273 LEGAL HASSLES IN SANTA BARBARA
December 21, 1999
by: Norman Sklarewitz
Santa Barbara just 100 miles north of Los Angeles is among the most attractive
oceanside communities on the entire West Coast. It's a very upscale residential
community with a picturesque downtown district and a spectacular beach and
As a result, the entire community is a popular location for still photographers,
among them shooters who specialize in stock. In the past they've enjoyed free
rein when shooting all over the city.
No more. To shoot stock legally in Santa Barbara now requires getting permits and
paying fees - probably the most complicated, confusing, time consuming and costly
process imposed by any U.S. city.
Santa Barbara city and county departments recently have officially taken the
position that stock photographers are commercial photographers, in the same
category as those carrying out fashion and product shoots. As a result, some of
the permit rules and regulations that apply to an ad agency or catalog production
crew with models, motor home dressing rooms and all the rest also apply to the
individual shooter toting nothing more than a bag and a couple cameras.
No one in the city accuses still shooters of causing problems or seeking special
access. There is no record of any "confrontation" between a shooter and
authorities. However, the city takes the position that a stock shooter is engaged
in a commercial activity and thus is required to comply with local permitting
rules and regulations.
What makes that premise even worse is that the various departments
involved in dealing with photography not only operate independently of each other
but each has different requirements and fees. Picture this: If a shooter strolls
down State Street which is Santa Barbara's main drag planning to shoot the
boutiques, outdoor cafes and other shops, he/she requires a permit from the Santa
Barbara Police Department.
Farther along, the shooter comes to the Pacific Ocean and the miles of sand,
breaking surf and parks lining the water's edge. To shoot there requires another,
different, permit from the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department.
Among the more popular attractions there at the beach is Stearn's Wharf jetting
out into the Ocean. If you step onto it to shoot, yep - you need yet another
permit, this one from the Santa Barbara Waterfront Department.
Those involved with promoting tourism locally are aware that the published images
made by stock shooters of all the city's attractions help attract visitors and
are sympathetic to their complaints about the red tape and expense they face.
Says Debbie Barber, communications manager, Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors
Bureau and Film Commission, "We understand that stock photography ultimately
serves our ends as publicity for Santa Barbara. But unfortunately, our hands are
tied by the permitting process. The powers that be consider that stock
photography is commercial photography."
Those shooters on editorial assignments are also required to get the requisite
permits, but Barber's bureau at least arranges for the fees to be waived.
Editorial shooters are asked to supply Barber with a list of expected locations
and to make the permit requests. Then she sees to it that the fees are waived.
With so many tourists carrying cameras, often-expensive ones, one logically asks,
"How does anyone know who is shooting editorial, or stock or just pictures for
the family album?" The answer is, "No one does." It's quite likely that a stock
photographer can make all the images he/she wants and never run afoul of the
picture police, particularly if not turned out in a photojournalist's jacket
using large format equipment on a tripod.
In confidence, city officials concede that enforcement of their rules is
difficult. One says, "We recognize that most transient photographers shooting
stock in the city don't have the required permits and licenses." However, a city
cop, park ranger, harbor patrol type or staffer with any of the permitting
departments apparently has the legal right to check on anyone looking
If the shooter can't produce the required permits, he/she faces a citation or, at
best, being asked to suspend shooting. "It's the city policy that anyone seeking
to make a profit on a photo taken in the city requires a permit," says Officer
Mike Carpenter in charge of issuing permits for the Santa Barbara Police
Technically, a business license is also required of stock photographers,
according to the city's Finance Department. As best anyone can tell, however,
only when under Park's Department jurisdiction is that particular license
actually required as a condition of issuing a permit. Still, it's on the books
as being required.
No one in Santa Barbara is aware that any stock shooter has posed any problem or
caused any disturbance that warrants all these controls. The best anyone can come
up with is that the rules governing movie, TV and still production shoots
suddenly are being interpreted to take in individual stock shooters.
In fact, at one point last year (1999) when the issue of licensing stock
photographers came up for discussion, someone in City Hall even suggested that
stock shooters be required to make their images available to the city for its
use, without compensation. No one quite knew how this was supposed to work but
when word got out some local shooters raised enough ruckus that the bizarre idea
was dropped. One city official calls that a period of "swirling controversy."
