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Photography & Filmmaking

Known for its grand architecture – with vaulted ceilings, crumbling cellblocks, and sky-lit cells – Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) is a unique location for film and photo shoots. There are two ways to photograph and film at Eastern State Penitentiary: 

1. Non-Commercial / Personal Photography

Visitors wishing to photograph the building only (no props or models) can do so during regular public hours. However, we ask that you honor the following policies:

  • Do not block any pathways or exhibits or leave items in these areas.
  • Refrain from loud conversations, and avoid gathering along the main audio tour route.
  • Do not touch or move any objects or artifacts.
  • Models (professional or amateur), costumes and props are not permitted during public hours.
  • There can be no nudity, semi-nudity, or sexually explicit images filmed at Eastern State Penitentiary.
  • No portrait photography is permitted during public hours. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site defines portraiture as any posed photography of an individual or group taken by a professional, amateur, or student photographer. This includes but is not limited to wedding photography, engagement photography, headshots, band photos and family portraits.
  • No videography is allowed during public hours.
  • No l​ive streaming or podcasting is allowed during public hours.
  • Drone photography, or use of drones for any purpose, is not permitted during public hours.
  • Eastern State does not allow third parties to conduct fee-based photography workshops or classes on site during public hours. Any persons conducting unauthorized events will be asked to leave the site without a refund.

In addition to the general admission fee, non-members must purchase a daily "photography equipment pass” if they wish to use a tripod, monopod, or easel while on site. Equipment passes are $10 per person and are valid only on the day they are purchased. While we recommend you purchase your tickets online in advance, photography equipment passes can only be purchased at the admissions window on site. Want free admission and free photography equipment passes all year long? Become a Member today!

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site requires the location credit "Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Philadelphia, PA" in all uses of penitentiary photos in print, on the web, in broadcast, and in any other public medium. Reproduction of any photos or videos depicting artist installations at ESPHS, past or present, requires prior approval from ESPHS staff. To request, please contact us and include the name of the installation as well as how the photo or video will be used.

2. Private Photo or Film Shoots

We also accept bookings for private photo or film shoots at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Availability & Rates

  • December - May | Every day before 10:00 am and after 5:30 pm
  • June - August | Every day before 10:00 am; Mondays - Thursdays after 5:30 pm
  • September - November | Select days before 10:00 am

A chart of the rates for private photo and film shoots

All private film and photo site rentals must take place outside of our public tour hours. Our historic tours are our priority. There is an additional surcharge for before or after hour shoots that do not correspond with the start and end times of public hours. All time includes set up, breakdown and shooting. The total number of people includes all attendees present such as photographers, assistants, actors/models, etc.

A deposit of $400 (or 50%, whichever is greater) is required at the time of booking. The final balance is due one week before the site rental.

Contributor, Ambassador, and Visionary Members receive a one-time 20% discount (up to $250) on private photo and film shoots.

Rental Guidelines
Private site rentals are available for filmmakers or photographers (professional, amateur, or student), ad agencies, or other commercial entities that would like exclusive access to the historic site.

Rentals are also available for private, pre-existing art and photography clubs, groups and classes. Tickets cannot be sold to the general public or advertised online. Unauthorized classes or workshops that are not affiliated with ESPHS are prohibited. If it is determined tickets are being sold for an existing site rental, it will be immediately canceled without a refund.

​Live streaming and podcasting guidelines follow the same parameters as private film and photo site rentals.

Private rentals are available for projects that use the building as a ruinous backdrop. Any rental in conflict with the mission of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) is prohibited. Projects that use or depict the building as a prison or horror/gore setting, as a backdrop for a music video, that feature paranormal investigation, or that include or depict violence, weapons, nudity, semi-nudity, or sexually explicit content are not permitted.

Respect for the people who lived and worked at the penitentiary must be exercised at all times; therefore, the use of costuming that includes prison uniforms or props such as handcuffs, straitjackets, etc. is prohibited. In addition, projects may not explicitly or implicitly reference any prison-themed puns or jokes (e.g. mentions of life sentences, “ball and chain,” or being “locked up,” and so on).

