Photographer Jason Lanier Is Out to End Discrimination Against Small Business Photographers

Photographer Jason Lanier is on a mission to end discrimination against the small business photographer. As seen in the video above, he and his group were confronted multiple times while attempting to do a shoot. In the first location they are asked to leave the premise altogether. In the second they were asked to "make it look less commercial" by getting rid of a strobe. In both instances they weren't interfering with any event around them nor were they disturbing the public and only had a single portable strobe setup. Lanier notes a growing trend to neglect and discriminate against the small business photographer. 

To be clear, Lanier isn't asking for special privileges. He believes we shouldn't be allowed to stop traffic, set up complex lighting rigs, or impede the public without a permit. However, he has found being a small business photographer and using a minimal setup has become increasingly difficult. Both locations where he was stopped are public areas. Places where anyone can come photograph whatever they would like; that is unless they have a nice camera and an off-camera flash.

Photographer Jason Lanier taking photographs just before being stopped by local authorities.

So why not get a permit? Permits are tedious and often were never meant for the small business photographer. They are meant for big Hollywood studios and big-budget model shoots. When inquiring about a permit to shoot in New Orleans' run down Six Flags, Lanier was quoted $51,900 for a month. No photographer needs a month. Give us a couple of hours. No such option existed. The ranger in the video above tells him that a one-time use permit will cost $500, which of course isn't feasible for most small business photographers. He also notes that many establishments make the process to get a permit unusually difficult by being time consuming, obscure, or having to wait "forever" for the permit to process. The conclusion can only be that they don't want small business photographers in their jurisdiction.

Photographer Jason Lanier being asked to "make the shoot less commercial" by removing the strobe.

Of course not all areas are like this and it should be pointed out that we are speaking of public places. Here in Charleston, S.C. I rarely, if ever, am stopped by local authorities. This city is renowned as a destination wedding location and so most of our authorities are aware of that and are more accommodating, with only a few exceptions. Some institutions are catching on as well. The U.S. National Forest Service recently announced a permit fee and charges a relatively small fee of $10 for a group of three to shoot. In other parts of the country, there often isn't a realistic option. Your local friendly small business photographer doesn't leave an obtrusive footprint, so why all the defensiveness? Why all the restrictions?

What do you think? Are local authorities too controlling in your city?

[via Jason Lanier]

Stephen Atohi's picture

Stephen Atohi is a film and fine art digital photographer based in Charleston, SC. His specialities are in portraits, weddings, and travel photography.

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This reminded me of a time when i was by the Harbor in DC and had my Think Tank Retrospective, 5DII, 2-3 lenses and a Tripod. Spent the day shooting family and friends using natural light with no problems.

I took out my topic to take some long exposure shots as soon as the sun went down, I was approached by security asking me if i had a permit to shoot. I explained to him that i am taking personal photo for myself. He told me that a tripod requires a permit. I honestly had no idea if that was true or not so i avoided using the tripod for the rest of the night.

Sometimes i wish there was one place photographers can go to (hint hint) for guidance when it comes to what gear is allowed without a permit based on locations, cities, etc...

Honestly from the video above, i kind of see the point to why they would give photographers a hard time sometimes, But i dislike the approach the first security had, and totally respect how the second one handled the situation.

I do see why they would give photographers a hard time because if this stuff was allowed, All the photographers will be going out and about with their gear and shooting. What was once a nice place to hang out at is now a full time studio for many photographers. And don't forget, a strobe and a octabox is considered "hardcore professional" to many people. They won't understand that this is a simple setup.

But i also see that its annoying to be harassed like that most of the time, Thats why you buy an F-Stoppers flash disc right ? small footprint.

Haha! Yes. "Fstoppers Flashdisc - so small that local authorities won't notice you!"

I actually had a similar experience while in Italy. I was shooting photos, as happy as can be, and as soon as I pulled out a tripod I had the security all over me telling me I couldn't do that. Apparently, the Italian government has something against long exposure shots.

