Howard ‘Boots’ McGhee in a photo that was contributed to the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Howard ‘Boots’ McGhee in a photo that was contributed to the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Howard “Boots” McGhee was photographing his family in a California state park when a ranger told him he was breaking the law.

McGhee, it turns out, did not have a permit to take pictures. And a state law requires photographers to obtain permits for commercial photo shoots.

The only problem was, this was far from a commercial photo shoot. It was a family photo meant to go on a holiday card.

But that didn’t matter to the ranger. He saw McGhee shooting with a Canon 30D and a 70-200 lens, so he assumed he was making money off the shoot.

If it were only that easy.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

A little-known State Parks regulation requires commercial photographers to acquire a permit through the California Film Commission before embarking on still or motion picture shooting at any state-administered park or beach, including Seacliff.

“Up and down the coast throughout the year we have many issues with commercial enterprises doing commercial shoots on State Parks land,” said Kirk Lingenfelter, superintendent for the Pajaro Coast sector of State Parks.

He said photo shoots and filming can involve considerable amounts of equipment and displace the public, which is why a permit is required. Also, the permit curtails commercial outfits from using parks for profit, Lingenfelter said.

The incident occurred Thanksgiving weekend at Seacliff State Beach on Monterrey Bay, just south of Santa Cruz. Another two photographers were also forbidden from taking pictures that weekend.

Lingenfelter said McGhee’s shoot and two others caught the ranger’s attention Friday because they had the appearances of a professional photo shoot.

“What caught his eye was very, very expensive equipment and reflective equipment for lighting,” Lingenfelter said.

Carrying professional camera gear does not make one a professional photographer anymore than wearing beige stetson make one a park ranger. And even if somebody happens to be a professional photographer as McGhee is, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is making money off that particular shoot.

With this logic, anyone caught with possession of illegal drugs can be convicted of drug trafficking. But so far, the courts have required more evidence to turn a mere possession charge into a trafficking convinction.

So why are these park rangers allowed to make baseless assumptions?

In fact, I took a look through the California Film Commission site and was unable to find a section dedicated to still photographers. But I’m sure there is one because Ranger Lingenfelter said it would be.

And he wouldn’t lie, would he?