Outdoor portrait locations and permits: where do you go? [San Francisco Bay Area]

SalvoVentura

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Hello,
my name is Salvatore, I'm new here, and just starting out my photo business in SF Bay Area.
As I will be providing natural light outdoor portraits, I am wondering where you - my Bay Area
fellow photographers - go.

As I started to discover, every one of the *nice* locations that I know of, requires some permit
for photography, when it's done professionally, for a fee. This includes "staples" like many beaches,
parks (city, state, federal), city sidewalks, etc... Plus these permits require time for application and
are quite expensive (~$100). Frustrating and discouraging are words that come to mind...

How are you tackling this issue? Which are your go-to locations when you don't really need a
specific landmark?

Thanks in advance,
Salvatore
 

Breezy85

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At least in my area, have never had to deal with permits for photo sessions. I've done them on the beach, in iconic parks and other parks. But I guess San Fran is different?
 

ac12

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Discouraging yes, but it makes perfect sense.
It is free for public (tax payer) use.
But it you are going to be making money off the use of the public property, then it makes sense that the city/state gets a cut of your profit. After all they are the ones who is maintaining the property.

Or you find someone with a nice back yard, and pay them to use the back yard.
And you should have liability insurance for that.

At least you checked and asked.
It could be quite an issue if a cop asked you for your permit, which you would not have, and told you to immediately shut down your shoot, plus give you a citation/fine for likely more than the cost of a permit.
 
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SalvoVentura

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Thank you for your replies. I agree that a fee is reasonable for several good reasons, but I find it to be steep, especially for professionals that might actually be repeat-customers (so to say). An annual pass might make more sense to me, for example.

But that's not the core of my question, which remains: where do you go when you do your natural light portrait sessions? And (expanding a little now) how do you handle the permit?

If you - as someone suggests - pass on the cost ($100) to the client, may I ask what percentage of your fee that is? It might be trivial to seasoned photographers, but I am finding it difficult to fit this in, when I see posts from photo sessions at the beach, in the park, for $200 or less...

Thank you,
 

KmH

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Pretty much anywhere will work, as long as the light direction and quality are good.
Like most successful ambient light photographers, most of the time you'll need a reflector(s) to flatteringly light your subjects .
If you want iconic sights in the background your lighting issues will be more complex and flash would also frequently be needed for fill.
 

ac12

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Thank you for your replies. I agree that a fee is reasonable for several good reasons, but I find it to be steep, especially for professionals that might actually be repeat-customers (so to say). An annual pass might make more sense to me, for example.

But that's not the core of my question, which remains: where do you go when you do your natural light portrait sessions? And (expanding a little now) how do you handle the permit?

If you - as someone suggests - pass on the cost ($100) to the client, may I ask what percentage of your fee that is? It might be trivial to seasoned photographers, but I am finding it difficult to fit this in, when I see posts from photo sessions at the beach, in the park, for $200 or less...

Thank you,

They are probably shooting without a permit, and taking a chance that they won't get caught.
Or they did not check about a permit.
 

KmH

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Like most permit situations for doing paid photography in public on local state or federal property, to get the permit likely requires adding the city to your business liability insurance as an additional insured. That also means you have to prove to the city you have liability insurance.

Having business liability insurance is also likely required to have a legal business. At any rate, not having business liability insurance, especially if routinely shooting on location, is not very smart.

California may also require a business have workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and sometimes, disability insurance.

Small Business Administration - Register your business to make it a distinct legal entity.
 

mrca

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The Palace of the Legion of Honor court yard with pillars and front of the building are classic location. Less than 150 feet from there is a view of the Golden Gate bridge.
 

tirediron

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...: where do you go when you do your natural light portrait sessions? And (expanding a little now) how do you handle the permit?
Given that the fundamental building blocks of photography are the use and control of light, WHY would you limit yourself to a single light over which you have virtually no control? Brining in a couple of lights will make life much, much easier and allow you to be much more creative as far as your location and posing!

...:If you - as someone suggests - pass on the cost ($100) to the client, may I ask what percentage of your fee that is? It might be trivial to seasoned photographers, but I am finding it difficult to fit this in, when I see posts from photo sessions at the beach, in the park, for $200 or less...
That isn't a portion of the fee. Your session fee is whatever it is. The permit fee is a separate line item and billed at cost (no mark-up) directly to the client. If he/she doesn't want to pay that fee then (1) choose an alternate location; or (2) choose an alternate client.

In addition to making your creative work a lot easier bringing lighting and related grip gear to a shoot actually helps justify charging more. If you roll on a shoot with nothing more than your camera & lens and maybe a reflector, clients are going to look at you and think "What am I paying for; I could get my friend with his camera to do this...", where as you set up a couple of lights, some modifiers, etc, it gives the client the impression that this is a professional shoot conducted by someone who knows a little more than the average bear... food for thought!
 
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mrca

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It has been a dozen years, but the Legion of honor doesn't allow modifiers at least in the courtyard. I wanted the detail of the dress but soft light on the face and she was WEARING a diffuser so waited till the wind blew it over her face to diffuse the light there but still hard on the dress. A found modifier. There is beautiful directional light inside the pillars and they can be used to subtract if shooting outside them.
 

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SalvoVentura

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In addition to making your creative work a lot easier bringing lighting and related grip gear to a shoot actually helps justify charging more. If you roll on a shoot with nothing more than your camera & lens and maybe a reflector, clients are going to look at you and think "What am I paying for; I could get my friend with his camera to do this...", where as you set up a couple of lights, some modifiers, etc, it gives the client the impression that this is a professional shoot conducted by someone who knows a little more than the average bear... food for thought!

That is definitely a good selling point I had not considered. Thanks for bringing it up.
 
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SalvoVentura

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The logistics of booking a permit which might take 10 days to be approved, is something that I probably need to learn dealing with.

After some more research, I found that the Santa Clara County Park administration does sell an annual commercial pass for $250, which allows photographers to shoot commercially within a (long) list of County Parks. Portable gear is allowed, and groups up to 9 or 10 people (including photographer). The daily permit is $50.

This (partially) answers my initial post, because for a flat annual fee you don't have to be chasing a new permit at every turn. At least for this particular County Park.
 

Christie Photo

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I work in a much less urban area. LOTS of "photographers" use the city parks (no permit required), but I don't like the company. Too, these places are often well groomed with lower branches removed and grass mowed close to the ground. So I've scouted out a couple of areas (one private that I use with permission) that I can count on working for me.

Keith pointed out lighting is KEY. Typically, the north edge of any wooded site is good, especially if it's good and deep. Also important to me is ease of accessibility. I won't ask clients to walk long distances, climb over fences or park along a roadway. I always carry insect repellent.

Have fun!
-Pete
 

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