This picture wasn’t free. Or was it? Photo by Rowan Lehr

For anyone who went to high school in the area, your parents probably took prom photos, in what feels like 110-degree heat if you’re wearing a tux, at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. What do humiliating photos from a typically gawky stage in your life have to do with anything? Well, if they were taken at the Botanic Garden, your parents could be considered scofflaws because the garden now charges almost all photographers a pretty hefty hourly fee.

By now, it’s old news that the formerly free-of-charge destination is charging an entry fee unless you have a valid Fort Worth Library card. However, professional photographers, amateur shutterbugs, and local parents who want nothing more than to snap a few photos of the big moments in their kiddos’ lives – even if it’s just a quick snap on your phone – are expected to shell out an hourly fee. 

“If the purpose of your visit is to take photographs using the Botanic Garden as a backdrop, a $75 photography fee per hour will be charged,” reads “The photography fee applies to but is not limited to the following portrait occasions: baby, prom, quinceanera, senior, graduation, bridal, and engagement. The photography fee covers admission for up to three guests and allows the use of tripods and other photography equipment as well as a change of wardrobe. Even if the photographers are not professionals and use their cellphones and use the Garden as a backdrop for photos, they must purchase a photo pass.”

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The garden still technically allows “free” photography for casual and personal use and school projects, according to the website. However, if you read the page-long set of rules, there are some strings attached. The website explaining the new rules opens with a flowery, pun-intended sentiment about how photos are a wonderful way to remember your visit, blah, bah, blah. The garden then passive-aggressively suggests to be sure to tag Fort Worth Botanic Garden on social media: “We encourage visitors to snap casual photos (for their personal use) and share them with us through Facebook and Instagram (#fwbg).”

The rules on the website are written in Lawyerese, so I had to call and ask for more information. After waiting a bit because some of the menu options may have changed, I spoke with an employee who made a little more sense of it all.

The unnamed Botanic Garden employee was kind enough to put me on a quick hold to find the answer to my only real question: When did they start charging a photography fee? After a couple of minutes, she said that her coworker, who has been at the Botanic Garden for a few decades or so, was under the impression they have always charged some kind of fee for photographers. Since the organization has been more or less a free attraction in Fort Worth since its establishment in 1934, charging a fee to take photos makes almost no sense. 

If $75 an hour for family photos seems outlandish to you, a fee of $2,500 a day is applied if your photography or videography is for commercial use. Most reasonable folks would agree that a charge for commercial use is more than fair, but is $2,500 reasonable?

“Personal photographs and videos are not to be used for commercial purposes,” the website says. “Commercial photography includes but is not limited to portfolio photography, stock images, display advertising, brochures, product literature, [and] brand and product photography, including fashion shoots [and] promotional use on a product, brand, company websites, and social media.”

To look at this from a value-of-a-dollar point of view, $75 per hour averages out to a salary of about $156,000 per year based on a 40-hour week, and $2,500 is about the Kelley Blue Book value of a higher-end 10-year-old Kia Rio. To at least try and avoid cynicism, the Botanic Garden could need money badly enough to justify figuratively hanging photographers by the ankle and shaking them until their lunch money falls out. If so, the garden should have started charging an entry fee long ago. However, if the garden is not genuinely that strapped for green, they’re simply trying to rake in money, which really feels like they’re sticking it to you, especially if you remember the days of a free Botanic Garden in Fort Worth.


  1. Don’t like it? Go across the street to the park. It is completely reasonable to charge for using the Gardens considering the expense to make the place beautiful. Others are trying to enjoy gardens like this and the numerous photo shoots interfere with that. Pay the $75, take your pics, and move on.