A woman takes a photograph in a field in autumn.

Many of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s more than 1,000 conservation and natural areas around the state are popular sites for photographers and videographers.

Whether getting a great shot of wildlife, taking pictures of the landscape, or taking a family photo, conservation areas can offer great places to practice your skills.


Guidelines for Photography and Videography on MDC Areas

Know Before You Go

In some cases, photography and filming on conservation areas requires a permit.

New starting July 1, 2023: Commercial photography permits and commercial videography permits are no longer required for commercial photography/videography on MDC areas. Instead, a no-cost* special use permit is required in some cases.

* Special use permits are typically no-cost. However, in rare instances, MDC reserves the right to charge a fee of up to $500 each day for photography and videography that involves more than 25 people or has the potential to harm resources or create user conflict. The issuance of special use permits is at the discretion of MDC.

Special Use Permit

If you need a special use permit, get more details and apply.

Please allow 30 days for processing.


Do I Need a Special Use Permit?

A special use permit is required for any photography and videography on MDC areas that involves:

  • Access during closed hours or to portions of the area closed to public use;
  • Use of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) or drone;
  • Use of props, sets, or equipment that are more than a single person can carry; or
  • The total daily number of people participating with a photographer or videographer for the primary purpose of photography and videography is more than 10.

Not all requests for special use permits will be granted. Permits may be denied to avoid user conflicts, resource damages, safety concerns, or other reasonable justification at the Department’s discretion.

Recreate Responsibly on MDC Areas

Guidelines for Wildlife Photography

  • Trail or game cameras are not allowed on MDC areas.
  • Don’t get too close to wildlife. This can stress the animal or put you in a dangerous position.
  • Watch your step.
  • Be patient and observant.

Guidelines for Photo Shoots

  • Avoid busy areas and times.
  • Do not block trails from other visitors.
  • Follow posted area rules and ensure that clients also follow area rules.
  • Park only in designated parking areas.
  • Pack out any trash and avoid littering. No balloons, confetti, glitter, smoke bombs, fireworks, colored powders/chalk, butterfly releases, etc.
  • No structures such as arches, trellises, or gazebos may be constructed or stuck in the ground.
  • If more than 10 people are participating with the photographer/videographer over the course of a day, a special use permit is required.
  • If seeking to use props or equipment larger than an average person can carry, a special use permit is required.

Nature Photography Tips

Nature photography generally falls into two categories: landscape and wildlife. Both require different equipment and involve different techniques.

While you don't need thousands of dollars of equipment to take decent nature photos, equipment does matter. It is unlikely that you will be able to take great nature photos, particularly wildlife photos, with your smartphone.

Landscape Photography

This category is probably the most accessible to the amateur photographer. It doesn’t require as much specialized equipment as wildlife photography, and landscapes don’t move around, so they are much easier to catch!


To take a good landscape photo, the only equipment you need is a decent camera with good resolution and a good lens. While it is possible to capture good landscape photos with a point-and-shoot camera, it is important to have a camera with adjustable settings, such as shutter speed and aperture, to improve your chances of success. Adjustable settings allow you to select a small aperture to maximize your depth of field, or select a fast shutter speed to minimize wind movement, or slow shutter speed to emphasize the movement of water in the scene or similar effects.

Cameras with interchangeable lenses or zoom lenses are also helpful, but if you only have one lens, the best choice is a wide-angle lens. The only other piece of equipment that is very helpful, though not essential, is a tripod, which will help you increase your shutter speed and aperture options.


Two key elements to a successful landscape photo are an interesting scene and light. The first is obvious. Presumably, you are taking the photo because you see a particularly special or beautiful scene that you want to capture. Light is less obvious but equally important. In fact, with the right light, a scene that is somewhat ordinary and mundane can be transformed into something special and beautiful.

Most of the best landscape photos are taken within an hour or less before or after sunrise or sunset. Photographers call this the golden time, and the quality of light created by these times of day greatly enhances a scene's drama and detail. The interplay between light and shadow becomes richer, textures are enhanced, and the light takes on an inviting golden quality.


Composition — what to include in the frame, and where to position it — can be tricky.

We tend to concentrate on just the center of the frame, and we often overlook what is going on around the edges, which can include distracting details. An important rule of photography is to “fill the frame,” to include only that which is important.

For example, if you are shooting a portrait, you want to get close and fill the frame with the subject's face. You don’t want to shoot so loosely that extraneous objects become a distraction. The same thing applies to landscape photography. Look over the whole scene captured in your viewfinder. If you see something that detracts from the scene and the feeling and mood you are trying to convey, crop it out. Change your shooting angle or the focal length of the lens.

Many of the most successful landscape photos include a strong foreground element that guides the eye into the scene but doesn't dominate it. This could be a flower, or a small waterfall, or any number of other things. The wide-angle lens helps with this, as it tends to emphasize things in the foreground.

Use the rule of thirds when composing a landscape shot with a strong foreground element. Imagine your frame is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The best place to position strong foreground elements and other key elements is at the four intersections created by those imaginary lines. In other words, you don’t want your strong anchoring elements to be centered in the frame.

Wildlife Photography

Good wildlife photography requires equal bits of luck and preparation. You don’t need a lot of specialized equipment, but it is really essential that you have one good, big, telephoto lens. Most wildlife is shy and will not allow you to get very close to it.

Even with a long lens, many people are surprised at how close they still have to get to their subject in order to “fill the frame.” Using a blind, vehicle, or some other kind of cover to hide yourself, and keeping as still as possible will improve your chances of getting close to your subject matter.


Long telephoto lenses and long zoom lenses can vary widely in price and size. You can have two lenses that are identical in focal length (magnification factor) but one of them may be three times the size and three or more times the cost of the other. This is because of two main things.

  • The larger lens has a larger maximum aperture, which will allow you to shoot in lower light conditions and/or use a faster shutter speed, which is important for stopping the movement of wildlife subjects.
  • The larger lens also likely has better optical quality.

There may be nothing wrong with the smaller, cheaper lens, but you just need to understand its limitations. Using a tripod can help.


While luck plays a large role in wildlife photography, most successful wildlife photographers spend a lot of time researching their subjects. They learn the habits and behaviors of their subjects, including preferred habitats and foods. This helps them maximize their chances of success by putting themselves in the right places and at the right times. They also network with other nature photographers and enthusiasts who share notes about sightings of certain wildlife.


Find events near you.
Date: Friday, September 1, 2023 8:00 am - Saturday, October 28, 2023 5:00 pm
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Runge is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Missouri photographer Jeni Carter.
Date: Thursday, October 12, 2023 6:00 pm - Thursday, October 12, 2023 7:30 pm
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Award-winning naturalist Mark Glenshaw has been studying the owls in Forest Park in St. Louis since 2005. His presentation, "Forest Park Owls: Hiding in Plain Sight,” features videos and photography of the lives and habits of Forest Park’s great horned owls. The public is invited. No registration required.
Registration period: August 25 - October 20
Date: Friday, October 20, 2023 7:00 pm - Friday, October 20, 2023 8:00 pm
Location: Springfield Conservation Nature Center
Nature photographer Noppadol Paothong shares his passion and close-up macro photography. He will share images of nature captured up close and his personal connection with the outdoors. Learn about the how, where, and what involved in his photography.