Photography and Filming
Wood Buffalo National Park
Photography and Filming in Wood Buffalo National Park
Through the Aboriginal Committee for the Cooperative Management of Wood Buffalo National Park, which meets a number of times per year, and bilateral projects and relationships, Parks Canada and local Indigenous partners are working toward a better future, one that better respects and represents the importance of the local Indigenous communities to the park. Filming in the park is an area we are working to build on and strengthen our relationships with our local Indigenous partners. Where projects can link respectfully to the local Indigenous people and their presence in the park and provide potential employment opportunities for their members this will be encouraged.
All photographic, video and film imagery undertakings on a commercial basis (e.g., intending to sell images or sharing images with sponsors) must go through an approval process. Profit and Not-for-Profit ventures must follow this process. Parks Canada reserves the right to determine whether an end product results in personal or corporate gain
As with all protected spaces in Canada, there are regulations established to ensure the longevity of these incredible places for years to come. This also minimizes the impacts on the ecosystems and creatures within the park, as well as visitors and park users.
The information here is intended for:
- involved in commercial filming
- wishing to film in sensitive areas of the park
- performing film projects requiring staff time or park resources
- using specialized equipment, such as drones
- performing projects that will require impact assessments
Film permits are required before undertaking professional commercial filming projects. Mitigating the impacts of large groups or film crews on natural and cultural resources within the area is one of the reasons why film permits are so important. Minimizing disruption on the enjoyment and use by visitors and park users is another factor.
It is illegal to film in a national park for commercial purposes without a film permit.
A film permit is also a requirement for projects proposed to occur in the whooping crane nesting area. Using specialised equipment such as helicopters, drones (UAVs), over-snow vehicles, quads (ATVs) and other off-road vehicles will require a film permit. Similarly, projects that draw on park resources (including staff) or may require impact assessments must be proposed for approval through the film permit process.
Please contact us to learn more about the film permit process, to find out whether you need a business licence or a filming permit, or for any other questions you may have.
Business Licence for Photography/Videography
Hobby photographers or videographers capturing images and footage during their visit to Wood Buffalo National Park, with the intent to sell, require a business licence. Filming and photography covered within this licence must not impede park use and enjoyment by other visitors or damage cultural or natural resources.
A Film Permit is required for photography or filming conducted in the whooping crane nesting habitat. If you anticipate your project will require restricted vehicles (like snowmobiles, ATVs, or personal watercrafts), park resources or impact assessments, please use the Film Permit Application form instead.
It is important to be aware that the use of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) or drones is a restricted activity and requires the permission of the Park Superintendent. Generally, a Transport Canada issued Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) is required to operate a UAV within the park boundaries, in addition to a Parks Canada UAV permit.
With this in mind, film permitting at Wood Buffalo National Park generally follows this process:
- Contact the Park (firstname.lastname@example.org) to determine if you need a film permit
- Complete a detailed proposal for the film project including dates, names, and locations as per the Film Permit guidelines.
- Film proposal is reviewed. You may be asked to participate in teleconference to further detail your project.
- Film proposal undergoes a preliminary screening, including notification of partners/stakeholders that may be impacted.
- Parks provides notification of film permit approval and conditions or its denial.
- You provide proof of insurance, as per the Film Permit guidelines.
- If approved, and fees are paid, the permit documentation is delivered for signature by all parties.
For filming in the Northwest Territories other than in the National Parks of Canada please follow the guidelines provide on the Northwest Territories Tourism and Government of Northwest Territories Websites: http://www.nwtfilm.com and Northwest Territories Tourism: http://media.spectacularnwt.com/media-fam-request
For filming in Alberta, other than in the National Parks of Canada, please follow the guidelines provided on the Government of Alberta, Cultural and Tourism Website;https://albertafilm.ca/ and Travel Alberta: http://media.travelalberta.com/contact/
What works well for filming in the Parks?
- Productions involving minimal equipment and crew size.
