers alike.

You see, I only live a couple of hours from the park. It would be nothing for me to take a day trip for photography purposes. I would also post any decent images from the trip on my photography business’s Facebook page, my personal Instagram and my photography website. I also have a less than satisfactory experience in dealing with other NPS parks and BLM offices regarding permits. In other words, have fun finding an answer to reduce the probability of receiving a citation for not having a permit.

After numerous e-mails with links to my online presence, they informed me that I would need to purchase an annual permit at $200 a pop. I would also have to pay up $50 per visit. I would have to apply at least 30 days before making my first “official” visit to the park. If there is anything positive to garner from this particular experience, at least I was answered. I have called other offices to inquire, and the calls go unreturned.


In one instance, they gave me an incorrect email address, and the contact form on the park’s site did not work. Phone calls went unanswered and unreturned. In what could be the most laughable moment in this discussion is the comment a friend of mine made online a couple of months ago. The permit he got stated that he was required to “provide a VHS tape” to an authorized representative of the agency.

At this point, it might be clear that the federal agencies responsible for managing the public lands that we like to recreate on are in dire need of catching up to 2019 in regards to some of their policies and protocol. Kudos do go out to folks like Royce Bair and Wayne Pinkston who have been representing the photography community to the public lands agencies.


There are two takeaways from these two tidbits that we need to take into consideration. The first is on the photography aspect. I think every time I hear a famous landscape photographer state “yeah, I have to shoot what everyone else shoots to make a print sale” a little part of me dies inside. In particular with the post by Royce, someone mentioned that the over the popularity of some of these locations is a detriment to them. That same poster stated that perhaps photographers started engaging the creative process and finding new areas.

I can understand why there is a ban on artificial lighting. If you have ever been on a night shoot with a group of people, once the artificial lighting comes into play, if there is no communication, shots will be ruined, and people will get mad. When you are in a group or a popular location, you need to be conscious of others. Artificial lighting can mess up shots. Use your best communication skills when you can. My guess would be the ban has come after some bad apples acted like they were at WalMart.


I mentioned three parks, Arches, Canyonlands, and Yosemite. It probably does not get any more popular than these three when it comes to photography. I had requests to shoot the Yosemite FireFall this year, and I took a hard pass. I already knew about the circus that was involved due to a large number of folks who would show up. It was standing room only, and of course, there was at least one workshop there at the same time. As soon as the images starting flooding my feed, I would scroll past them. I had already seen the Firefall from the same angle at least 500,000 times before. The only image that stopped me in my tracks this year, the photographer had worked to establish a new perspective.

One of the joys of photography for me is scouting for locations. Using Google Earth and surfing the web turns up new places all the time. There needs to be more emphasis on the scouting aspect of photography.


I come from an Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) background. OHV use on public lands is a very controversial subject. Photography has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. Milky Way photography popularity has grown as well. Just like in the OHV world, most photographers are going to be responsible and mindful of their actions. There are always going to be that small percentage of bad apples. People want to be “instafamous“; that is going to drive those bad apples to do bad things. The actions of bad apples can result in closures. Those actions could also see access eventually to become financially restrictive. Do not be that person. Respect the land.

roosevelt muir national park
President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt poses with fellow conservationist John Muir, high atop Yosemite Valley at Glacier Point in 1903. Called the “Camping Trip that Changed a Nation,” Muir’s discussions over three days strengthed Roosevelts’ resolve to protect America’s public lands.

In the Words of Theodore Roosevelt

Some situations remind me of things Theodore Roosevelt once said. This situation is one of those times. Actually, it reminds me of two things he said:

“The farther one gets into the wilderness; the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.”

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Stanley Harper