Im heading to Italy soon, which part ? I was planning in taking my tripod.

I was in Florence, near the David Statue Museum.

p.s. Italy is incredible.

Been to Florence a couple of times, beautiful place. Also took my tripod with no problems. Thays the thing, these things are a hit and miss. I dislike that feeling.

Heh... Italy is the ultimate "no tripods" destination. I asked Villa SanMichele on Capri if tripods were allowed. Short answer, yes, for just 550 Euro per day. Torre Grossa in San Gimignano is strictly 'senza tripiede'. I understand the concern of tripod spikes damaging historic sites, but even the offer of retracted spikes is ignored when the prospect of profiting off of "professional" images is possible.

You need to see it from their side too. What will they gain from a photographer using a tripod? At best a simple entrance fee and no annoyances/

What are the potential drawbacks: Tripod marks on the floors, stumbling risk for other visitors, blocking traffic, lost revenues for the museum shop when they produce their own postcards or commercial images, more littering because they stay longer, risk of flashes for works of art (whatever that may be) etc

So for the museum, the most sanest approach would be to simply not to allow entrance to photographers. As this is a little unpractical because most tourist have a camera and smartphones are everywhere, the next best things is to forbid anything that goes beyond the average tourist gear.

And for those photographers insisting, have them sign a contract and charge them an appropriate fee for the hassles. If small time operators don't want or can't afford that, tough luck. They can take pictures of something else.

That first guy looked like code enforcement and not security. My experience has been that those guys (code enforcement) are usually jerks. Security guys have always been like the park ranger was in this video. He has to do his job and he doesn't agree with it but it's his job to uphold laws and policies.

You complain about it becoming a full time location for photographers if they were allowed to use flashes and thus "ruining it" for the tourists, but that's completely subjective. If I had things "my" the tourists should be banned because they "ruin it" for the locals who live near such a nice location but can't enjoy it without throngs of people. Maybe they should require a $500 permit if you are a tourist. No wait even better. $500 permit if you "look" like a tourist. And I guarantee you that tourists are more dangerous and have a greater negative environmental impact than a strobe. But having it MY way is burger king and not how a national park or any public land should be run. P.S. National parks ARE public land, they are more public than state land where the state can take public land and sell it, thus making it private.

Interesting article. You make very good points that needs to be considered by communities and photographers. If laws exist prohibiting certain aspects of a shoot obey them. That doesn't mean you have to accept that it cannot be changed.

You do have to obey the law. However the law is made with out a logic and is made such a way that it is hard to interpret and enforce. Such a law should be changed.

this is so silly... it just a flash!

Being from an Asian background. Having a high end camera around my next is considered the norm. So I never get harassed

I do however make sure I take pictures of everything. Lampposts, gravel, street signs etc around law enforcement and exclaim "konichiwa!" Every click

Never been stopped or hassled for shooting. Anywhere :)

This whole permits situation is ridiculous. It's nobody's business (other than IRS's unfortunately) if I conduct a business on a public property. It is unreasonable bureaucratic greed. Permit should be required only if I somehow interfere with "normal life" in specific location or if I want to enter location that is normally closed to public. I understand that they may don't want a light stand on the beach, but if a beach umbrella is allowed, than why not a light stand?

Smile and agree and then do whatever the f*ck you were gonna do anyway. Every time I've been bothered I plead ignorance and pretend to break down my gear only to resume shooting the minute they drive off.

And this is exactly the reason why those guards become the pricks they are and why those rules get more stupid every time. Congratulation for increasing the problem.

They were pricks long before they put on their security guard uniform.


I think the -4 votes under your comment kinda says it all.

Doing a lot of nature photography, I don't come across this too much. I recently purchased an a7s and the small form factor has helped me get a professional camera into places professional cameras aren't always allowed. But when I am doing timelapse I carry around two tripods, 4 4ft rails and a bunch of wires. People usually ask what I am doing but it's more out of interest. Never been stopped by a cop and only once by a park ranger...who wanted to know what camera I was using.