- Productions with minimum impact on the environment and visitors, e.g, avoiding locations that are more popular visitor attractions.
- Productions contributing to public awareness, appreciation and understanding of Canada’s national parks and Parks Canada.
- Productions that work with and respectfully incorporate the story of our Indigenous partners in the history and management of the parks.
When’s the best time to plan filming in the Parks?
Wood Buffalo National Park can be a year round filming destination and has hosted film projects in all seasons. It depends on the nature of your project and what you hope to capture. Spring colors are bright and bold as the land awakens from the cold. Summer is generally hot and beautiful with long, long days, but it can be a bit buggy for film crews. Fall is beautiful with the return of the night and a cooling that drops the bug numbers. The golden fall colors can be spectacular in contrast with the red samphire on the white Salt Plains. Winter holds its own wonders with snow laden trees and the enchanting Ice Road through the forest. Wild life can be seen along the roads depending on your patience and their cooperation year round with sightings of wood bison, black bear, lynx, wolves, moose and more. When the night sky returns Wood Buffalo’s status as the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve steps up and you may see and film spectacular starry night skies and, when present, Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) shows that you will not soon forget.
The park is accessible by road year round via the fully chip sealed Highway 5 through Northern Alberta and Hay River to Fort Smith. There is also scheduled air access to Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan through Edmonton and Yellowknife. Once in the communities you can access the park through automobile, hiking, bicycling, paddling, motor boat, skiing, snow shoeing and by charter helicopter. There is also charter float plane access to the communities of Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan. Winter access is provided via the winter Ice Road between Fort Mc Murray, Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith as well as the year round chip sealed Highway 5 from Fort Smith to Hay River and Enterprise with all road accessible points north or south from there.
Please contact Park staff for more information.
Can Parks Canada plan the filming locations for the production?
Parks Canada can help you with filming questions and ideas, but your application should include a detailed list of proposed filming locations and a filming schedule. We understand schedules change and we can try to accommodate changes. Providing specific dates and location information ensures a timely process for you and gives us a better idea of what is possible. We strongly recommend researching and scouting locations before submitting an application.
Would Parks Canada consider waiving some or all of the permit fees for the production??
Fees may be reduced for proposals that assist Parks Canada in meeting its mandate and provide direct benefits to the park. An example of a direct benefit would be sharing of photos / footage for educational use by Parks Canada. Refer to list of fee reductions in the Film Guidelines for more details.
Use of UAVs
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) are increasing in popularity for hobbyists, photographers, and businesses. In national parks, the Canadian Aviation Regulations, and National Parks of Canada Aircraft Access Regulations, prohibit the take-off and landing a drone without a Parks Canada Restricted Activity Permit. Only Field Unit Superintendents may permit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles over Parks Canada property for purposes directly related to protected heritage area administration.
Transport Canada indicates that Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), or “drones,” that weigh 250 grams (g) up to and including 25 kilograms (kg), and are operated within the drone pilot’s visual-line-of-sight, and is used for recreational purposes, you don’t need permission to fly. Why doesn’t Parks Canada apply the same rules?
What is the consequence for a member of the public caught using a drone?
Where can members of the public report the use of drones in Parks Canada places?
Parks Canada owns and operates drones, but the public can’t. Is that fair?
Will Parks Canada permit the use of drones for third-party scientific research?
Will Parks Canada permit the use of drones for commercial filming?
Why do some commercial filming and research permits allow drone usage and some do not get permission to operate a drone? If I can operate a drone in one Parks Canada place, does it apply to all others?
- Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world. A Field Unit Superintendent may authorize limited use for natural and cultural resource management, public safety, law enforcement, or park/site management purposes, including filming for outreach, education and promotional purposes.
- A permit must be sought from each national park or historic site before a drone can be operated because some commercial filming or research may support needs and goals associated with park or site management in one protected place but not in another.
Map of where you can operate a drone in Canada - Drone site selection tool
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