No Tripods Allowed: Zion National Park’s New Rules for Photography Workshops

No Tripods Allowed: Zion National Park’s New Rules for Photography Workshops

For landscape photographers, a tripod is essential tool for creating those amazing photos showing the movement of rivers and streams. When the dynamic range of a composition is in the double digits, a sturdy tripod will help to blend bracketed images in post. Also, for those who want to create incredibly large panoramas or nighttime imagery, the tool kit begins with an excellent tripod. Zion National Park has become even more restrictive for 2018 and removed the ability for photographers in workshops from using any tripods on any trails within the park.

Previously, Zion had allowed tripods on some trails and in the Virgin River. Specifically, along the Pa’rus Trail, in the Virgin River north of the end of the Riverside Walk and south of Orderville Canyon, and on the sandy area between the Riverside Walk and the Virgin River. This is the full and complete list of where tripods were allowed in Zion for those partaking in a workshop for 2016 and 2017, but now even these areas are off limits to tripods. For 2018 there are no tripods to be used on any trail within Zion and tripods are only allowed on paved parking areas and pull outs. For those going to Zion on your own, there are no restrictions to photograph with a tripod as long as you are not going with a commercial business.

Zion National Park: Photography by Ron Risman

Zion National Park, Photography by Ron Risman.

For those learning about photography, one of the best ways to learn what is or isn’t allowed in a national park is usually talked over and instructed by those who are teaching within those parks. As a commercial enterprise, these businesses have a vested interest to keep these areas beautiful and as undisturbed as possible. As we have seen, the general public and even photographers who go to the national parks don’t necessarily respect the areas they are visiting, and as image-makers with social media, drive the traffic to these areas with their imagery. Without a word, they are instructing others what is or isn’t allowed in some of the most beautiful and most delicate wilderness areas in the U.S.A. I know it’s tough for those looking to balance conservation and commercialism with the natural wonders of places like Zion National Park, but it’s in no way better to limit the biggest advocates for conservation like the Commercial Use Authorization holders working in tandem with National Park Services. 

Many photographers will never go to a photography workshop, but many will look on the works of others in the same area attempting to capture similar imagery. That means that these restrictions won’t stop much of the conservation looking to be achieved by the restriction itself. It only reduces the amount of businesses working with Zion and thereby the additional advocates that work with NPS to educate other photographers for the conservation of the wilderness resource that is Zion National Park.

Link to the 2018 Zion National Park CUA for Photography Workshops.

Images used with permission of Timelapse Workshops.

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Jason Levine's picture

Before everyone throws a fit, this is only for commercial photography. If you just want to add to your portfolio as long as you aren’t getting paid it should be fine.

Chris Terrell's picture

I read it as those in a workshop, or a group of people hogging the trails with tripods

Christopher Eaton's picture

It's for commercial workshops, not all commercial photography, which by definition in national parks and monuments does not include solo photographers even iff they make money from the images. Commercial photography as defined by the parks woulds require a permit and tripods would be allowed.

Matthew Saville's picture

If you'd read all the way to the end of the article, you would have seen the part about how this is exactly the problem- even if you stop workshops from using tripods, you're still not going to stop tons of other photographers from using tripods, and that will still likely cause whatever problem it is they're trying to combat. (It might be for environmental protection, or it might just be complaints from tourists...)

The bottom line is that making certain things illegal is only a band-aid. What really ought to happen is, increasing appreciation and respect among EVERYBODY, towards the outdoors.

All of the popular national parks are facing the same problem. The Firefall in Yosemite in late February is an absolute zoo, and many folks wind up trampling the earth all around the infamous vantage point. And there are many other places and times where it gets crazy.

So, workshops or not, we're not really solving the problem.

M M's picture

I actually agree. In Death Valley I have had several occasions where a workshop group was hogging a location and acting as if the place was their own (probably because they had paid a lot). I think they should limit size of workshops and the number in one location.

JT Blenker's picture

Hey M M, This is part of every CUA I've seen already. There is to be no more than one workshop in a location at any time and the maximum amount of individuals including instructors is 14.

M M's picture

I guess 14 is already too much? At least, they shouldn't ask as if the place was their own and they somehow had priority over others.

Erin Babnik's picture

Actually, for DV the limit is 12.

Gary Crabbe's picture

MM, You mean like this? Put a couple workshops in the same place and time and you have a mess. These people set themselves up directly in front of all the other visitors at the overlook.

M M's picture

I remember exactly this at Zabrisky Point. And they wouldn't give room to anybody else.

Matthew Saville's picture

Zabriskie is a great example of when landscape photographers, especially workshops, begin to feel like they own the place. Yes, you paid the permit fees and did the paperwork to have your workshop there, but that doesn't mean you have any priority treatment over a solo photographer, or a tourist, or anyone else.

This is why rules and regulations don't actually fix the problem. In another 5 years, who knows, workshops might be dead completely, and everybody will just be running around with a gimbal doing Youtube Vlogs. They'll still be trampling the same popular places, though, unless we do something to change the attitude of respect for individual locations, and the desire to go explore new places instead of cluster at the common spots.