As I mentioned on another blog site, its a violation of the constitution (1st amendment) by enacting this restriction of requiring any permits to use. The permit requirement is more to basically cover unexpected expenses to the public property that may be caused by the event, such as garbage pick up, landscaping, etc. which is totally understandable. Some other things I've heard it may cover is apparent security as well from park staff or rangers too, if it was a small production its unnecessary, if its a big production I'm sure a private security company is already on hand. What it should be is based on being commercial or not, and when I say commercial I don't mean photographer is shooting for a travel magazine or for travel stock with the most gear they may have is a tripod generally. It should be % value of equipment (outside of just a camera) being bought for the production at the location goes to the park seems fair, so if I bring a tripod and 10 or so lights, its more reasonable why the park needs something in return. 1 light, valued at $1000 with all bells and whistles, and park needs 1%, they get $10 (a day), which to me is very fair. Of course this causes for more work for everyone but its fair at least and not over priced. A small business can afford $10 to bring in a light off-camera do their thing for a few hours and go. When its a large production with equipment (outside of a camera) is $100k, and park gets 1%, its $1000/day, which is beyond too much for a small business but a small photography business generally would not have $100k of lights all in 1 location for 1 production.

But in all honestly I think any fees from the government regarding the 1st amendment can be fought as restricting the 1st amendment, but it will take a lot of people with a lot of money to honestly redefine these city/state and some federal laws that restrict the 1st amendment. Everyone still does pay into these permits just cause its too much work and money to fight it in the courts, which is understandable. We can either pay the permits or fight it in the courts to redefine if requiring a permit is restrictive to the 1st amendment.

Jason's constant comparison to what other people are allowed to do in those spaces is completely far-fetched. Joggers / dogwalkers and tourists with cameras *even DSLRs" are not the same as a photoshoot. I don't care what he says or how much he plays it down, he had a bunch of people at least a couple of models, and lighting equipment (sure it was only one strobe, that was standing in crashing waves without a sandbag no less). That setup is going to attract attention, from passers-by and security. Out of the way or not, people would stop and look at what is was clearly not just a low-key family session at the park.

I'd love to say that things are more relaxed here in Australia, but you'll always get over-zealous security types wherever you go...and councils/governments that are eager to put their hand out for "free" money whenever there is a chance.

That said, some local councils recently did a major crackdown on personal trainers and bootcamp operators using public spaces / parks here in my home town. These operators would run fitness sessions (usually outside normal business hours), but the nature of yelling abuse, I mean encouragement, at their clients was causing a disturbance to the local (affluent) neighbours. Of course it was not considerate to the neighbours at all, and I think it was fair enough that a stop was put to it. Of course the fact that this happened in the more fancy suburbs, possibly where there was threat of litigation, didn't go unnoticed. Bottom line was that these PTs were running profitable businesses on public property, and while I'm sure many pay their taxes etc. I doubt that any of them were paying any sort of fee or lease to the council for use of the land. I know there are grey areas, but if you start running a business of any sort on public property, I think the government will have something to say about it. Heck, there are very strict limitations on what business I can conduct on my own private property in the suburbs.

This obviously raised the question in my head as to how long it would be before photographers would be prevented from doing a family shoot for example at the local park. I'm making money from it, so it's commercial, to some degree. Sure I have the necessary liability insurance and a registered business...but I'm making money on property that is owned and managed by the government. I don't usually shoot with lights and leave a very small footprint, but I'm still conducting a business on property that doesn't belong solely to me.

I can understand authorities not wanting this to get out of hand. Yes, asking for crazy fees and putting up loads of red tape is going to frustrate and annoy people like us who are hamstrung by it. It's inconsistency in how security guards deal with this at the coalface that is the biggest concern.

