Shooting With a Tripod in DC

Jeff and his trust tripod

Photo by Geoff Greene

As you might have seen on my post yesterday, we ran into what is typically becoming an issue in most cities these days, the dreaded tripod security squads.  The truth is that shooting in DC has always had it’s challenges because most of the locations where people want to shoot are located on National Park Service property.  One reader who is coming to DC soon asked me if I had any advice for navigating the bureaucracy.  So here is the scoop for all of you shooters that will be lugging your tripods to the Nation’s Capitol.

In general, the rule about tripods is this, if you are shooting on National Park grounds and want to use a tripod, you must obtain a permit.  As most all of the monuments are part of the National Park System, the rules typically apply.  As I have read the rule on the NPS site, the permit is for commercial purposes but experience tells me that you are better off just getting the permit instead of arguing your point with a Park Policeman.  A permit is free for 1-2 photographers.  Check out this site for information on how to obtain one.

NPS Permit Guide

This permit does not apply to the U.S. Capitol.  Here is what their rules state:

Filming and Photography:  The use of camera equipment to film or photograph on Capitol Grounds is
permitted, provided the photographs or film are for private or other non-commercial use.  Non-commercial
documentary or historical filming is permitted on a case-by-case basis.  The use of tripods or other film or
photography enhancement equipment requires special permission, and is limited to grassy areas where pedestrian or vehicular traffic will not be impeded.

To apply for a permit, read this document:
U.S. Capitol Police Permit Guide and Application

I have been told by the Park Police that a permit is not required for shooting from public/city sidewalks but I don’t have any official word on this.  Basically just remember to be polite, plead ignorance, and try and shhot from an area where you won’t be impeding the flow of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.  Chances are, you’ll get you shot.

And if you are thinking of hooting in DC’s Union Station, check out this news story on Fox of a reporter getting hassled while interviewing an Amtrak official….the interview was about photographers getting hassled.  It’s classic!  Click here for the video.


  1. good to have this link, I have actually never had (knock on wood) an experience with tripods, I have only used them at night and low crowds, but the wise choice is to get the permit the next time I do a night shoot with the monuments.

    Mr Myer, look forward to your presence on the next walk – I will stop by 7’11 and get one of those fruit pies we had when we were kids if that helps, = )

  2. BTW D70 with remote — That has to be the best part of the D70, and the one reason I have hesitated to conversion to IR, I use it in a pinch for the yearly family pic.

  3. mike meyer says:

    Dude, a blueberry or lemon pie would be awesome. I like the one’s without the frosting, is that Hostess?
    Looks like Georgetown was fun. Next time a security guard tells someone they can’t use a tripod for a group shot, hand the camera to the guard and let him be the tripod.

    mike meyer

  4. Lemon Hostess,, m m good – and you would not need a remote trigger

  5. I am organizing a FORT LAUDERDALE (Florida) PHOTOWALK.
    Do you know if I need a permit for that? Did you need one for your Photowalk?
    Paulo Jordao

  6. Hey Jeff check out my ”Tripod” post on my blog its at

  7. Great post! Thanks for these tips, Jeff. I’ll keep this in mind, for the Washington DC Photowalk I’m planning.

  8. Thanks for posting this information, and double thanks for actually adding the links to where we could get these permits!

    A note:
    I just called the NPS at the National Mall and informed them that I was planning to do some shots with models and light, but not for profit. I told them that they were going to be used for personal promotion. The man on the phone wasn’t too pleasant but said,’You don’t need one.’ When I asked him what about if I get a Park Police officer telling me otherwise he said, ‘Call this number then.’
    On the other hand the lady at the Capitol was much nicer and did advise me to get the permit.

  9. Thanks for the update Cristiano. I don’t see why the Park Service should be any different from the rest of our government agencies. I think it all depends on who you talk to but since the information I posted was from their own publication, I would guess that this person doesn’t know what they are talking about. Hopefully they would be the ones answering the phone when the Park Police call.