Zion in particular has been caught totally off-guard by the power of social media and the popularity it can bring. They've seen a huge increase in not only tourism, but in "serious" photography done by photographers who love to trample all over the place. I heard a statistic about how many miles of un-official trails there are in Zion, and it was incredible. But I digress. The point is, this was inevitable, and it's not even the best long-term solution. The best long-term solution is increased respect for the outdoors, and towards fellow human beings, among all photographers and tourists alike, not just workshops.

Christopher Eaton's picture

The CUA already expects a workshop to not impact the enjoyment of others. If they are, no tripod rules will change that.

Michael Kim's picture

If only the National Forest Service would do this in Sedona, AZ...

James Delaney's picture

Yet workshops like Apeture Academy continue to promote workshops in Zion with Tripods as a requirement? Special privileges?

Zion, are these groups being penalized for using tripods? Do your policies have exceptions?

Aperture Academy

Enlighten Photography Excursions

Suess Photography

and many more. CUA permits restrict only those that obey the rules. What happens to groups that do not?

Ryan Mense's picture

Probably just haven’t updated their websites yet.

Brian Rueb's picture

Hi....we're aware of the new rules, and actually have been for a few weeks...we've been in the process of trying to have discussions with the park to see about compromises, and ways to work with them. If we're not able to get something worked out (that hopefully benefits all CUA holders) then we'll just stop offering up Zion workshops. This rule really does nothing to help...there'll just be more people who go there on their own. I'm curious if the people in painting workshops are allowed to use easels. We might have to rig up some easels with tripod head attachments.

Matthew Saville's picture

...Or just provide Ronins for every workshop attendee. IBIS on a Ronin can get you down to about 1 sec exposure with decent sharpness. :-P

seth hamel's picture

I am the owner at Enlighten Photography in Zion. Ryan is correct, we have not updated the website yet. We were in Iceland for most of December. This is fairly tragic, not just to workshop hosts, but also to guests. We will keep tripods on our required list of gear to bring as we often are shooting outside of the park boundaries.

I live in Zion because of a deep passion and connection to this place, it's not the work that I do that keeps me here, it's the area itself. I'll scrub toilets if I have to in order to live here, I love this place. What is painful is that, as part of my job, I get to help educate visitors on how to care for the landscape, avoid cryptobiotic soil, stay on trail, no apple cores do not decompose in the desert, etc. Workshop hosts can help preserve these delicate landscapes.

Also, I get to help facilitate visitors to this area form a deep connection with this landscape through photography, the connection that I value so much. We've had several people on our night excursions weep from the emotions from what they are experiencing with us on that shoot. It's painful to see that opportunity taken away from visitors. We've seen people fall in love with this place, and being on a workshop was a facilitator of that. Pretty painful stuff. We will be meeting with the park in the near future.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Makes sense - in many high tourist areas, it’s impossible to get past all the tripods from the workshop groups. Just ban workshops in parks.

David Kingham's picture

I'm sorry but this is complete sensationalism. I just looked back through my old permit applications and this has always been the case. "The use of tripods on trails is prohibited by permittees or clients." That's it! Trails. In other words, don't be an idiot and have your clients block the trail with their tripods, that's it! It does not mean you cannot use tripods in a workshop. There are a plethora of locations in Zion to photograph that are not directly on a trail. Please do your research before posting such an article.

Erin Babnik's picture

Thanks for chiming in with that clarification, David. If the restriction is only on trails and not off of them, then that makes a lot of sense.

James Delaney's picture

Sounds like a great conclusion, except when speaking with Zion they don't groups off trails

JT Blenker's picture

Hey David, in the 2018 CUA there is a contradiction in Part 2 sentence four and Part 11 in the final sentence. This is an issue as you know when the CUA is a contract with the park and as an business operating within the park. I'm reaching out to concessions again, but the verbiage has changed from the previous years, as you stated, to this current form.

Tom Herriman's picture

The statement in part 2 is not a contradiction, but it is a constriction; It states that tripods are prohibited for use on the trails. Part 11 allows for the group travel 100 ft. off the trail.

barry cash's picture

So no drones and no workshops with tripods...I have a much better idea no TOUR buses loaded with people who cant leave nature alone. No TOUR groups who think they own the place.

Jake Lindsay's picture

Bring your Olympus along. You can get 1.5 second exposures that are sharp with that sync is system

Henry Canyons's picture

So now the photo workshops will have to teach photography w/o a tripod. How hard can it be to teach people how to stitch photos in PS or put beans in a bag to hold the camera steady? At least the trails and "KODAK Moment" locations won't be bottlenecked with tripods. The NPS doesn't give a damn if someone shoots at ISO 100 with a tripod or ISO 1600 handheld. It cares about keeping the parks open and safe for all, as it should.

Matthew Saville's picture

Clearly you've never tried to shoot at f/16 and ISO 100 before sunrise.

Henry Canyons's picture

Stick the camera on the beanbag and you can shoot a time exposure using a remote shutter release and the mirror up. Clearly, you need to learn basic photography how to shoot without a tripod.

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