Hate to say it, but the attitude of blatantly disregarding instructions WILL make it worse for everyone. In the absence of clear instruction on this stuff, security guards will deal with things using their discretion. If they get people ignoring their instructions more than once, they will escalate their response next time and things will get gradually worse, and complete bans will come into existence.

You wrote it all. Bravo !

While its important to know your rights so you can atleast ask for them or argue about it, i do believe that a photographer should always show appreciation and respect to people that are doing their job and following instructions, thats how i get away with so many things.

With the first securty gaurd i think both sides were just yapping at eachother at some point. Such a tone will not get you anywhere but home.

This "photographer" is annoying.

He is actually asking right questions...

Kind of, but he's also making a mockery of the issue. His case is more of a case of entitlement. He's doing a full on shoot for a workshop that he charges for entry. It's not "just" a photography meetup group going around taking photos

Making money shouldn't be a reason why you need to have permission to use camera... In my opinion. What if he was making money teaching about weather? Would someone ask him for a permit?

This type of law, although may sound reasonable, is open for interpretations, where law should be clear. What if camera is a size of cell phone and I am charging big money for natural light portraits? How are you going to prove that I am making business. I was asked many times for permit when I was taking pictures of my girlfriend using 5dmk2 and 70-200L. System looks professional and my girlfriend was a model, but the pictures were for fun.
So at the end, using big handheld equipment for private use requires permit but lets say $7000 leica could be OK because it looks like tourists camera. So now what? Should we train police and park rangers to recognize what equipment is pro and what is amateur. It just doesn't make sense. Many people just like for everything to be regulated. Especially those people that don't do anything...

Most people, even rangers will think that when you run across a photographer and his "team" along with models and lighting gear that it's more commercial than not. In fact many civilians ask "what channel will this be on", I tell them it is live and they should go home and watch it. The ranger will check his list and see if you have a permit...pretty simple actually.

Whether you agree with the rules or not, the security guy is doing what he is paid to do. He is not in charge of making/changing the rules, only enforcing them. I don't know many people who would risk losing their jobs just because you felt the rules were stupid and didn't want to pay for the permit. Not to mention how bad it would be if the security guy said "go ahead" and someone go hurt tripping over equipment or something else. Even though its a slim chance, its still called an accident for a reason and nobody knows but that accident could be the reason the park is shut down to all photographers, permit or not.

Boohoo, how sad that now all photographers suffer because of the inconsiderate idiots who spoil it for all.

Why do you think the whole trend started? Because all those windy types made the scenic locations basically their free outdoor studio, often behaving like pigs and being a nuisance. I personally know some places where photographers were queuing to do their session with their clients and other sessions where photo- and filmcrews left a royal mess after their session.

So the easy way is to charge for a permit. Big budget productions won't mind much. As to the egoistic small time operators who think, they can get everything for free and annoy the rest of the visitors, good riddance. For the few amateurs with good gear, that sucks, but as those aren't easy to distinguish from the part-time mommygraphers and GWC who are doing occasional jobs, they just lose.

So, find your own locations or pay up if you want to use the well-known ones.

On the other hand, I had god success getting access to stuff where photography was forbidden simply by asking nicely and explaining what I wanted to do.

Both security officers/rangers were just doing their job. The second was incredibly polite, candid, and genuine. He should be applauded for that. But in the end, that's not what this is about. It's about the restrictions made by the people high above him.

I'd be willing to pay $500 for the right permit but it always depends on the product. Same as anything else. I'd be willing to pay $500 for a 5 star resort in the Hawaii mountains, but I'm not paying $500 for Motel 6 in Dahlonega, GA. For your average shooting location, $500 is pretty excessive.

Stephen, the main question is, what do they want to achieve with the permit? If they want to offer a fair value for the money, $500 might be excessive when compared to better locations.

But in most cases, that's no the goal. All those locations usually want to curb the flood of professionals who use the use the location in inappropriate ways, make trouble or reduce the value of the location for the average tourist. In those cases, the value of the permit relative to other locations plays no role. The just charge whatever they feel stops the most annoying ones.

