Portland Japanese Garden’s Photography Policy

With a forecast in the mid-70s for yesterday, our family wanted to do something in the Portland area outside to enjoy the weather, and naturally I wanted to involve photography. My wife suggested the Portland Japanese Garden, which I’d only been to once (several years prior) and hadn’t taken photos. We looked at their website to get directions and information, and discovered they have a very restrictive photography policy.

In short, there’s a $150/year fee to take any photos which will potentially be used for any sort of commercial effort. If you don’t pay the fee, you have to sign a policy that you will never sell any of the images you take. If you’re like me and shoot stuff and then work on possibly marketing it at a later point, you’re pretty much screwed unless you pay the $150. They don’t allow any portrait photography under any circumstances. If you’re only shooting for personal, non-commercial use and don’t pay the $150 fee, there’s a $2 tripod fee. Everyone who takes photos (with the fee or not) is required to allow their marketing department to use the photos for promotional purposes.

Yes, they’re a private entity and are free to set their own rules. However when the rules are so restrictive that it prevents folks from an enjoyable experience, that’s a loss for the Gardens and a loss for photographers. Based on their restrictive rules, we chose to go elsewhere this weekend.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Yes, they charge the $150 fee for commercial photographers and it makes a lot of sense because of the expense for them to maintain the grounds. It’s a one-of-a-kind location and demands a payment. As photographers we also charge a session fee for our skill, same issue, you get what you pay for.

  2. Daniel, you’re right, they can do as they wish… my objection was not that they charge a fee, but rather that the rules are very restrictive for them charging such a fee.

  3. WOW. I didn’t know, and am quite surprised, that they can tell you what “rights” you have to your own material. I would agree that they can say yes or no to photography on their premises, but can they lawfully tell you what you can and can’t do with your photos? Afterall, that is YOUR image. They have no proprietary (did I spell that right?) ownership of your image.

    This must be a recent development. I shot photos from the gardens a number of years ago, with no hassle, no waiver, no membership. When did this change?

  4. I’ve been thinking more about this restriction/fee and there’s a few good reasons for this:

    1. The Garden does not want to be over-filled with photographers burning through jobs, especially portrait jobs with all the attendant people. It ruins the experience for non-photographic visitors.
    2. The Garden should capture the value of the Garden’s work, especially when someone intends to portray it commercially.
    3. The essence of a Japanese or Chinese garden is harmony with nature, a view of the progress of seasons, and enjoyment of the unfolding view as one wanders from place to place within the garden. A mass of commercial photographers interferes with the essence of teh Garden.

    What the Garden should think about is the balance between their goals and the goals of commercial photography.

    The tripod fee is ridiculous, no one carries a tripod unless they really value the time they spend on photography. The $2 made is not enough of a bother for someone interested in a good photo or on a commercial shoot. Charge $5 or nothing.

    The $150 fee makes sense, but they can use that fee to direct the times when they need visitors. Charge $150 or even more for commercial use during prime visitors’ hours. Charge a much lower rate during off hours, maybe $50, just to capture additional payment during traditionally slow periods.

    Configure and assign special photo days and hours. Photo days could have an advanced fee, something like $20-$40, and promoted to photographers–and obviously days when more casual visitors will avoid. Time these special photo days for specifically good Garden viewing days, this will build audience and separate the special interest groups. The Garden could even promote photo seminars, etc. Special hours could work with photographers because no one wants the flat lighting of midday and will go for dawn or dusk (preferably the building light of dawn). This could all add to the broader use of the Garden, especially on low-contrast days when photographers can more easily control the contrast.

    Run a yearly or half-yearly photo contest. This gets people into the Garden on a regular basis and builds a catalog of photos promoting the Garden to non-photographers.

    Maybe I need to contact their marketing department….maybe they need a marketing department.

  5. Excellent thoughts Mike. If you end up running your ideas past someone at the gardens I’m curious to hear what they say…

  6. Actually Portland Japanese Garden is a fairly enlightened garden. They use the photo-member fees to support special access, events, and exhibitions for photo members.

    You may not realize it, but the Chinese Garden in Portland asserts blanket copyright to every photo taken in their garden. (It’s in the membership material and policy statements.) Even the photos currently in Wikipedia are technically violations of their policy. The folks at PCCG are almost within their rights to do this, since that garden was constructed after 1990. As such it is unquestionably a copyrighted work of construction/art. Of course copyright is not quite THAT contagious. Every professional photographer knows that a photo in which a statue appears is not automatically copyright by the creator of the statue, although publication does technically require a release from the copyright-holders of all statues or other works of art appearing in the photograph.

    Of course it’s crazy to get caught up in arguing the legalities. Especially considering the problems the Chinese Garden has had achieving its traffic targets, they ought to be PAYING people to take photos and post them everywhere on the Internet. (That’s only half serious, because then it would be work for hire and they would definitively own the copyright.) There was seriously sclerotic thinking behind the original photo policy and I hope it is finally changing. What were they afraid of — that people might actually discover they have something interesting in there and go visit? That they might become victims of more good publicity and traffic than they could ever afford to buy? That some tea company would put that particular teahouse on millions of boxes of tea? (And that would hurt the Garden exactly how, again?)

    Plus it takes a signed contract to validly transfer a copyright from the creator of the work to them, which they ought to have known. At most, they should have gone with the traditional property-release method of controlling publication. But really, the smart thing would be to encourage every visitor to self-publish photos of their visit and every professional photographer they could lasso to publish a coffee table book. I’ve found that for many small gardens and estates, some with more acreage than either of these undeniably exquisite gardens, the people I negotiate with for publication rights say that Internet word-of-mouth is their first or second most important source of visitors these days.

    The Chinese Garden has two new directors now, and I hope this will lead (maybe has already led?) to more intelligent and productive publication policies. Their old one was like sealing a butterfly in an opaque and air-tight bottle so nobody would steal unauthorized glimpses of its beauty.

    Back to the Japanese Garden, I’m surprised you haven’t run into this before. Yes, more and more gardens today do actively encourage publication, especially with circulation collapsing for the monthly and weekly media that used to bring them more visitors. But if you’ve been publishing stuff from admission-fee gardens without property releases, you’re _awfully_ damned lucky someone hasn’t tried to haul you into court for a big percentage of your revenue from it. Maybe over 100%. And at that point, whether you are right or wrong, whether you win or lose — you lose. A lot of money in legal fees, if nothing else. And a lot of gray hair.

  7. Mike, they already do the stuff you suggest. That’s what the photo-member fees were created for.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Alden. Needless to say, I did not run over to the Japanese Garden and check out their policies nor interview them on their use of fees. I was just free-associating marketing thoughts on the issue. Glad to see they already do the things I thought up.

      Another thought, we do have a huge and incredibly beautiful variety of natural areas to photograph around Portland. Forest Park has some great spots, as well as the coast, the gorge and the area around Mt Hood. And it’s all free to photograph and do whatever you wish with the photos, we all own it as public property.

  8. This thread was already old the first time I replied to it, and now it’s a year older.

    But for the record, there is recent good news about what has now changed its name to the Lan Su Chinese Garden at http://www.lansugarden.org and at 3rd and Everett in Portland, OR.

    While renewing my membership tonight, I noticed that Lan Su have now adopted the “Photographer Member” paradigm and the same $150 annual photography membership fee as the Portland Japanese Garden. I had been putting off contacting them to talk about publication, precisely in the hope they would go this route. My faith in the positive power of procrastination has been vindicated.

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