Grand Teton cancels wedding photo permit policy

After much backlash, Grand Teton National Park has rescinded its requirement that all wedding and portrait photographers obtain a $300 permit to operate on park land. The policy was originally adopted to manage applications for marriage licenses, which more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.

The policy was also intended to regulate candidate misconduct, according to Jackson Hole News and Guide. Locals had filed complaints about wedding parties bringing non-native plants into the park and asking other visitors to clean up public spaces, among other transgressions. However, the intervention of several organizations of photographers, lawyers and industry professionals succeeded in rolling back the most severe of the new directives.

What the policy said

Under the now-cancelled policy, wedding photographers would have been required to obtain the permit and pay an additional 3% of their earnings to the park. They would also have had to wear an identifiable uniform, and shooting would be restricted to half a mile of roads or designated trails only.

According to National Association of Press Photographers (NPPA), the new rules would have effectively banned wedding photography in the majority of the park. Also, for backcountry weddings of less than 12, photographers would not be allowed to accompany the party at all.

As for the portrait photographers, they would also have needed a name badge, in addition to CPR Certificationas reported by Professional Photographers of America (APP).

Why the requirement is unconstitutional

Lawyers, photography professionals and organizations (NPPA, PPA and North American Nature Photography Association among them) disputed the new permits as unconstitutional and illegal.

“Any time you limit First Amendment activity based on who the speaker is, that’s wrong. They really don’t explain why a professional photographer who really knows what he’s doing would be more harmful than an amateur,” said Alicia Calzada, First Amendment attorney and assistant general counsel for the NPPA. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Additionally, federal law states that the park cannot charge permits or access fees if the public is generally allowed in an area. The only case where a charge could be imposed is if the public is not normally allowed access or if an administrative cost would be incurred.

What is still in effect

Although the park has canceled many stipulations, a few remain in place. As reported by Jackson Hole News and Guideweddings of more than 12 guests are limited to six frontcountry locations, and the maximum number of permits issued for such weddings is capped at 330.

Small wedding parties have no ceiling and photographers are allowed to accompany them anywhere, including in the great outdoors.

Impact, not money, should be the deciding factor

In light of the debacle, one thing has become clear: there is no consistent governance regarding photography across the National Park Service. Although people agree that some sort of policy should be in order, adopting one is another matter. One of the major pain points in this debacle is the seemingly arbitrary distinction between the work of professional and amateur photographers.

Members of the photography community, including PPA, argue for impact-based licensing as opposed to profit-based licensing. “It shouldn’t just be based on whether you make money or not,” says Sean Fitzgerald, board member of the North American Nature Photography Association. “It sets a bad precedent.”

Stewart C. Hartline