Commercial Filming and Photography

Aerial view of California's Big Sur coastline, featuring waves crashing on rocks.

Commercial filming and photography may take place on Forest Service public lands (National Forests). Like other commercial uses of National Forest System lands or resources, commercial filming and photography requires a Special Use Permit, which is issued by the District Ranger or Forest Supervisor [Authorized Officer] of the relevant forest.

Prior to the issuance of a permit, the Forest Service will determine if there are any environmental concerns in the proposed filming or photo shoot location. The Forest Service may deny permits for practices prohibited on NFS lands. Staff at the California Film Commission’s network of Regional Film Offices may be available to assist users in determining an appropriate location for filming activities or answering any preliminary questions associated with filming on National Forest System lands. Please contact the appropriate Film Commission Regional/County Office Liaison for more information on potential locations.

Commercial filming and photography requests must be submitted to the relevant National Forest office (attn: Special Uses Contact) two weeks in advance of anticipated filming date. In order to expedite a filming request, please be aware of the following considerations:

  • Commercial filming is defined as use of motion picture, videotaping, sound-recording, or any other type of moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, and/or the use of actors, models, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news. For purposes of this definition, creation of a product for sale includes a film, videotape, television broadcast, or documentary of historic events, wildlife, natural events, features, subjects or participants in a sporting or recreation event, and so forth, when created for the purpose of generating income (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).
  • Commercial photography is defined as the use of photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies found on National Forest System lands that: takes place at a location where members of the public are generally not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely; or uses models, sets, or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)).
  • The Forest Service may require liability insurance and/or performance bonds to protect the public interest (FSH 2709.11 2008-2 (CH 40)). Typically, one (1) million dollars in general liability may required. Up to five (5) million may be required for activities that involve the use of a helicopter.
  • Public law 106-206 allows the Forest Service to collect two types of fees for commercial filming or photography activities – a use fee and a “cost recovery” fee.
    • The use fee is based upon: the number of days filming or photography activities take place; the size of the film/photography crew; and/or the amount and type of equipment present.
    • The cost recovery fee covers the administrative and personnel costs associated with issuing the permit.
  • Wilderness areas are congressionally-designated areas on federal lands that are subject to specific management restrictions; human activities are restricted to non-motorized recreation (such as backpacking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, etc.), scientific research, and other non-invasive activities. Wilderness Areas occur on Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) lands, as well as on lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of Interior). A special use permit may only be issued for commercial photography or filming on a US Forest Service Wilderness Area if the activity has a primary objective of disseminating information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness, is wilderness-dependent and an appropriate non-wilderness substitute does not exist, and the activity would not involve the use of any motorized equipment or mechanical transport (see Key Messages of FSH 2701.11-2010-2 (CH 40) for further information).


  • 36 CFR 251.58—Cost Recovery

    According to CFR 251.58, the Forest Service is authorized to assess fees to recover agency processing and monitoring costs for special use authorizations. Cost recovery fees are adjusted on an annual basis and are separate from any fees charged for the use and occupancy of National Forest System Lands.