As things stand now, though, there is no centralized office that coordinates
photographic requests or any single shooting permit system. If you want to really
be legal in Santa Barbara, this is what's involved.
The police permit covers shooting throughout the city except for areas under the
jurisdiction of other departments. Application for a Still Photo Shoot permit
must be made, preferably three weeks in advance, to: Special Events Planning
Officer, SBPD, PO Box 539, Santa Barbara, CA 93102, Ph: 805-897-2352; Fax:
The application form will be faxed back to the photog. When filled out and
returned accompanied by a $10 processing fee, a $50 permit fee and proof of a $1
million liability insurance policy, the request is reviewed and when approved is
returned. That approved form serves as the shooter's authority.
When it comes to capturing the sunset over the Pacific Ocean through the palm
trees or over the beaches at least it won't be so expensive this year. The Parks
& Recreation Department has dropped its daily permit fee of $250, formerly levied
on still shooters.
Just the same, to be in the clear, a stock shooter is required to file a request
for a permit accompanied by a $5 fee. A new requirement, however, is that the
shooter must have evidence of a paid-up $250,000 general liability insurance
policy and a business license.
If the requirements are met, the shooter is free to cover the city's 37 developed
parks and some three miles of beachfront. Molly Carillo-Walker, assistant
director, Parks & Recreation Department, notes that stock photographers have
pointed out that they have no impact on the environment or cause any
disturbances. However, she says, "The reality is that we have to follow our own
ordinances and codes. We're not in a position to set precedents."
Applications should go to the City of Santa Barbara, c/o Parks & Recreation
Dept., PO 1990, SB 93102. Or fax permit requests to 805-564-5480.
In mid January, however, the Carillo-Walker expects to present
recommendations to the City Council that would eliminate for still shooters her
$5 permit fee but still require the approved permit, proof of insurance and the
business license. The upside to all this, if approved by the Council, is that a
single office would take care of issuing the Park permit and sell the license.
Among the most popular and photographic features of the beachfront is the Stearns
Wharf, oldest working wharf on the West Coast. But set foot on it with cameras in
hand or the marina or other maritime facility, and you're under the jurisdiction
of the Waterfront Department.
It has a filming fee schedule that calls for a $250 a day fee for "crews less
than 15 people" and the Department has determined that applies to just a single
shooter, according to Scott Riedman, property management specialist. In addition,
the Waterfront folks want proof of liability insurance in the amount of $1
Permit request go to Waterfront Department, City of Santa Barbara, PO Box 1990
Santa Barbara, CA 93102-1990, Ph: 805-897-1969, fax: 805-963-2622.
Required no matter where one shoots in the city is a Santa Barbara Business
License. Again, making stock pictures for ultimate sale is viewed as conducting
business for which a license is required. The basic fee is $30 a year for anyone
with gross sales under $25,000. The fee then goes up incrementally based on your
The license can be obtained at the Finance Department Business License Division,
City Hall weekdays 7:30 - 5:30. Or one can call or fax ahead, request the
application form and return it with payment. Ph: 805-564-5341; fax: 805-897-1978.
The address for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film
Commission is 12 East Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93111, Ph: 805-966-9222,
Fax: 805-966-1728. Email: email@example.com
If you think this bureaucratic nightmare is over, it's not. Should you want to
shoot in and around the Santa Barbara County Courthouse downtown which is famous
for its Spanish-Moorish architecture, guest what? You got it: you need another
permit, this one from John R. Barron, Film Permit Commissioner, for the county.
Fortunately, Barron runs something of a "one stop shop" for shooters interested
in covering anything in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County as well
as in the county itself. These communities include Goleta, the Hope Ranch, the
beach country and county parks.
While there are fees for county shooting, Barron is easy to work with. He will
often grant stock still shooters a Category F exception from the normal $100 fee.
That's because they leave a "small footprint" in terms of equipment and
disruption. Available to shooters is the block square County Building complex
with its sunken garden, tower providing a panoramic view of the city's
picturesque red tile roofs, the Mural Room and other settings. Still photogs will
need to carry $500,000 in liability insurance.
Prospective shooters should request a Film Permit Application from: County of
Santa Barbara Film Permit office, 123 East Anapamu Streeet, Santa Barbara, CA
93101, Ph: 805-568-3074, Fax: 805-568-3101.
The only remaining question: "Given all this mind-boggling red tape, why in the
world would any stock photographer even consider shooting in Santa Barbara?"