Photographers and filmmakers who wish to depict the site as a prison will be considered on a case by case basis if the content of the project supports the mission of ESPHS.

There can be no nudity, semi-nudity, or sexually provocative or sexually explicit images or any content in conflict with the mission of ESPHS filmed/photographed at the penitentiary.

Models and Actors 
Models may only be photographed during private site rentals. They are included in the number of attendees in the pricing. Costuming that includes prison uniforms or props such as handcuffs, straitjackets, etc. is prohibited. There is no filming or photography with models allowed in the Catholic Chaplin’s Office or Synagogue.

Approved Areas 
Please see the Film and Photography map for approved areas that are licensed by the City of Philadelphia for film and photo shoots.

This map is of the spaces available. Staff are not able to grant access to additional locations. There are no additional areas that are exclusive for private site rentals. Please visit our online tour to get a look at the different spaces around the penitentiary.

During your shoot your group will be the only site rental in the building; however, staff members and contractors may be working in the building. Our staff will supervise your private site rental and will help you navigate the building. You must stay with a staff member at all times.

Some areas may be periodically closed for maintenance, construction, repairs or other reasons. There are no refunds or credits if areas are closed the day of your shoot. Closures are for safety reasons and beyond control of management. Areas like Cellblock 12, Death Row, and Cellblock 14 that have been available in the past are no longer available. Please review the map carefully.

Hands On History spaces, with the exception of the Catholic Chaplain's Office and the Punishment Cells, are available during your site rental for film and photography. The Synagogue is available for film and photography but without models or actors. The filming or photography of artist installations is prohibited.

Shot List
ESPHS does not provide programming for film and photography site rentals. The client is responsible for creating a shot list. Your rental includes two complimentary daytime admissions to ESPHS for a self-guided site walk. You can also take our virtual tour to help create your list. A final list of locations, props, and costumes must be submitted one week prior to your site rental.

Limited electricity is available in the penitentiary. The accessible electric outlets are noted on the Film and Photography map. You are welcome to use any open outlets as shown on this map. No Eastern State equipment may be unplugged from any outlet. Due to their location, breaker boxes are not accessible; therefore, any tripped breakers will remain off.

Technical Support
You may decide to have a site technician ($45/hour) present for your shoot who is able to turn off and on ESPHS lights and reset trip breakers. Our staff members who are guiding you around the site can only turn on or off lights that are controlled by a switch (Center, Cellblock 4, South Corridor and Baseball). Other lights, including those that are controlled by timers, cannot be turned on or off unless prior arrangements have been made. Please note that the technician is not able to help with load-in or striking or provide equipment. You must let us know when you book your shoot if you would like a site technician present.

Payment Policy
A deposit of $400 (or 50% whichever is greater) is required at the time of booking. The final balance is due one week before your site rental.

Refund & Rescheduling Policy 
A 100% refund will be issued for any shoot cancelled more than three weeks in advance. There are no refunds for cancellations after these time periods.

Shoots rescheduled without proper notice will incur a 25% rescheduling fee of the total fee. Dates and times available for rescheduled shoots are subject to availability and management approval.

If you arrive late for your shoot, any time that has passed from your original start time will be forfeited. You may shoot for the remainder of the time you have booked but no discount or refund will be issued. If you fail to appear for your scheduled shoot, no refund will be issued. There are no refunds or rescheduling available due to weather.

Request A Shoot
To request a shoot, please fill out the Film and Photo Rental Inquiry Form and submit via email to [email protected]. We will respond to all private photo and film requests via phone or email within 3 business days. 

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site reserves the right to decline any and all rental requests on a case-by-case basis. Requests may be declined for a number of reasons including proposed imagery or content, potential conflict with our mission or historic preservation guidelines, scheduling conflicts, lack of staff resources, and more. While we can sometimes provide feedback on why a specific request has been declined, it is not always possible to respond directly to every inquiry. We appreciate your understanding!

2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner