Photographer Jason Lanier Is Out to End Discrimination Against Small Business Photographers

Photographer Jason Lanier is on a mission to end discrimination against the small business photographer. As seen in the video above, he and his group were confronted multiple times while attempting to do a shoot. In the first location they are asked to leave the premise altogether. In the second they were asked to "make it look less commercial" by getting rid of a strobe. In both instances they weren't interfering with any event around them nor were they disturbing the public and only had a single portable strobe setup. Lanier notes a growing trend to neglect and discriminate against the small business photographer. 

To be clear, Lanier isn't asking for special privileges. He believes we shouldn't be allowed to stop traffic, set up complex lighting rigs, or impede the public without a permit. However, he has found being a small business photographer and using a minimal setup has become increasingly difficult. Both locations where he was stopped are public areas. Places where anyone can come photograph whatever they would like; that is unless they have a nice camera and an off-camera flash.

Photographer Jason Lanier taking photographs just before being stopped by local authorities.

So why not get a permit? Permits are tedious and often were never meant for the small business photographer. They are meant for big Hollywood studios and big-budget model shoots. When inquiring about a permit to shoot in New Orleans' run down Six Flags, Lanier was quoted $51,900 for a month. No photographer needs a month. Give us a couple of hours. No such option existed. The ranger in the video above tells him that a one-time use permit will cost $500, which of course isn't feasible for most small business photographers. He also notes that many establishments make the process to get a permit unusually difficult by being time consuming, obscure, or having to wait "forever" for the permit to process. The conclusion can only be that they don't want small business photographers in their jurisdiction.

Photographer Jason Lanier being asked to "make the shoot less commercial" by removing the strobe.

Of course not all areas are like this and it should be pointed out that we are speaking of public places. Here in Charleston, S.C. I rarely, if ever, am stopped by local authorities. This city is renowned as a destination wedding location and so most of our authorities are aware of that and are more accommodating, with only a few exceptions. Some institutions are catching on as well. The U.S. National Forest Service recently announced a permit fee and charges a relatively small fee of $10 for a group of three to shoot. In other parts of the country, there often isn't a realistic option. Your local friendly small business photographer doesn't leave an obtrusive footprint, so why all the defensiveness? Why all the restrictions?

What do you think? Are local authorities too controlling in your city?

[via Jason Lanier]

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Jon Dize's picture

MOST of the permit laws were created for motion picture production companies and for the longest time, still photographers did not have to deal with permits and permissions from National Parks, State Parks, Local Parks, but controllers like to control.

I have been threatened with jail and $1,000 fines on three occasions.

Once I was photographing my son and his fiance' at Valley of Fire State Park here in Nevada and the Ranger came along and asked me to stop taking the photos.

I was using a single reflector, in fact, since I had not planned on taking the photos that day, I did not have a photo reflector, so I used the chrome vinyl windshield dash protector that you put in the windshield of the car to keep your dash cool.

No wires, no tripods, no lights, just a D700 at the time and the windscreen.

The Ranger did not believe that my son was my son, so I had to show him my ID and my son had to show his ID... I am Jon Edward Dize, he is John Wayne Dize, the Ranger acted very hateful.

I told him my son was getting married and while we were on a weekend hike, he asked me to take the photos, nothing commercial, nothing other than a family photo.

The Ranger then told us how he was going to cut us a break and be a nice guy and allow us to take the photos.

Another time, I was at the border of Nevada and California in a little hamlet called PRIMM, NV, which is basically three casinos, a gas station and two dry lake beds.

I saw a Donkey chewing on a bail of hay about 100 feet from the edge of Roach Dry Lake, so I pulled over to the edge where there were signs restricting automobiles on the dry lake.

I got out of my car and started to take a photo of the Donkey, when a Nevada Highway Patrol Officer pulled up, got out of his car and asked what I was doing?

I told him I was taking a photo of the Donkey. He asked me, "Why?" I said, "I like Donkeys!"

He said, "The Donkey is on BLM land and photography is prohibited without a permit from the BLM."

I remarked, "I am taking a photo of a Donkey in the middle of the Mojave Desert... and that's not allowed?"

