Kansas City Under Fire After Requiring Photo Permits in Public Parks

Kansas City Under Fire After Requiring Photo Permits in Public Parks

The internet is up in arms about a recent law enacted in Overland Park, KS. Professional photographers are now required to obtain a permit to photograph clients in any of the 83 parks under the jurisdiction of Overland Park Parks and Recreation. For some reason photographers worldwide are upset about this. Given that this author is actually a resident of the area, I'm going to ride the line between news and opinion a bit.

The first piece we need to understand is that technically under city legislation commercial photography or videography is, and has always been banned in this city's parks. In fact, city code (until recently) completely prohibited commercial use of public parks altogether. Since around 2007 there have been 3 parks that city required a permit for use in commercial photography. They are the most popular destinations in the area for sentimental photos, and as such they get a tremendous amount of photo traffic. Each of these three park's fees will remain unchanged with the new law. For each of the other parks the commercial permit fee is $50 for up to 5 days.

Those are the facts, now let's talk about why it's ridiculous to be upset about something like this.

In virtually every city I have ever been to, both in the states and worldwide, there has been a permit requirement for professional photography. Some places do not require a fee be paid, but many do. This is not a unique situation. In fact, I believe that most of the irritation at what this city is doing stems from the ignorance of common laws pertaining to professional photography in public places. Most of these policies are in place simply to mitigate the damage caused by commercial use.

The argument that I keep seeing on the news and hearing from annoyed peers is really what gets me though. the prevailing thought is that since parks are paid for via taxpayer dollars, and are public places...that photographers should be able to use them freely.


First and foremost, the land is not actually public. It is privately owned by the city, and they have sanctioned it for public use. Yes, the parks are funded by tax dollars and as such the general public is allowed to use it free of charge. However, when you bring a business onto the property it can interfere with general public use, and create potential liability issues for the city. Make no mistake, as unobtrusive as you think you are, you are still a business. Moreover, you are a business that is attempting to use a tax-payer funded property for profit while potentially interfering with it's intended use and safety.

Understand that I fully expect to get attacked like crazy from many of our readers, and really that's ok. Just stay with me for a second because there is a more important point to be made.

If you want to use a studio space and you don't have one, you have to rent a location. Right? If you want to shoot in someone's house, you need permission. Don't you?

So, if you already have to make a little more effort to use a location that isn't yours...is it really that big of a deal to do the same for a local park? After all, you are profiting from the existence of the location...Shouldn't you be at least willing to give something back to assist with it's upkeep?

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I agree that people charging for photo sessions should have to pay, The problem is, the people enforcing this don't distinguish between "pro" and "person with a real nice camera that looks like something a professional would use"...

Not really that difficult. Federal parks make this distinction all the time. Basically, if you are using any equipment other than a camera and tripod, i.e., reflector, lighting, props, then you have to have a permit.

A $50 permit can be half a session fee. A photographer charging this can't afford to take the $50 out of their pocket, and the client isn't going to want to pay another 50% just to walk into a place. Instead maybe they choose a free spot (which can't be any park) and get lower quality pictures (less sales and less quality for the photographer's portfolio). Or, they've already spent $150 so they buy fewer prints.
This isn't a fee for photographers, it's a fee for people wanting to get their picture taken, worded in a way to make the photographer the bad guy. How popular do you think it would be if the sign said "If you get your picture taken past this point, you have to pay $50"?

Easy solution - give the client a list of places that require a permit and the associated fee. If they want to pay that fee, then they can. Otherwise another spot must be chosen. This is the clients shoot, they need to make the decision on what kind of photos they want and if that requires a permit, they will know up front.

So again, you loose the images for your portfolio. Or, what's more likely, is the person will go off and find a photographer who doesn't know/care about the permit, says you're making it up to overcharge them, and get lucky and complete the job without being stopped (happens a lot).

Portfolio work is non-commercial (you aren't making money) and therefore the permit requirement would not apply. You could easily sacrifice the session fee in order to beef up your book. Of course, if you're bringing in a crew you'll probably still have to have one.

David Laymon's picture

Is the city singling out photographers or are they also going out after dog walkers, fitness trainers or any other "commercial" use activity?

Excellent point! Professional dog walkers are putting the public at risk if a dog bites someone. What happens if someone is injured while working out with a fitness trainer? Who is at liability, the city, the trainer, or both?

Which is exactly what is happening in London, UK. And prices are pretty steep!

