Monday, July 23, 2007

Save our nature photographers

Bruce Yolton's website focuses on urban wildlife and hawks in particular. I often get letters from readers thanking me for directing them to this site.

I am reprinting below a post that appeared on Bruce's blog two days ago, describing a threat to his future as a Central Park photographer. I hope that many of you will send protest letters to help ensure that Bruce's valuable service to nature lovers can continue.

[By the way, Bruce's is not the only Central Park nature site threatened by these new regulations. Other popular blogs and sites are similarly under the gun. And even though I'm not a nature photographer, I often USE the photos of these other photographers
that they generously allow me to reprint. This blog would be impoverished if these photographers were kept from taking their wonderful pictures.]


This Site At Risk - July 21, 2007

The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting has proposed strict permit rules for photographers in the city. The proposed changes are a new Chapter 9, amending Title 43 of the Rules of the City of New York. Under the new rules, any group of two or more people using a hand held camera (still or video) for more than 30 minutes at a single location (Section 9-01 (b)(1)(ii)) or any group of five or more people using a single tripod for more than ten minutes (Section 9-01 (b)(1)(iii)) would have to obtain a permit and present proof of $1,000,000 of insurance.

These new regulations would severely limit my ability to photograph birds in NYC. Since I generally photograph with other birders and use a tripod, I would be subject to the ten minute limit. Given that the city wouldn't allow me to apply for a general yearly permit, but require me to apply for a permit for each location/time, if I didn't want to break the law, I would have to stop my nature photography in the city.

I encourage readers of this site to protest the proposed regulations by writing or emailing Julianne Cho, the Assistant Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. The contact info is:

Julianne Cho
Assistant Commissioner
Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

The comment period is open until Friday August 3. If you write an email, please copy Chris Dunn, at the NY Affiliate of the ACLU office. If you're a NYC resident, you might want to copy your City Council Member.

For more information, see the NYCLU website.

This is the letter I wrote...

Julianne Cho
Assistant Commissioner
Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Julianne Cho,

I would like to comment on and strongly object to the proposed changed to the NYC Film Permit Rules.

I study and photograph raptors in New York City, specializing in Red-tailed Hawks. My blog,, attracts thousands of visitors a month, and indirectly supports tourism in NYC. To practice my hobby, I must use an expensive, large Canon 500mm lens and a tripod. To any police officer, I look like a professional photographer, even though I am an amateur.

When there is a rare bird sighting it is common for a group of four to ten birders to observe the bird. These sightings happen anytime and anywhere in the city, although usually in a city park. If I joined a small group of bird watchers, I would only be able to photograph a bird for less than ten minutes under the proposed regulation changes. I usually spend two to three hours just to get a few glimpses of some birds, so the ten minute limit is unacceptably small.

The regulations would not allow me to pre-apply for a yearly permit. Due to the random nature of birding photography, the bird would be gone before a permit could be issued. Since the regulations, do not allow an amateur photographer to register with the city to get a yearly permit, the regulations would effectively make birding photography for more than ten minutes illegal in the City of New York.

I also find the requirement that a photographer with a tripod need $1,000,00 in insurance to obtain a permit unnecessary. My tripod is less dangerous than a baseball, bike or skateboard, all of which do not require insurance to be used in a city park. Why the bias against photographers? Can you provide any evidence to show that a still photographer with a tripod, is more dangerous than someone playing sports in public?

This season, I photographed eleven Red-tailed Hawk nests. Would I have to apply for a permit for each location? And in the case of a new nest discovery, would I have to wait 24-48 hours?

The new rulings, which I assume are to prevent paparazzi and film crews from disrupting city streets, are too broad and vague. Your regulations should concentrate not on limiting photographer's rights but on protecting public welfare and regulating commercial activity. Require commercial photographers to have insurance and set guidelines for not obstructing city streets or sidewalks. But don't regulate photographers.

Nature photographers aren't a problem in New York City. Be careful not to restrict us. If the proposed regulations are adopted, I would support any litigation against them in the Federal Courts by the ACLU.

Please propose better regulations and save the city from endless litigation!

Thank you,

D. Bruce Yolton