SCHENECTADY — The head of Central Park’s Rose Garden Restoration Committee said he’s read the string of criticism on social media about the new yearly $75 fee for professional photographers to use the garden.
But Matt Cuevas, garden restoration committee president, said it was a needed control measure.
As the busy season for professional outdoor photo ops begins in May or thereabouts, the volunteer committee that maintains the public garden said it hopes the recently enacted permit fee – and a code of conduct – for professional photo shoots calms traffic at the well-used venue.
The restoration committee requested the City Council adopt the legislation, and according to the city’s Department of General Services, two professional photographers have applied and been issued permits so far.
Charging professional photographers for use of a public venue was criticized as “ridiculous,” “sad,” and “disgusting,” by commenters on the 14,000-member Straight Outta Schenectady Facebook page.
Interest in the public garden by professional photographers has increased the past three years, said Cuevas, who estimated 90 percent of professional photographers are respectful of other users.
The other 10 percent, he said, are territorial of the public space.
Cuevas said volunteers have actually observed photographers shoo people out of their potential shots, when the general public, at no fee, has as much right to use the garden.
Cuevas noted all proceeds will help the restoration committee offset some of its cost of maintaining the park.
“The only thing that the city supplies us with is water, electricity, and they remove the trash and debris from the garden,” Cuevas said. “Otherwise, everything that you see in that rose garden is maintained by the nonprofit organization. If we didn’t exist, that garden doesn’t exist.”
The code of conduct, meanwhile, limits the amount of props and equipment professional photographers can bring. Props obstruct the public’s right to use the garden, Cuevas suggested.
Cuevas noted that at venues such as the Conservatory Garden in Central Park in Manhattan, “you cannot just bring in equipment to do a professional photo shoot there without getting a permit.”
“Certainly, if you were to go to any private gardens, like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, or the New York Botanical Gardens, or even if you were to go out to the Berkshire Botanical Garden (in Massachusetts) to utilize their gardens for profit, you pay a photo fee,” he said.
A permit-holding photographer would not have first right of refusal over a hobbyist, Cuevas said.
“That’s explained in the resolution that the city put out,” he said.
But Cuevas acknowledged that it will be “a bit harder” for the committee to distinguish between a professional photographer and a hobbyist.
The former, he said, usually shows up with multiple cameras, and sometimes a ladder, props and changing rooms.
“It gets to a point where, yeah, there could be those small-time photographers that are in and out of the garden, taking a few pictures” and who might avoid the annual fee, Cuevas said.
“But there are professional photographers who are advertising use of the rose garden on their websites,” Cuevas said.
“You see on their websites where they’re scheduling sessions throughout the day, where they’ll set up Saturday or Sunday, half-hour sessions for the whole day.”
The committee hopes to root out that type of extreme abuse, he said.
Kristen Bordonaro, owner of Sophia Sabella Photography, said she she hopes the fee will control the flow of photographers at the rose garden.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Bordonaro said the rose garden was inundated with photographers because other venues were closed.
“I feel like having to have a permit might be a good thing to alleviate some of that,” she said. “Although I am curious. I didn’t ask when I called (to request a permit). How they are going to regulate that?
“I plan to keep my permit in my camera bag when I’m on site,” she said. “But are they going to have people asking? If I have to pay to get a permit, which I agree with – I think it’s fine and it’s fair – I just want to make sure that that everybody else there has to have one, too.”
Dexter Davis of Dexter Davis Photography and Films of Scotia said he doesn’t like the annual fee, and would understand it more if it involved official scheduling by the city.
But he said he will pay it.
“I don’t think I have a choice,” he said, “because it’s hard to go a year without shooting there. It’s a very, very popular location, and we get really great photos there, and couples like using that park.”
Nikki Gregory of Nicole April Photography of the Guilderland area, said the fee is reasonable.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into keeping the rose garden as beautiful as it is,” she said. “There are a lot of photographers that use that space so having that as a way to limit the number of people that are there, is beneficial for me.”
Gregory started her business last year amid the pandemic.
”One of the times I shot there,” Gregory said, “there were four other photographers. We’re on a limited timeframe with our clients, and then we have to wait until somebody else gets done with a particular area and then we go over with our clients. That kind of lengthens our time and essentially limits the number of photos our clients get.”