Most people don't realize that the wedding and engagement photos they see usually take place at locations that require a photography permit. For example, couples who want engagement photos at the monuments need to apply for a permit and pay a $140 fee to the National Park Service. It's a fairly easy process when you work with an experienced photographer. Even if you're not, check out this information, it'll help your planning process.
When I first started shooting, I quickly realized that a lot of locations in Washington, DC are owned by the National Park Service (aka NPS). Places like the National Mall, with all of the iconic monuments like The Jefferson Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and really any memorial/monument/park in the immediate surrounding area fall into this category.
If you’re interested in any kind of wedding or engagement photography with those elements, you have to apply for an NPS permit to photograph there and pay a fee. If you try to shoot without a permit, you run the risk of your photoshoot being cut short if a park ranger asks to see your permit.
Here is a link with a long description of what to do from NPS. Or, just read my version:
Fill out the Application Form: This is the form you need to fill out: Special Use Permit - Commercial Filming/Still Photography (Short Form). There is a nonrefundable processing cost of $90.00 when you turn in your application. Write this fee in the “Amount to be Billed to Card: Application Cost” on the Credit Card Authorization page.
Figure out Your Location Fee: In addition to the $90 application fee, there is a location fee based on the number of people being photographed. For an engagement session, that number is 1-10 people, so that will cost you an additional $50 ($140 total). For a couple and their wedding party, if you go above 10 people, that lands you in the 11-30 person range, which is an additional $150 ($240 total).
Here's the breakdown for photography location fees:
1-10 people/$50 per day 11-30 people/$150 per day 30+ people/$250 per day
Once you determine your location fee, write this in the “Amount to be Billed to Card: Location Cost” on the Credit Card Authorization page.
Fax, Mail In, or Walk in Your Application: You can fax your application to 202-475-2216, which is what I recommend. However, if you’re short on time, you can also drop off your application to this address:
National Mall and Memorial Parks Division of Permits Management 900 Ohio Drive, SW Washington, DC 20024
You can also mail it to the address above as well. It typically takes 7-10 days for the application to arrive by mail.
You will be notified by a permits specialist of the status of the application and the necessary steps to secure your final permit. If you are in need of a permit quickly, you can call 202-245-4715 to try and move things along a little faster. Once your final permit is available, a permits specialist will send it to you via email as a PDF.
Bring Your Permit on the Day of Your Session: Since the permit is sent in a PDF via email, you can save it to your smart phone and have it at the ready should a park ranger approach you during your session.
Other helpful facts:
You can apply for a permit up to one year in advance and a minimum of four days from your session.
If you need to change the date of your session, you can email/call the permits office and have it changed. It’s typically done very quickly and easily
I hope this information has been helpful! Thanks so much for reading.