The fee is more deterrence than to create business.

I agree with you. I don't like it, though. I'm arguing that they should work with small business photographers instead of deterring them.

First of all lets be clear, both of these locations are in "National Parks". These are not technically "Public areas" per se. And even by the super slim edit on this video this photo group did not look like a couple of people. It looked like a dozen or more crew with fairly obvious models.

You know what else you cannot do without permit in a "National Park"

Operate a drone.

Walk more than 5 dogs commercialy

Have a picnic with 50 or more of your friends or family:

The reality is its federal land and they can do whatever they want now more so after 9/11. Freedom of speech is not meant to protect small business ventures on federal parks.

Technically, Michael, these are National Recreation Areas and not National Parks. The National Park Service also operates locations that are not, strictly speaking, National Parks. There's a semantic, and presumably legal difference, even though I mostly agree with the spirit of your post.

Hi Greg,

Semantics here has a meaning, they are for descriptive purposes based on their "diversity of resources". I agree with you that it is technically a National Recreation Area but in all reality It is a National (insert whatever makes sense here) and the legal grounds are spelled out clearly.

Its all on their website:

"In 1970, Congress elaborated on the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act, saying all units of the system have equal legal standing in a national system."

For anyone interested, this was shot at Crissy Field, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Here's a link to their permits page: A key screen-cap from that page follows this post.

I've looked into shooting at that location in the past, but would need a permit for the setups that I do (e.g., lights, models, etc.). In general, I always get a permit when doing client work, but for spec shoots I tend not to. And because I know how zealous the rangers are in the GGNRA, I usually just look elsewhere.

That said, I feel for Jason--being stopped in the middle of a shoot is both frustrating and embarrassing...especially if you have a client with you. The irony is that hundreds, if not thousands, of un-permitted commercial shoots happen there every year, it's just that the photographers shoot only natural light. I've been on the client side of those types of things (engagement photos).

Just get the permit. In NYC you can't put a speedlight on a stand without getting asked for one, which is why you use human assistants to hold them instead. Respect local, state and federal laws, or write to your congressman demanding a change. We've recently shot using strobes on unassisted stands in Death Valley, and I was fully prepared to dismantle, should a ranger have asked for one. I don't see the big deal.

I can't believe how many people here sympathies with the "rules". This whole situation is atrocious. Laws and ordinances are supposed to protect the public, not exploit the public. Who was being protected in the parking lot? who was protected on the beach? They were out of the way and minding their own business. How many injuries/fatalities has SF bay had due to photographers using tripods and flashes on deserted portions of the beach that nessesitates such a rule? The ranger on beach was not clearly identifying the issue. He said the issue was it "looked commercial". That is the very definition of discrimination. What next? "Excuse me mam, you look like a model or actor do you have a permit to be on the beach?" What if I have blowup beach toys that look like soft boxes and tripods. Would that also be against the rules? the rules were clear "no commercial shooting without a permit."
Welcome to the new America, where not only are you assumed guilty and expected to prove your innocence, your judge and jury and maybe even executioner is a park ranger or cop who is only "doing his job".

Where I live (SoCal) our local communities are very accommodating for the small photographer. No fee permits are available and in most cases a permit is not needed.

That said, I had a friend who was stopped in mid-shoot at a corporate event in San Bernardino by a code enforcement officer who insisted he go to City Hall and get a business license. $45 later he was back shooting for a very PO'd event coordinator.

I have never been stopped by a code enforcement officer or security guard but that may have just been good luck. Or maybe because I am older and look perfectly square.

