Portrait & Special Occasion Photography Policies


Duke Gardens portrait

"Golden hour" in the Historic Gardens. Photo by Aaron Stearns.

We are delighted that you are considering Duke Gardens as the location for your photos. The guidelines outlined below are intended for all guests, but a permit is necessary for those who wish to use Duke Gardens as a backdrop for posed or directed photography. We ask all photographers to please help us to maintain the integrity of the Gardens by honoring these policies. They are intended to ensure that Duke Gardens can fulfill its mission of creating and nurturing an environment for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture.

*Red bridge note: The red Japanese arched bridge in the Asiatic Arboretum is currently closed for renovation. Please see more information here.

In the Moment Photography

Photographs are a wonderful way to remember your visit. For your own enjoyment, visitors and members are welcome to take in-the-moment photographs of plants, individuals and subjects that capture the events of your visit. These are informal photographs shot spontaneously and quickly without artistic intent. Guests should still observe our policy under General Photography Policies. You may share your photos of the Gardens on social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Definition of Portrait Photography

Duke Gardens defines portrait photography as all wedding, engagement, quinceañera, family, maternity, portfolio, prom, graduation, and any other posed portraiture of individuals by professional photographers, as well as semi-pro, pro-am or amateur photographers, whether paid or unpaid. Duke Gardens reserves the right to further define Portrait Photography on a case-by-case basis.

Definition of Commercial Photography & Videography

Duke Gardens defines commercial photography as fashion shoots, advertisement and promotion. Commercial photographers and videographers, please see Duke University's photo and video policy for filming on campus. All commercial photo shoot applications must be submitted in advance to Duke Gardens for approval by Duke Gardens and Duke University. Duke Gardens reserves the right to further define Commercial Photography on a case-by-case basis. Artists seeking to make independent films must also apply for approval in advance. For commercial and independent video requests only, please email marketing & communications director Orla Swift.

Portrait Photo Policy

All portrait photography must be approved and scheduled in advance, and the reservation form (see below) must be filled out in order to request a photo session date. Once we receive your request, you will be contacted by the Special Events Office for payment. Please note that we prefer that the photographer reserves the session.  Photographers who do not pre-schedule may be approached by staff members during their photo session regarding scheduling and payment.

Portrait mini-sessions: In order to fulfill our mission with regard to a positive visitor experience, Duke Gardens prohibits photographers from scheduling mini-sessions.

Reservations and Permit: Please note that payment must be made in advance to reserve your session. Reservations are approved and accepted during the 4 weeks to 48 hours prior to your photo shoot. Please note that phone inquiries are accepted Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Non-member photographers must check in at the information desk to pick up a photo permit when they arrive for the shoot.

Professional Photographers: To become a member photographer, the fee is $450 for one year. Member photographers do not pay the per-session fee, but they must still schedule their sessions with the Special Events Office. In addition, members are allowed a maximum of two 2-hour sessions per day. Members will have their business name and contact information published on our Member Photographers page. Please note that a maximum of 10 members are accepted on our membership list. Photographers who wish to become a member must submit a portfolio of their work.

Artists and Nature Photographers:

When visiting on their own, artists and nature photographers need not register. But they must adhere to the guidelines listed below, avoiding damage to plants and disruption of other visitors or Gardens activities.

Artists or nature photographers seeking to bring a class for a field trip to the Gardens, or photo clubs seeking to visit, must register their groups in advance. Such groups may be asked to restrict their activities to certain places or times, depending on the Gardens' schedule and the size of the group.

The image, logo and name of Sarah P. Duke Gardens are registered trademarks and may not be used by outside parties without permission. If you plan to sell your work, please visit the Duke University Office of Trademark Licensing for information on the university's trademarks and how they may or may not be used.

Pricing & Reservation Form

Please fill out this reservation form to request a photo session date. Please note that reservations are only accepted Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sessions that are not pre-arranged during these hours will incur the walk-in, non-reserved rate.

Reserved 2-Hour Session Permit**

$75:   1-6 people in off season (January and February)
$100: 1-6 people in peak season (March-December)
$200: Groups of 7 to 15 people

Golden Hour Photo Shoot

Between 8 and 10 a.m. or 5 and 8 p.m.: additional $50 surcharge.

Non-reserved 2-Hour Session Permit**

Walkup sessions with no reservation

$150:  1-6 people in peak season (March-December)
$100:  1-6 people in off-season (January and February)
$250:  7-15 people in peak season (March-December)
$200:  7-15 people in off-season (January and February)

Golden Hour Photo Shoot

8-10 a.m. or 5-8 p.m.: additional $50 surcharge.

Photo Cart

Please click here to learn about optional golf cart transport.

Free Photography Days

Throughout the year, Duke Gardens hosts a number of free guest photography days, in which we welcome portrait photography at no charge and no reservation is required. Please stay tuned for these dates in the coming year.

Student Photography

Individual student (high school, college or university) photographers with valid IDs are subject to the same guidelines that apply to portrait and commercial photography. They must also reserve in advance. Duke students seeking to work on a school-related project, please call the Special Events Office at 919-668-5100.

Photography students, please call the Special Events Office for information about special pricing.

**One Session Permits (both reserved and non-reserved) are good for ONE photography session, with a maximum 2-hour time limit. If shorter than 2 hours, pro-rating does not apply.

PARKING: Our regular parking fees will apply for each vehicle within the party. To avoid congestion, vehicles may load and unload passengers in the upper parking lot. No vehicles may pull up in front of the visitor center or in front of the main gates to the Gardens. No vehicles may pull up in front of the visitor center or in front of the main Gothic gates to the Gardens.

CANCELLATION POLICY: Duke Gardens and its facilities are subject to weather variations and temporary closures. The Gardens will attempt to reschedule should a session need to be canceled, but there will be no refunds. Shooting dates may be adjusted in the event of inclement weather; any changes must be agreed upon by our Special Events office. For more information, please contact the Special Events office at 919-668-5100.

General Photography Policies

Duke Gardens may photograph visitors and program participants on occasion for Duke-related promotional purposes. By entering Duke Gardens, visitors are granting their permission to be included in such photographs. 

Balloons, kites and flying lanterns are prohibited. Please contact the Special Events Office for the full list of props that are prohibited.

Drone photography is not permitted, in order to ensure Gardens visitors' safety and privacy, as well as the safety of Life Flight helicopters flying to/from Duke Medical Center. Please see Duke University's drone policy for more information.

Moving or removing plants (inside or out) or structures that are part of the Gardens—such as benches, containers, displays, plant signs, fences, etc.—is strictly prohibited.

No photographers, assistants or subjects may step in flower beds, fountains or places other than on designated paths. Climbing or mounting equipment in trees or on buildings is not permitted.

All photo subjects must be fully and appropriately clothed. Swimsuit photo shoots are not permitted.

All cords or wires must be placed and guarded in a way that doesn’t alter the pathways and put Gardens visitors at risk.

Photographers will be held accountable for their actions and those of clients, crew members and subjects if they damage Duke Gardens facilities and property.

Please see additional Duke Gardens rules here.

Related Rules

Clients must arrive camera-ready, as there are no dressing room facilities.

Display your permit prominently either around your neck or on your equipment.

Set up your shoot in a manner that does not impact visitors or disrupt events and maintenance.

More information

Reservation form

Photo reservation inquiries (please fill out the above reservation form first): Britta Tyler, special events assistant, 919-668-5679.

News media requests only: email Orla Swift, director of marketing and communications

Updated 1/26/17