Updated: Dec 31, 2019
If you're a photographer in the Washington DC metro area, or planning a trip there, you've more than likely asked this question several times when looking for locations.
Shooting in DC and it's neighborhoods can be tricky, due to the most of the public space being owned by the NPS. From there you can't always find a clear answer on where a permit is need or not, what type you need, how much it costs, or how to apply.
In general, you can safely assume that most places in DC say they require a permit (along with a fee). These fees can be quite hefty, which in turn raises your overhead and causes you to increase prices. But, the fines/penalties for shooting without a permit (some can be upwards of $2,000) can be even worse. Don't forget...as there is not a great system for applying for permits, this can take several weeks to get one approved, so plan accordingly and allow enough time for processing.
Here is some information I've been able to gather on some of the more popular photography session locations.
Disclaimer: Please do not take what is listed here as 100% accurate. This is information I've found online, accurate to the best of my knowledge, and should be used for resource purposes only. Some requirements may have changed and there may be other circumstances to consider. Clients and photographers check with the appropriate agencies for additional information on your preferred locations in advance.
So many great places to shoot! This includes the National Mall, unique neighborhoods, and many great downtown areas and buildings. But, most land in The District is owned/managed by the National Park Service (NPS), the Federal Government, or a number of other government agencies (including law enforcement). What's left is typically privately or corporately owned. If you're interested in filming, you'll have to go through the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment.
George Washington Memorial Parkway - A filming and photography permit is required for all activities that involve the use of professional casts, settings, or crews by any person other than news television personnel. A permit is also required for the taking of photographs for the purpose of commercial advertising
There is a $90 nonrefundable application fee for filming and photography permits. Approved permittees must pay an additional fee that is based on the number of crew and cast members for approved permits. Applications must be received at least four business days before filming or photography begins.
Fees for Filming $150 for 3-10 people $250 for 11-30 people $500 for 31-49 people $750 for more than 50 people
Fees for Photography $50 for 1-10 people $150 for 11-30 people $250 for more than 30
Permit Application (long form) - The long form is only necessary for an activity involving a complex sets, a large amount of equipment, a long timeline, or a large number of people.
Contact Franice Sewell at 703-289-2513 if you have any questions.
From the WMATA site: Filming is permitted at most Metrorail stations. For safety and privacy reasons, under no circumstances is filming/photography allowed on board in-service buses or railcars. It is important to remember that Metro's primary role is to move people and that our customers come first. We will work with you to determine a time when the impact on the public is minimal. To discuss your particular needs, please contact Cynthia Jachles in Metro's Office of Real Estate and Station Planning at 202-962-1586 or email@example.com. You can also apply for your permit online.
National Mall and Parks
The National Mall is the premier destination for photographers wanting to capture the iconic monuments in the background. As noted above, all of these monuments and land are managed by the NPS and they do require a permit and fee. You may be able to get by with a few quick shots without being noticed or if there's a guard that doesn't care, but keep in mind whether or not the risk is worth it. (Also, as is the case with the majority of monuments in DC, equipment such as tripods, light-stands, etc., cannot be placed on the marble. You'll have to handhold...and even then there may be other restrictions).
Your best bet is to always check with the National Park Service about permits, fees, and restrictions. Here are several key notes for The National Mall:
Lincoln Memorial: Photography and filming of any kind is strictly prohibited above the top marble steps and the interior chamber. You may be able to apply for a special requirements permit.Jefferson Memorial: Photography and filming of any kind is prohibited within the columns and inside the memorial. For weddings, the West Lawn allows for 2 hour time limit.
Washington Monument: Photography and filming of any kind is prohibited within the circle of flags surrounding the base.
Three Servicemen Statue: The Three Servicemen Statue, is a joint copyrighted piece of VVMF and the estate of Frederick Hart, and cannot be filmed or photographed for commercial purposes without a permit.
Korean War Memorial: Due to copyright restrictions, filming within the Korean War Memorial must be done with handheld. Equipment set-up of any kind is prohibited. Any footage must credit the Memorial’s artist.
FDR Memorial: Due to copyright restrictions, commercial filming/photography is prohibited within the FDR Memorial.
National Portrait Gallery - Photography is allowed at the National Portrait Gallery unless otherwise noted. Hand-held photos with a flash can be taken in the museum’s galleries and the Great Hall. Please be mindful that the spaces are open to the public, therefore visitors should not stage any photographs that impede others’ enjoyment of the spaces. The only place where visitors may use tripods is in the Kogod Courtyard. Standing and hand-held lights are not permitted in the building. Commercial photography requests should be sent to the Department of Communications at (202) 633-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The use of drones and other unmanned aerial devices or systems is prohibited on the property and grounds of the Gallery.
Rock Creek Park - Commercial filming of motion pictures or television involving the use of professional casts, settings or crews, other than bona fide newsreel or news television requires a permit, apply at the NCR Park Programs Office, 202-245-4715. Application and location fees apply. Still photography of vehicles, or other articles of commerce or models for the purpose of commercial advertising requires a permit, apply at the NCR Park Programs Office, 202-245-4715. Application and location fees apply.
Smithsonian Museums - Filming permit information can be found here.
Union Station - Photography is welcome in the public areas of Union Station. However, the use of camera tripods and/or photography associated with the press or news media requires prior written approval from the Union Station Management Office.
Arlington County - In county parks there is no permit required for family photography. For weddings, this permit is required for Weddings.
Couples must apply for a wedding ceremony or photographs by submitting a Field Request and a cashier’s or bank check payable to the Town of Arlington at least 10 business days prior to the event.
Town of Arlington Residents $ 50.00Non-Arlington Residents $100.00Application fees are non-refundable.
Alexandria - County Parks do not require a permit fee for photography.
Fairfax County - All photographers conducting business on Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit. The permit is good for one year from the date of purchase. The $25 permit can be purchased online by credit card. Get your permit here.
I hope this helps. I'll try to update with more locations and information in the future. Again, this is for resource purposes. Please verify updated policies at your chosen location.