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

The assumption Is that if you spent over $1k for your camera and lens, you must be making money with your photography! So why not pay up!?
THE PROBLEM IS THIS: After this happens everywhere, me a MOM taking my kid to the park, will have to DOWNGRADE my DSLR to some other crappy camera, so I don't look like a professional and be forced to pay up insane amounts of money! This already happened to me at Shelby Gardens which I CANNOT visit with my daughter after 5PM UNLESS I pay $220 for a permit because they CLOSED a PUBLIC PARK to allow professional photographers to pay $220 to photograph their subjects! So, me a ticket paying customer cannot photograph my daughter at a decent hour because I have to fork over an INSANE amount for a photo that will ONLY grace my walls! SHAMEFUL!

Larry Clay's picture

Shelby Gardens is not public property, it is a business. They can do whatever they want.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

No it's not!
It says "not for profit!"

Non-profit only means that they only use the money for a goal or upkeep of the organization and not to any one owner. It's still a business and they usually have paid employees. If you do wish to take pictures before 5pm with your DSLR maybe try adding some tape and pretend battle scars to your camera enough to fool someone that its just an old camera and not really worth anything. Ive done that one before.

Kind of depends how the "professional photographer" is setting up the photoshoot. If the photographer arrives with all kinds of big equipment, assistants, etc. and take over a section of the park intended for general public enjoyment, then I agree with requiring a permit. This kind of setup prevents people from using the park. However, if the photographer is just walking around with a tripod and a camera, then the requirement is absurd. Thus, it depends ...

The problem though is ... where to draw the line ?

1.) What about a photographer and a model ?
2.) What about a photographer and a model and a light assistant ?
3.) What about a photographer and a model and a light assistant + makeup artist ?

Like other areas, if you're not putting equipment on the ground, or running cables, you should be able to do what you want. People taking up the space anyone else is with their feet aren't interfering with anyone.

So use a Human operated light stand with power packs. ;]

I agree that it is reasonable. I was a parks commissioner in my town. We generally ignored most photographers working in parks, but required permits for special locations and large shoots involving lots of gear. We also banned private tennis instructors from tying up public tennis courts with their private lessons. The goal is to provide the greatest public benefit for recreational purposes. I doubt that a photographer and model has anything to worry about. No one has time to police this. When you start hauling lights and packs into the park, you will be noticed. Liability is also an issue. Permitting is not an excessive burden.

Public property, freedom of expression, freedom too make money in public places. Government can deal with it. A park is everyone's.

I love all the crying. You pay money to make money in every venture you take. I will gladly pay to use the parks its only fair.

You already do, it's called Taxes.

The city's reasons makes sense to me. But how will they determine who is violating their policy? Will it be the use of a professional caliber SLR?

As long as the money is being used to keep up the park what is the big argument? A professional shoot might cause $50 worth of damage just by being there. If you use the park regularly then wouldn't you like to make sure that it is maintained?

' the land is not actually public. It is privately owned by the city'


the city is not and cannot be a private company and cannot act like one. if it was, all the people living there should be considered shareholders and included in all of the decision making processes. like this one, for instance.

the city exists because of the people living in it and paying taxes or the people exist to pay taxes and live in that city?

Citizens are allowed to be a part of the process. That's what "town hall meetings" are generally about.

was this subject discussed in one of the meetings?

I don't go to them :)

I have no problem with this.
Parks that are used almost always have extra resources used to maintain them, be it extra gardeners, plants etc.
You want to use it as a set, pay for it like a set.

Also, the liability issue is also significant and going through the permit process also ensures the photographers know the rules. I've paid for many permits and I list it in my invoice, clients understand and are always willing to pay the fee.

For personal photography, I have never got a permit myself, but I've worked with many other photographers that have paid for (very expensive) permits on personal projects that will not be used commercially. But those permits also gave them access to hoses to wet the ground and power for running packs.

What's the story here? Permits to shoot a commercial project are required in every city in NA. It's just a fact and a part of doing business. Dog walking is a ridiculous analogy. Part of the permit fee is a release to use the backgrounds in your finished project. I.E. If you were to shoot a couple in front of a house to use in an ad, you would have to pay the home owners to use their house. The same is true for a park BG or a public building. The city charges you to use the imagery. It's built into the permitting fee. The permitting also guarantees that while you are there shooting your wedding shots or magazine spread, a movie company won't come in and start shooting in your background. One permit, one production at a time. That might not be relevant in a small town, but in a major city, it would be a real problem if nobody controlled who was shooting where.

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