It's called production costs. First of all, all professional photographers should have insurance. Someone trips over your bag, you can get sued. Someone on your crew wrecks something, you can get sued. Second, why in the hell should someone who pays the mortgage and the electric bill and the property taxes and everything else that comes with keeping up a property let someone else use their property to make money without paying anything?! You know you wouldn't. And before you say beaches and parks are public property, they're not. They're paid for by the government, donors and taxpayers. And they pay someone to pick up the trash and for marine biologists to take care of the water life and horticulturist to keep up the plants (my friend is one for the park district). It costs millions to keep parks and beaches looking good so why should photographers be able to stroll in and use them without paying a fee and without providing assurance (ie insurance) that they won't mess anything up? He would be more productive trying to get the fees lowered. But his ass needs to get insured or he's not a responsible business owner at all.

If the permit process could be streamlined I wouldn't mind it as much. I did a simple engagement shoot at crystal cove last weekend and I started the permit process 3 weeks prior to the session and I ended up getting the permit one day before the session. I had to hound them constantly for this to happen. Going through the park and the film commission is a pain in the ass and they work at a snails pace. If I could just sign into a website pay, provide my insurance and be done the same day I would have no issue with permits. It's the stress of waiting and wondering when you're going to get the permit that gets under my skin. I understand the process for large productions, but for engagement and small family sessions there needs to be another way. Someone needs to start a business for photographers to streamline the process.

Seems like his "mission" doesn't extend beyond his own interests.

I'm wondering how many of the photographers here have even tried to get one of those "very difficult to come by" photo permits.
It's easy folks, and you should be doing it for every job you shoot on location, its called being "professional".
The permits are there for a reason, so the inexperienced don't come along and stick a light stand with a high voltage strobe in the water with a model standing 5 feet away(WTF). Every production I shoot is permitted to the hilt. I used to be on a first named basis with Robert, the permit guy for South Beach. It smooths things over, gets you better access, better treatment and the ability to kick out the weekend warriors who show up with their wedding party/models/families for a pretty sunset photo.
$500 is expensive, are you serious? Start thinking like a business man, work that $500 into a few shoots and cover the cost for the day.
If the client won’t cover the permit, then you need to think like a business man and bury it in your invoice; its part of your cost of doing business.
Those yoga classes, I’m sure they have a permit too, or they’ll be kicked out on their A$$.
Think of it this way, YES, its public land but you are going to make money by using it, taking it out of commission for the rest of the public to use it, and therefore you should pay a fee; you’re leasing the land so you and only you have access to it for the time you need.
How difficult is that for you to understand?
How does this even make it onto F Stoppers anyways?
You should be promoting good business practices by telling everyone to get insurance, to get a permit, to be responsible.

Oh, and that wasn't a photography club or get together as he stated, the beginning of the video said it was a workshop and therefore he was being PAID.

If that's true, then shame on him for lying. That's unfortunate.

I personally don't support him gallivanting around without a permit, that's not really the point though. It's been a popular source of debate across the photography world lately. You're entitled to your own opinion on his opinion, of course. As I stated in my conclusion, I don't face much of any discrimination here in Charleston. Even places that require permits are very accommodating.

A quick way to not be discriminated against is to get a permit when you do your business in a "public place". But please support me in my goal to not be discriminated against when I drive 90mph in a 55mph zone.

I wonder how many pros "bitching" about paying for a permit actually have basic liabliity insurance?
You can't sell a hot dog without a permit. You can't walk around with a sign and an instant camera and sell tourist photos without a permit. Movie studios can't film without a permit. However, the guy with camera lights, tripods, staff etc should be able to just set up as they please permit free? When I shoot for my clients, I pass on cost for items (equipment rentals, assistants, travel) to the client. Why would this be any different? I've never experienced delays or had hassles with getting a permit (I'm not saying the OP has never had issues). Part of being a pro, big time or small, is doing things that pros have to do that is a part of business (including permits and insurance). I know this is overboard, but what if popular photo areas become oversaturated with photographers setting up equipment, taking shots etc to the point where it interfers with your business (let alone the purpose of public spaces---for people to simply just enjoy). Then pros would be yelling "someone needs to control this...Its interfering with my living....there should be a permit process".

Just get the freaking permit

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