Access Is Everything

Posted on 2/24/2010 by Norman Sklarewitz | Printable Version | Comments (0)

When you ask almost any realtor how to determine the value of a property, most will tell you there are three key things to consider – “location, location, location.”  It’s an old cliché, but for many commercial photographers, it happens to be also true.

How?  Simple.  If you’re shooting purely editorial material, the subject matter is there for the taking – scenics, street scenes, travel destinations, architecture, nature, animals.  But it’s a different story if you’re shooting fashion, products or doing such other commercial work for brochures or print ads.

Then, unless you have your own studios – and who does these days? – you need a location, a setting in which you can pose your models or set up your product to look its best. As you’ll quickly learn, such “access” generally requires considerable effort and most often fee payments.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding the issue of first finding a location that accommodates your assignment needs and then negotiating for access.  Obviously, a lot depends on your assignment. If you have a fashion shoot that involves models, lights and reflectors, the services of a stylist, hair and make-up person plus yourself and an assistant, detailed arrangements in advance are a must.  If you’re shooting products for a catalog or brochure, you should find gaining the necessary access easier.

In any case, you no longer can assume you have access to a city street, public park, either. Most municipalities these days want to control photography in areas under their jurisdiction and, in some cases, they want to be paid.  Before you begin a location shoot in what you think is a public area, check with City Hall.

It’s no surprise, for example, that given its proximity to Hollywood film and still studios that Beverly Hills is a popular location. In fact, it has a full time office to work with photographers. (Phone 310-285-2408) Any commercial photography requires a permit and the city has a series of fixed rates that apply to still shoots. To work most anywhere on the city’s residential or commercial streets, the fee is $141 a day. To shoot on Rodeo Drive, the tab is $161. To work in any of the city’s parks will cost you $757 a day and in and outside of the architecturally distinctive City Hall is $359 a day. For info contact or Website is

Los Angeles City is also quite cooperative with still shooters.  If your crew, models and such are fewer than 15 people, you start off filing an application with which will cost $60. If you have a company larger than 15, the fee gets bumped up to the motion picture permit fee of $625. Proof of $500,000 in liability insurance required. If your location involves some private property then there’s no further fee charged by the city.  To shoot in a city park with a company 15 or less, the permit fee is $75; at the beaches $100. For any location within 300 feet of another structure, commercial or residential, there a $105 charge for what’s called a “notification fee” to the residents likely to be involved. Details from 213-977-8600

Las Vegas says it’s “film friendly” and as you might guess is quite used to accommodating photographers doing everything from a simple new car shot in front of some luxury casino-hotel to a full length feature film. Still photographers are free to shoot both in the county of Las Vegas ( )  that involves the Strip area south of the Sahara Hotel and in the city of Las Vegas which includes the Old Downtown area.  Permits are issued without charge if your shoot  involves fewer than five people and the action won’t impede pedestrian or auto traffic.  Insurance is, as usual, required.  But there’s really a minimum of red tape involved.

Obviously, the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip is a primary location for all sorts of shoots.  If you plan to shoot in or around a hotel, however, then you need to get permission from the property involved.  Most accommodate photographers particularly if their property is recognizable in the background.

Still photographers will find New York City an exceedingly easy city in which to work.  For starters, there are no charges to use public streets, parks and City-owned exterior locations.  Nor is a permit required for a still film crew to work as long as the crew doesn’t require support vehicles and/or equipment or “assert” exclusive use of city property. That means you can't block a sidewalk to the extent that you prevent pedestrians from getting by or, in the same vein, blocking a street. You also don’t need a permit if you’re using a tripod which is considered hand-held “equipment.”

If your shoot doesn’t require a permit but you want to make sure you won’t have any problems when you head off to the Big Apple to work, you can apply for an “optional” permit. It is issued free and authorizes you to work in accordance with the city’s liberal film rules without needing insurance and without charge. Then, available to you are such landmark locations as Times Square, SoHo, the East Village, Coney Island, the Upper West Side, Central Park and everything in between.

The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is the “go to” outfit if you have questions ( or 212-489-6710)

Shooters, particularly those living up north during the winter, will want to give the metro Miami area serious consideration when they need  summertime backgrounds with palm trees, expanses of sandy beaches and distinctive architecture.  And generally speaking, the area’s cities make still shooting pretty hassle and cost free.

If you expect to roam around the area, it’s probably best to start with the Miami-Dade Office of Film & Entertainment’s web site – There for $100 you can get a permit good for 28 days of shooting.  With just a few exceptions, there are no charges for working in public areas. Just don’t block traffic or pedestrian flow as you shoot.

Now here’s where things get a bit complicated.  If your cast and crew is under 10 and you  expect to just shoot within the City of Miami, then you can get a permit without charge. Just call 305-860-3823, Ext. 223/4 If you expect to concentrate your shooting within the City of Miami Beach, then call 305-673-7070 for your free permit. Curiously, if you go to their web sites to get a permit, then there’s a charge for a permit. Charge for shooting in most county parks is $140. a day.

If you’re traveling aboard you’ll find major European capitals equally savvy about film and still shoots.  Each has its own distinctive rules, of course.

Berlin, for example, comes up being generally free of red tape or cost.  If your company is fewer than seven people, exterior shooting around the city is free and no permits are required as long as your shoot doesn’t obstruct traffic or pedestrians.

If your crew and models exceed the seven person limit, permits will be given through the Berlin Media Board and may cost you Euro 60.  The web site  contains detailed information about how to obtain shooting permits. The page is updated regularly to account for structural and/or administrative changes that could bear upon permit acquisition.

Copyright © 2010 Norman Sklarewitz. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail:

Norman Sklarewitz is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist whose professional background includes staff positions as a Far East Correspondent  for The Wall Street Journal and L.A. Bureau Chief  with U.S. News & World Report. When a foreign correspondent based in Tokyo, he reported on major international events throughout Asia including the Vietnam War.


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