How to apply for Washington DC photography permits

For most recently engaged couples or couples in the process of planning their photography coverage, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., looks appealing. However, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the National Park Service (NPS) photography permits. Additionally, I have included the process for the Capitol, as well as the U.S. Arboretum, two other popular locations for engagement sessions.

In this blog post, I’ll delve into the why, how, and where of obtaining these permits, as well as which area requires a permit. And if you are still looking for the perfect location for your engagement photos, take a look at my list of the best engagement locations in Washington DC.

Why Obtain an NPS Photo Permit?

While Washington, D.C., is home to numerous public spaces and landmarks, many fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The NPS photo permit allows photographers to legally capture images for commercial use, ensuring the preservation of these historic sites while respecting the rules and regulations in place. For more information, you can learn more about this on the NPS website.

The following areas in and around DC require a permit:

  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park from DC to the Great Falls District,

  • George Washington Memorial Parkway

  • Manassas National Battlefield Park

  • National Capital Parks-East

  • National Mall and Memorial Parks

  • Presidents Park (White House and Ellipse)

  • Rock Creek Park

  • Prince William Forest Park

  • Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

How to apply for the permit

Acquiring an NPS photo permit is a straightforward process, and the NPS website is a valuable resource for detailed information. Here’s a step-by-step guide to obtaining your permit:

  1. Determine Your Location: Identify the specific areas or monuments you would like to set as your primary location, as permits are location-specific.

  2. Complete the Application: Fill out the online application form. Provide detailed information about the shoot, including the purpose, date, and location. For the equipment section, you can add that your photographer will have one DSLR camera and lenses.

  3. Pay the Fee: The NPS charges $90 for the application. The location fee starts at $50 which varies based on the size of your group. Usually, for a couple’s sessions and up to 10 people, it will cost $140. You can send your credit card information to be processed faster (you need to fill out another form). If mailing, include a check or money order as payment.

  4. Send your form: Applications cannot be emailed and must be submitted at least four days before your session. Mail your form to National Mall and Memorial Parks, Division of Permits Management, 1100 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20242, or drop it off in person. For a quicker response, consider faxing it to 202-475-2216 using a mobile app.

  5. Wait for Approval: Once your application is submitted and the fee is paid, wait for NPS approval. It’s advisable to apply well in advance to ensure you obtain your permit on time. If you need a permit quickly, you can call 202-245-4715 to expedite the process. After approval, NPS will email you for your signature. Remember to bring the permit to your session.

  6. Good to know: You can transfer your date if needed. Email NPS to request a change of date to avoid losing your application.

The Capitol Photo Permit

In addition to the general NPS photo permit, capturing the U.S. Capitol requires a separate permit from the U.S. Capitol Police. This ensures that you adhere to the specific regulations in place for photographing one of the most iconic buildings in the nation. To obtain this permit, you need to fill out this form and fax it (202) 228-2429. Alternatively, you can mail it or bring it in person to U.S. Capitol Police, Special Events Division, 119 D St., N.E., Room #102. They are open from 7am. to 6pm., Monday through Friday.

The arboretum

If you’re looking to plan your session at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., here’s a more specific breakdown of the steps to acquire a photo permit for this location:

  1. Complete the Arboretum Photo Permit Application: fill out the form with accurate and detailed information about your planned photo shoot. You need to provide specifics such as the purpose of the shoot, date and time, the size of your group, and any special equipment you plan to use. For your photographer, you can write “DSLR Camera and lenses”.

  2. Pay the Arboretum Photo Permit Fee: Check the fee structure for obtaining a photo permit for the U.S. National Arboretum. The fee varies depending on factors such as the duration of the shoot, as indicated in the form. Essentially, one hour is $105, 90 minutes is $130, and 3 hours is $155.

  3. Wait for Approval: After submitting your application and payment, await the review and approval process. The USDA will assess your request, and the approval timeline may vary. Plan ahead to allow sufficient time for processing (about 14 days before the photoshoot date).

  4. Receive and Carry the Arboretum Photo Permit: Make sure to carry a physical or digital copy of the permit with you during your photo shoot, as park officials may request to see it.

  5. Adhere to Arboretum Regulations: Familiarize yourself with and strictly adhere to any regulations specific to the U.S. National Arboretum outlined in the permit. This includes guidelines for specific locations within the arboretum, hours of operation, and rules for minimizing environmental impact.

Obtaining a photography permit in Washington, D.C. is a small investment that yields significant returns. It not only allows you to capture breathtaking images but also contributes to the ongoing conservation efforts of these national landmarks!


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