Most churches, palaces and museums had a $4-5 charge for cameras and more for video cameras, but it is well worth it. We're so glad we took all the pictures that we did. The Peter and Paul fortress was free, but everything else had a charge. We went with Red October and paid them in dollars to arrange it for us. If you're going with a group, ask your group leader how to pay.
I just got back and let me tell you if that is the case you were robbed. I was in St Pete for 2 days and booked a private tour through DenRus. The camera fees were not included in our price but each place (5 in total) that we went in that had a camera fee our guide told up how much it was (In RUBLES) and we went to the desk and paid for it. The majority was 20 rubles which is under US $2.00. So if you paid that amount you were robbed. Also make sure you get a tag or a sticker if you pay to use your camera. READ ON.
I did not get a VISA so the second day was forced to take a cruise ship tour. I booked Catherine's Palace. On the bus the guide asked us for $5.00 for the camera fee. I paid him. When we were going into the Palace I realized that he had not given me a sticker to show that I paid to use my camera. I asked him about it and he told me that there are no stickers, it is on the honor system. Had I not done this the day before I would not have thought anything about his comment. But it bothered me so when we went inside and took a 5 min potty break I went to the front desk and asked if we were allowed to take photos. The reply was yes, take as many as you like. I asked the fee and they replied that it was free here. I then asked 2 other people who worked there the same 2 questions and got the same 2 answers. I immediately want to my tour guide and told him what I had found out and said that I wanted my $5.00 back. He reached into his pocket and gave it back to me. I of course then told everyone I saw taking picutres that it was free and they had all paid their guides $5.00. After about 30 mins he realized that I was telling everyone and came over to me and said that there was a misunderstanding and that it is not him that charges this fee but Holland American. I told him that I would take it up with the cruise line. I did investigate and it was not from the ship. IT IS A SCAM. I filed a formal complaint and they are now investigating it. I have not heard back from them yet.
Tell everyone the fee to use camera's in St. Pete is not in US$. you pay when entering the location and must get a sticker. Most fees are 20 rubles for snapshots (sorry did not have a video camera so I dont' know what the cost was)
Before we cruised we got together with sevral others on the same trip and booked a two day tour with a local operator (Alla Tours, highly recommended). The tour cost included photography rights wherever these were needed. I don't know what difference it would have made if we had asked for tours with no cameras allowed. Compared to the total cost of our holiday, even the cost of our few days in St Petersburg, the few bucks extra to take photos was money well spent. I took home about 150 photos of what I wanted to remember, for the same cost as about 20 postcards showing what the printer wanted me to remember.
We booked the Complete St. Petersburg tour with Alla and were told that it is a requirement to have the camera sticker. It didn't seem expensive, but I know I would want to have my own memories of what I saw and not just what my husband wanted to remember. So I ordered a sticker too. I am not going until Aug. so I can't give current info right now.