Alicyn Drew Photography | Fairfax County Parks photographer fee

Fairfax County Parks photographer fee

January 21, 2015  •  5 Comments

For those that aren't aware Fairfax county has a professional photography fee to shoot in their parks. The fee is $100 for 2 hours or $500 for the year and requires a permit 5 days in advance. Last year they made $3,100 from the fee. I only recently heard about this but as soon as I did I I felt it was important to go to the county meeting to show my support of a proposal to eliminate the fee for groups of 11 or less. While I didn't speak at the meeting, the room was packed and there were a lot of speakers. There were probably 50 of us in the room and about half spoke. The speakers weren't just photographers, there were clients and also one parks department employee who had some great ideas.

Their points were valid and really supported the reasoning behind the petition to remove the fees. The average photographer in this area charges around $300 for a family portrait session, to add $100 to that fee is a huge burden and expense. To pass the fee on to the customer means that the Fairfax county residents are paying to have their pictures taken in the park that they already pay taxes to support. The photographer can't afford to absorb this kind of fee. Photographers are already paying state sales tax on their shoots and we pay county fees just to be in business. We aren't using the parks for free, we are paying our fair share.

Another point is that we aren't the only business that uses the park, yet we're the ones being hit with the highest fees. Professional dog walkers are the number one business using the parks and they are free. There are for profit play groups, exercise groups and tour groups that all come through for free. While at the meeting I was handed a document of proposed fee adjustments. On page 22 there was a proposal to start charging a fee For profit/ commercial groups. The proposed fee for them is $3 per person for groups of 12 or more. Is it fair that they pay such a nominal fee, but I would be charged $100 for myself and 2 or 3 other people?

What really came out of the meeting was that the ruling is driving photographers away from the parks or forcing some to use the park anyway and not pay. In almost all cases when a client is told that to shoot at a park will  add $100 to the fee, they're going to ask to find another option. Meadowlark Gardens which is a privately funded park charges $25 for portrait sessions. Fairfax county has beautiful parks that are meant to be enjoyed, yet they are driving the very people that want to enjoy them away with a fee that causes an extreme burden on a small set of very small businesses. In addition it's unclear if a professional photographer can even feel comfortable going to a park to shoot personally knowing that park staff may be asking for the permit. Professional landscape and fine art photographers are shooting there at all kinds of impromptu times and can't afford the fee or permit time when they're chasing the weather or a type of bird shows up.

The last point made was that Fairfax county staff is unable to handle the permit process. Many photographers spoke of not being able to get their permits quickly enough and that 5 days is entirely too long for something that is usually spontaneous  and dependent on the weather.

I live very near Green Springs Gardens and I love the park, but I can't afford to shoot their professionally with this fee. The images below are a few of the images I have shot in the park. They show my love, appreciation and enjoyment of the park. I think the beauty of the park allowed me to create lovely memories and images. I really hope that the board will listen and consider the statements made by the residents and photographers of Fairfax county and decide on a more reasonable solution that allows all residents to continue to enjoy the park.

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Sherri Wilson(non-registered)
I'm with you! Free the parks for the photos! Power to the people!

Great post. I'm glad you shared, I had no idea photographers had to pay such outlandish fees. It's terribly unfair!
Well stated, Alicyn! As an out-of-stater, taxes are not the first (or last) thing I think of when I see those beautiful commercials inviting me to Virginia and I'm getting my camera bag ready to go there. What do they hope to accomplish? Is the County in need of funds? Glad there was a good showing; please let us know the result and thanks for keeping us in the loop.
Those fees are ridiculous. I thought my taxes went to support my use of the park? There shouldn't be an additional fee if I want to have my family's portrait professionally taken, especially if I am supporting local businesses.
Good to know Ali! Thanks for taking up the cause for photographers. I'm thinking that many don't realize there's a fee and it would be a HUGE shock and inconvenience if they were approached. As you stated, our taxes pay for the upkeep of these parks any many of my photographer friends have "highlighted" parks in their pictures that some may not have even known existed, therefore bringing others to the parks. Isn't that the goal?
Mike Lennett(non-registered)
That about sums it up Alicyn. Considering they only took in $3100 over the past year, obviously photographers are either not paying, choosing to avoid using Fairfax parks, and/or going elsewhere.
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