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No More Light Painting Inside National Parks?


Buried within the 2016 Superintendent’s Compendium for Grand Tetons National Park & John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway is a small, pesky provision that disallows the use of strobes or other artificial light from dusk til dawn.

§2.2(e) of the 2016 Superintendent’s Compendium states:

Viewing of wildlife with any type of artificial lighting is in the park and the parkway. This prohibition conforms to Wyoming State Law (W.S. 23-3-06).

The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife.

WY Statute § 23-3-306 in turn reads:

No person shall take any wildlife with the aid of or by using any artificial light or lighting device…

Neither statute refers specifically to photography, but multiple photography tour operators have confirmed enforcement, as it pertains to photography (both commercial and personal), is on the rise without explanation. The rule has been specifically referred to both in public meetings and in the application process for a CUA (Commercial Use Authorization), and would disallow the creation of light painting photos – a mainstay of after dark photo tourism.

The light is pretty good in Grand Teton National Park without strobes. Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Chris Steppig, Vice President of Business and Education at Clarkson Creative, has been managing multiple workshops for the Summit Photography Workshops within the park for several years [Disclosure: I serve as faculty for the Nature Workshop]. “The Park Service has been talking about this for some time, but now they’ve begun enforcement. We are CUA permit holders, but still subject to these rules.”

In Utah, notable nightscape photographer Royce Blair pointed to more specific prohibitions for Hovenweep National Monument & Natural Bridges National Monument. The still photography instructions on Form 10-114 specifically disallow light painting in section 16.

16. Light painting – Light painting activities are not authorized under this authorization. Light painting, or light drawing, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera, or by moving the camera itself during exposure.

Concessions Management Specialist Michael Hill explained to Blair via email:

Managing the parks here are complex, and have ever-changing issues to manage. If you have followed the news you would understand the explosive use of this area has changed a lot in and out side of the parks here. Technology as well has impacted how we manage the parks…Regarding light painting in Arches National Park. We have determined that as not a desired activity in the park when, we have visitors (not photographers) complain about it, and some of those visitors just leave the park as they don’t know what is going on.

Social media has certainly had an effect on popularizing specific areas of the National Parks system. Numerous incidents of rule-breaking captured on camera has undoubtedly contributed to the current climate.

But Hill makes a valid point saying, “Regarding night photography instruction, you don’t need Arches to teach night photography. Teaching night photography can be accomplished in many areas outside of the National Parks here.” This addresses the pedagogical issue, but obviously not that of an individual seeking to make a personal photo.

Specific rules regarding night photography and the use of artificial light seem to be handled by each park superintendent, but a trend is certainly emerging. A surge in visitors combined with misbehavior caught in photos and video will undoubtedly lead to more restrictions.

In the meantime, enjoy this Ryan McGinley photo of Brad Pitt because it might not be allowed any more.


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About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.