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Whether you are an enthusiast, emerging or working photographer, wherever you reside or are planning to shoot, it is prudent to find out what the regulations are with respect to photography and photographic equipment.  I can think of very few places where this is truer than in New York City.

 

I thought I would start with a quiz on taking photographs on the sidewalks of New York City.  Answer each question True, False or Depends:

 

1.     I am using a tripod/monopod on the street:  I do not need a permit.      

2.     I will be using an apple box as a prop: I do not need a permit.

3.     A permit gives me exclusive right to use the designated sidewalk.

4.     I am shooting with off camera strobes: I need a permit.

5.     I need a permit if I put my tripod on a dolly.

6.     I’m working with just a reflector and no flash:  I do not need a permit.

7.     I need insurance to get a permit.

8.     The Permit is free.

9.     I am planning on shooting in Central Park and will be using a couple of light stands and props:  I need permission from the Park management before I can get a permit.

10. All parks in New York City are subject to the same regulations with respect to permits and fees.

 

 

The answers:

1-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-Depends, 5-True, 6-Depends, 7-True, 8-False (see update) , 9-True, 10-False

 

There is a very easy way to determine whether or not you need a permit to photograph on the streets of New York City:  If your camera equipment is handheld, you do not need a permit.  Tripods, monopods, and shoulder stabilizers like the Bushhawk 320 are all considered handheld.  Place anything down on the ground — an apple box, a prop such as a chair, a light stand with either a flash head or reflector attached, a battery pack, any wires, or mount your tripod to a dolly base, and you need a permit. If your light, power source and all wires, or reflector, are being held by an assistant as opposed to being placed on a stand, you do not need a permit as the equipment is considered handheld.  Even with a permit, the photographer does not have exclusive rights to use or block the sidewalk.  You must leave adequate space for people to use the sidewalk, as well as having ingress and egress to residences and businesses. 

 

The regulations for still photography on the streets of New York City fall under the purview of The Mayors Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB).  The Regulations as they relate to whether you need a permit or not are clearly meant to separate the casual shooter, enthusiast and tourist from working photographers.  The MOFTB production coordinators are knowledgeable, helpful and efficient with respect to answering questions, directing you to appropriate parties when permission is required prior to permitting, as well as processing permits.  It should be noted that if you need a permit for still photography, you actually will be filing out and submitting the Motion Picture-Television Permit form. The process and documentation required to be filed is outlined and available online.

 

Update:7/12/10 Effective July 11, 2010 there is a $300 fee for processing the aplication for a Permit. Read the most current information here

 

If you are not utilizing equipment which requires a permit, you may want to apply for what is called an Optional Permit.  While you need to know the date, time and specific location where you will be shooting, there is no insurance requirement.  An Optional Permit offers some evidence to property owners, security or law enforcement personnel, who may not be familiar with the subtleties and nuances of the regulations for photography on City owned property and question your right to photograph at a location, that you have the “right and permission” to use the sidewalk for your activities.

 

If there is one area where the permission and permitting process may appear difficult to navigate, it is where the Parks are concerned.  The handheld rule applies to most New York City Parks (including Central Park).  If you are using equipment that requires a permit, you must get permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation manager for that park or in the case of Central Park, the Film Office of the Central Park Conservancy, before applying for the permit through MOFTB.  There are, however, three public parks in Manhattan — Bryant Park, Battery Park City and the Hudson River Park— for which permission to shoot and permitting are administered through dedicated Conservancies, which results in very different application processes and cost, permit fees and regulations.  While the permitting process for these parks is aimed at photographers shooting for commercial use, if you are shooting for a non-commercial use and are planning on using any equipment (tripod included) in addition to your camera, it is best to check with the appropriate Conservancy in advance because their definition of “handheld” is much narrower than that used by MOFTB.  In checking with the Battery Park City Authority, for example, I was told that use of a tripod would require a permit. 

 

Many people do not realize that the park property extends to the adjacent sidewalks.  So in the case of Gramercy Park, for example, which is a privately owned park located on Manhattan’s Eastside between 20th and 21st Streets, while you can get a permit from MOFTB to shoot on the sidewalks across the street from the Park, the permit will explicitly exclude photographing on the sidewalk which runs around the Park because while it is open to pedestrian traffic, it is viewed as an extension of the Park property.

 

A lot of the process of shooting stills in New York or any city involves using common sense:

 

·        Whether you have a permit or not, you are expected to comply with any request that law enforcement officials may make.  So if you are asked to move…

·        If you have equipment, keep it as contained as possible. Have adequate assistance to help setup and dismantle your equipment.  Make sure your equipment is not left unattended and/or does not become a safety hazard.

·        Be respectful of people living and doing business in the location.

·        Be mindful of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and do not block the sidewalks, buildings or streets in a way which is disruptive.

·        Remember that you are expected to comply with all posted City regulations and rules-including parking and those governing park admissions.

 

Now go take some pictures!

 

Here are links to some additional resources that were not embedded in the above text:

 

Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting

Bryant Park

Battery Park City

Central Park Conservancy

Hudson River Park

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