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.
- Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all visitors must follow a one-way path through the penitentiary. During public hours, visitors will not be permitted to leave this path to photograph other areas.
- 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 the public hours.
- No equipment (tripods, monopods, etc.) is permitted during public hours at this time.
- 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.
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.
2. Private Photo or Film Shoots
We are now accepting bookings for private photo or film shoots with up to 6 participants!
Booking during our first phase of reopening, presents a unique opportunity for photographers, filmmakers, and artists. We've opened our doors for exclusive weekday site rentals for film and photo shoots (including engagement and wedding shoots) and to people who wish to sketch or paint in the cellblocks.
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to have exclusive access to the 11-acre penitentiary complex during special hours that will likely only be available this year!
Want to book a shoot with more participants? We are accepting future reservations for larger shoots (spring 2021 and beyond) with the understanding they can be cancelled by either party, at any time.
Up to 6 attendees (capacity restrictions will be revised as social distancing requirements change)
Availability & Rates
Monday – Thursday, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
All private film and photo site rentals must take place outside of our public tour hours. Our historic tours are our priority. As social distancing requirements and restrictions are relaxed, larger film and photo site rentals will be available. There is an additional surcharge for before or after hour shoots that do not correspond with the start and end times of public hours.
Contributor, Ambassador, and Visionary Members receive a one-time 20% discount (up to $250) on private photo and film shoots.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Health and Safety Guidelines
While on site, all attendees must abide by the guidelines below and follow directions from our staff. If you are unable or unwilling to follow these guidelines, we ask that you wait until these restrictions have been lifted before renting the site.
- Everyone ages 2+ is required to wear a face covering over their mouth and nose.
- Face masks must remain on at all times, except when the subject is actively being filmed or photographed. During this time, they must remain a minimum of 12 feet from anyone not in their party, including ESPHS staff. Masks must be worn at all other times by all participants while on site. This includes, but is not limited to in between shots, moving locations, and the set up and breakdown of equipment.
- Physical distancing is required. Please keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) between your group and ESPHS staff.
- Hand sanitizer is available, and your group will be asked to sanitize their hands before entering the site.
- If you are sick or have had contact with some someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days, please let us know as soon as possible so we can reschedule or cancel your site rental.
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.
Face masks must remain on at all times, except when the subject is actively being filmed or photographed. During this time, they must remain a minimum of 12 feet from anyone not in their party, including ESPHS staff. Masks must be worn at all other times by all participants while on site. This includes, but is not limited to in between shots, moving locations, and the set up and breakdown of equipment.
The first phase of construction of our visitor center is currently underway. Please be aware that some areas of the site will be noisy. You can learn more online here.
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 Courtyard, and Cellblock 14 that have been available in the past are no longer available. Due to the construction of our planned visitor center, the Gatehouse and the Front Courtyard between Cellblocks 8 and 9 is currently not available. Please review the map carefully.
Hands On History spaces, with the exception of the Catholic Chaplain's Office, 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.
ESPHS does not provide programming for film and photography site rentals. The client is responsible for creating a shot list. You can take our virtual tour to help create your list. Site walks are available for an additional fee. 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.
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.
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.
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 time, no refund will be issued. There are no refunds or rescheduling available due to weather.
ESPHS has a flexible policy to cover COVID-19-related cancellations. Please let ESPHS know as soon as possible if your site rental needs to be rescheduled or cancelled.
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.