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.

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.

JT Blenker's picture

JT Blenker, Cr. Photog., CPP is a Photographic Craftsman and Certified Professional Photographer who also teaches workshops throughout the USA focusing on landscape, nightscape, and portraiture. He is the Director of Communications at the Dallas PPA and is continuing his education currently in the pursuit of a Master Photographer degree.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Actually, for DV the limit is 12.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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?

Probably just haven’t updated their websites yet.

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.

...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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Sure, if you want all your pictures to be from the vantage point of the dirt, or whatever rock or large tree branch happens to be in the near vicinity of your ideal composition.

BTW, I did my first 5-minute long exposure without a tripod, and did landscape photography for 2 years without a tripod. It SUCKS.

So... Essentially, Zion is trying to ban photography workshops in the park through a backdoor ban on tripods. I won't hold any landscape workshops where the participants can't use a tripod. Who would?

It's a bit ridiculous to post this without including some kind of verification of the text/regulation, and clarification on whether or not this is something new.

Evening Carl, I'll be adding the PDF in an image tomorrow, but the section is part 2 of the 2018 CUA for Photography and Painting Workshops. If you read the article I state this is a change from previous years to the 2018 CUA. I also list the changes from previous year CUAs. You can view the previous 2016 CUA (which was used for 2017) here:

The current CUA regulation for 2018 is here:

There is a contradiction in the CUA for 2018 and that is between sentence 4 in Part 2 and the last sentence in Part 11. If the view is purely strict adherence, then there is no tripods on a trail allowed and groups are not advised to move off trail. If this is an "or" proposition, it's up to the Superintendent when he approves each individual CUA. For a contract, which a CUA is overall, contradictions in verbiage are not beneficial because interpretation effects the operation of the workshop in the park either before or during the workshop itself and can effect the expectations of operator when applying for the CUA.

JT Blenker, you really should retract this misinformation you have published.

There is no contradiction at all.
Part 2 says no tripods on the trails and no blocking of the trails.
Part 11 says you have permission to leave the trails up to 100 feet.
That is not a contradiction, it is a clarification.

If anything, workshops should be cheering. They are no longer restricted to the trails and now have the freedom to find comps that are free of tourists!

I spoke directly with concessions for Zion to understand the limits in Part 2 and the "exception" in Part 11. There is no exception. Workshop groups are not allowed to use tripods off trail nor on trail. They are limited to paved areas and pull outs. To re-iterate: Zion NPS specifically stated that there are no tripods allowed to be used on trails or off a trail. Period. Workshops are more restricted for 2018 than previously.

New business idea, quad-pod rental at the park entrance.

Thankfully, they only ban tripods, and not quadpods. Who wants to join my Zion workshop? Just bring your quadpod ;)

That's hilarious! since they distinguish between tripods and monopods, I think the difference between a tripod and a quadripod should be recognized by them. Let us know how that works out for you. :-)

I see your point about the contradictions in part 2 and part 11. I thought so as well. I haven't led a tour there since 2014, and I knew certain changes were in place. So if they stand on this statement in part 2, we can go off trail up to 100 feet on existing pathways or hard surfaces in one part of the document. This begs the question - are the washes in Checkerboard area 'trails' - I seem to recall some actually are, which means one could not take their group there with tripods, an essential tool for photographing intimate landscapes in there. For sure it's a dilemma. The parks want to protect/conserve, but they need to control the busloads of people that visit with little regard for protecting nature and not put the squeeze on those of us who love and honor the parks and teach that to all who attend our programs.

Unfortunately, the travel up to 100 feet off trail means travel not instruction. You are not allowed the use of tripods on or off trail, only on paved areas and pull outs for workshops.

I can't believe how far this misinformation has spread.

The rules clearly do not ban tripods or tripod use.
The rules give workshops the right to use their tripods off the trails, up to 100 ft.

And the reason is clearly stated in bold type at the end of part 2.

You really should take this article down and replace it with a retraction and an apology to the community.

JT Blenker - 3 minutes ago Tom Herriman
I spoke directly with concessions for Zion to understand the limits in Part 2 and the "exception" in Part 11. There is no exception. Workshop groups are not allowed to use tripods off trail nor on trail. They are limited to paved areas and pull outs. To re-iterate: Zion NPS specifically stated that there are no tripods allowed to be used on trails or off a trail. Period. Workshops are more restricted for 2018 than previously.

Tom, Please call Zion, so they themselves can explain it to you...workshops aren't going to be allowed to use tripods...doesn't matter if you're off trail 100 feet...please call them, they'll tell you. We've been dealing with them for years, and trust me when I say what JT is reporting is truth. You could also just take a workshop group there this year with tripods, and head 100ft trail with them, and let me know how much the fine is.

Tripods are just not being allowed for workshop groups ON PAVED TRAILS. Apparently, this is not a new thing. The following link is from a blog of a photographer who regularly does workshops in the park. It is nothing to get into a twist over.

Afternoon Michael, I spent the better part of 45 minutes talking with Don. Probably started that conversation before you posted your response and here's where we are. Myself and Don both talked to the same source at Zion and received conflicting information from that source. Don chatted with them today and this is what propogated the post from him. I received a call from that source yesterday evening about the article and that Zion was going to have an internal conversation about the restrictions for 2018 and specifically about the points I made about CUA holders and conservatorship. I appreciate your comment and hopefully a bit more progressive clarity will happen as a result of these conversations.

Don Smith has put this to bed by speaking with Phil Arrington who issues the CUA's in Zion. Nothing has changed as I said before and they will be releasing a clarification document in the coming weeks.

I think the problem is that Zion is handing out vastly conflicting information to folks. What they told Don is not what they told us...what they told us is exactly what they told JT...either way, hopefully this all will allow them time to get their position solidified, and put out a nice CUA that everyone can understand. This isn't the first time ZIon has toyed with changing up CUA regulations, of all the parks we permit with...they change or propose changes quite often.

Don't know about the experience of others, but while participating in a small group at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, we came upon a group doing time lapse. Each person in the group had at least two and/or three cameras on tripods. When I approached the view next to 1 enthusiast I was informed that I was in her shot. Impossible unless she was using a lens with 180° coverage, which she wasn't. The group was very territorial. So I suspect we should expect more of the same as time lapse becomes more and more popular. We have also experienced the same issue at zabriskie Point in Death Valley, but a certain amount of harassment got a couple of photographers to move so we had a clear shot.
Is anyone aware of what the real issue is here? Why exactly are they limiting the use of tripods? From an environmental standpoint? If so what is the thinking? My tripod takes up less space than one of my shoes. And it certainly weighs less.