He got angry, told me if I took a photo, he would arrest me and the fine would be $1,000. From his attitude, I had no reason to not believe him.

Oh sure... the odds are he would not charge me with taking a photo, it would be failure to comply with an official order, disorderly conduct or any number of FILL IN THE BLANK charges, but there is no doubt he would have arrested me, towed my car, impounded it and charged me a small fortune to get it back.

Another time, my son was taking photos of his friends riding dirt bikes in the Mojave Desert.

On a dirt road, perhaps 60 miles from the nearest town... BLM Ranger in a pickup truck... "ONE MORE PHOTO AND I WILL ARREST YOU!" Threatened a $1,000 fine again and provided no permit purchase option.


When shooting the CD Cover for Sin City Sinners on Fremont Street in Vegas, an LVMPD Bicycle Cop followed me all night... it was midnight, almost nobody on the street... no tripod, just me and my D800.

Did not stop me, but stayed with me for two hours.


But making a GENERAL BLANKET POLICY that everyone who has EXPENSIVE GEAR or a SOFTBOX or REFLECTOR should be denied access unless they pay often BIG BUCKS... UNNECESSARY!

That is not how we are supposed to do things in this country. It is UNAMERICAN to prevent everyone from walking, just because somebody may fall. It is UNAMERICAN to prevent professionals from taking photos, but allowing amateurs to take all the photos they want.

I contacted City Hall in Las Vegas about shooting the Welcome to Las Vegas sign at the south end of the strip.

I said, "If Doctor Joe has the same tripod I have, the same camera I have and we are standing next to each other photographing the SIGN... Why would it be illegal for me to take the photo, but legal for Doc Joe?"

The lady responded, "Dr. Joe is a tourist and can take all the photos he wants, but because you are a published professional, we have to assume you will at this point or in the future use those images commercially, so you as professional must have $1 million in Liability Insurance and apply for the permit before you shoot.

EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT SHOOTING COMMERCIALLY... we assume that at some later date, you may use those images for commercial gain."

Lawmakers get paid to make laws... if we allow it, they will make laws until we cannot breathe without paying someone a fee.

Anil Sud's picture

It would be most interesting to have a forum such as F-stoppers conduct an interview with an authority on the other side of the coin to bring their perspective to the this instance, the person responsible for granting permits to gain access to public sites for commercial purposes.

I'm sure they have very valid reasons for doing so; interference with general public's movement due to the commercial setup, liability concerns, revenue creation (fair enough), commercial photographers working on the sly (I'm sure it happens), preventing conflicts with other commercial uses at the same time. (I once heard through word of mouth of a tour leader who attempted to run a photography workshop in Death Valley National Monument without a permit. Shortly after commencing the tour, she was stopped by a park ranger asking to see her permit. When she couldn't produce anything, she and the group were expelled from the park. Whether this was an oversight on her part, or an attempt to save $ by not paying the fee, is unknown to me).

The video portrays this as purely a cash grab which I tend to disagree. As an amateur photographer, I don't want to be hassled when shooting in public parks anymore than the next guy but I'm sure the authorities have very valid reasons for taking the stance that they do.

The internet is riddled with these type of videos which always show only one perspective - that of the person being denied access. Why not give someone from the other side of the table a voice so we can all appreciate their perspective on this issue. It can't hurt, may provide for an open discussion about both parties concerns, and hopefully, bring both sides of the equation closer together to find a solution that works for everyone in a win-win resolution.

Justabeginner photographer's picture

Jason is a bought off arrogant Sony pussy. I'm using a Sony so I'm not hating on the system. It's just a fact that this guy is so biased towards all Sony stuff he can't even put out an honest review without touting Sony as the new future. I have an A7ii and even he admitted to me that this is old technology. So what does Sony have to boast about if a 1700 dollar camera can't perform like a DSLR in the same price sector? This video of him may be one of the more reasonable ones but most of his videos are full of his arrogant drivel like 'if you don't shoot in manual don't call yourself a photographer'. Dani Diamond shoots in aperture priority and so do many pros because it's fast and convenient and their work is stunningly beautiful. Shooting in manual is nothing fancy and he acts like it's so hard to master. I really have the feel he's just reflecting. Sorry for the rant.