  10. Boy. I’ve lived in the DC Metro area since I was 9 and only just discovered the stupid tripod rule recently. I was simply trying to shoot these pictures, One at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, and the other at the Lincoln Memorial. The DO shoot was scotched and redone at the National Cathedral. Neither shoot was ‘commercial’ no revenue was earned etc- but as you know, it;s hard to prove. I did some homework and now know what the tripods are a big deal. Originally, I thought that it was to protect revenue for pro shooters. It’s not. It’s because they’re afraid of tripod fired rockets hitting the monuments. Imagine!
    Anyway, they haven’t barred MONOPODS have they? or Baby strollers. So you can clamp your camera to a baby stroller and roll your gear in style 😉 (got shooed off just after the last shot- woo hoo!) This is the remake after the cancelled Dumbarton Oaks shoot.

  11. I was just in D.C. about an hour ago shooting at the World War II Memorial. I took a tripod with me and shot with it (being it was night of course). A Park Ranger walked by me approximately three times, never said a work nor looked at me implying that I shouldn’t be doing what I was.

    Perhaps they just bother you when there are massive amounts of people (tourist seasons), not sure, but I wasn’t bothered tonight.

  12. Probably the lowest threat of being bothered is Fall/Winter after dark. You probably can’t walk right into the middle of the Jefferson and set up a tripod but you could probably work around the memorial without any problems. Same for the Lincoln. It’s all about timing and who’s on patrol that evening.

  13. I live 20 miles from DC, and the only places where I’ve been told not to use a tripod are:
    Lincoln Memorial: top where the marble floor is. As of Sep 97 the rule was: tripods outside of the columns, I don’t know when it became more strict.
    Capitol Building: you can set it on the sidewalk.
    Vietnam Memorial: not tripods
    WWII: I’ve been all over with a tripod/

    I have probably gone 20 times with no problems. Of course, be polite, ask before, don’t obstruct (I go really early or late when there’s no people).

    I asked security at Lincoln and Capitol, and they told me that a 6″ tripod is fine…

    FYI – I’m not a US Citizen, and of course I don’t look like one.

  14. We visited DC this past weekend (9/19/09) and were told of the ‘no tripod’ rule at the
    Washington Monument and at the FDR Memorial.

  15. I’m heading to DC in March so this really helped me in figuring out what to bring. Thanks Jeff!

  16. I was in DC very late (around midnight) on 4/1/2010 and again on 4/4/2010. I used a tripod freely around the monuments. I was able to use a tripod on the front (north) side of the White House, but I was asked to do so from the opposite side of the street, rather than directly against the fence. The Secret Service people were keeping an eye on things, for sure. But they were friendly and I was able to get some nice photos at an unusual hour.

  17. I worked in television news and am familiar with the tripod permit for DC. I’m retired and I’m a Vietnam Veteran and I want to do some long exposures at night at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I suspect a permit is needed at this location if using a tripod and I guess I need to contact the Park Service (unless anyone knows otherwise…)

    I hope to be in DC around October 26-29th, 2010.

    Thanks in advance if anyone can steer me in the right direction.

    • While you might technically need a permit, the park service doesn’t really bother photographers at night. It’s usually only in daylight hours that they seem to enforce the restrictions. Probably to keep the monuments clear of tripods, which can be a hazard to other pedestrians.


  1. […] go toe-to-toe with a security guard any day. A real cop though, no thanks. So, head over to Jeff’s article about getting a free permit for using a tripod in the National Park, and another one for using it […]

  2. […] Since it will be an evening photowalk, you might want to bring your tripod. I, personally, have never had any problem using a tripod to shoot anything near the Mall or Reflecting Pool, you might want to read Jeff Revell’s site on shooting with a tripod in DC. […]

  3. […] go toe-to-toe with a security guard any day. A real cop though, no thanks. So, head over to Jeff’s article about getting a free permit for using a tripod in the National Park, and another one for using it […]

  4. La chasse aux trépieds va-t-elle s'ouvrir ?

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