Park Authority

Fairfax County, Virginia

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12055 Government Center Pkwy.
Fairfax, Virginia 22035

Sara Baldwin,
Acting Executive Director

Snapshots E-Newsletter April 2017


April 2017

Park Photographer Says Spring is Great Time for Nature Shots

Don’t wait for summer to get out to the parks. Park Authority Photographer Don Sweeney says “going to the parks in early spring is one of the best times to get great shots because the trees have not foliated.” That improves your chances of seeing wildflowers and wildlife.

For 27 years, Sweeney has been documenting nature and events at county parks, and Huntley Meadows is a favorite spot for getting photos of birds that he says seem to “pose for the camera.” A boardwalk makes it easy to access the wetlands that attract a large variety of birds.

Sweeney says there’s really no bad time to take pictures in the spring. “The natural light is always there, even when the clouds are out.” Using that available light means less equipment to carry. However, if your goal is great wildlife shots, Sweeney recommends going out in early morning or late evening when fewer people are around and animals are more likely to be out feeding.

Some of Sweeney’s tips for getting the best nature shots:

  • Before taking a photo, remember to set the right shooting mode for the job.
  • Choose a subject that has an interesting shape or color contrasting from the scenery surrounding it.
  • Pay attention to the background. Try to keep it simple to keep focus on the subject.
  • Mix it up. Try shooting your subject from different angles and different light.
  • Don’t be afraid to take multiple shots of the same subject. Sometimes the fifth take is the perfect shot!
  • Work with the weather rather than against it.

Birds at Huntley Meadows Park Photo credit Don Sweeney

Birds at Huntley Meadows Park Photo credit Don Sweeney

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Don Sweeney

Wild about Huntley Meadows Park

Huntley Meadows Park is one of our best parks for spotting a variety of wildlife, and you don’t have to be a professional park photographer to get some great shots.

Tony Clements captured this image of a coyote during a visit to the park on the afternoon of February 21. He was taking a moment to be still and enjoy nature when the animal happened by. The photo has been getting likes and “wows” on the Park Authority’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

Photo credit Tony Clements

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Tony Clements

Volunteer Ed Eder captured this stunning photo of two Barred Owls on another winter day at the park and gave us permission to share it on our social media pages. We asked for captions from our Facebook fans and especially enjoyed:
“Don’t give two hoots” and “Peek-a-hooo”

Please consider sharing your photos with us. Let’s see who can go viral!

Photo credit Ed Eder

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Ed Eder

Putting the Focus on Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Park is a favorite photo spot for Gil Langley, who visits the park four to five times a week and even started a Facebook page dedicated to photography in the park: Burke Lake Calendar.

Langley inherited a love of photography from his father and remembers getting his first Wheaties cereal camera for just 50 cents as a child. He fell in love with Burke Lake while training on the park’s trails for a marathon, and he got serious about taking photos in the park after his retirement in 2010. The amateur photographer says his college minor in art helped him immensely in learning how to compose a great shot, and he has amassed an impressive collection of images in the park.

One of Langley’s favorite spots to photograph is the area around the park’s dam. He also enjoys shooting at the marina and fishing pier at sunrise and when there’s a morning fog on the lake. However, some of his most eye-catching photos have been taken from the park trail three-mile marker of the eagles and hawks that make a home on the Vesper Island State Waterfowl Refuge. This winter Langley watched as eagles started to build their nest in December, lay eggs in January, and feed fish to their hatchlings in February. He recommends taking advantage of the “golden hour” after daybreak to get the best lighting on the island. Later in the day, the birds fall into shadow and are backlit.

Langley shared some of his favorite shots with Snapshots.

Photo credit Gil Langley

Photo credit Gil Langley Photo credit Gil Langley
Photo credit Gil Langley Photo credit Gil Langley

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Gil Langley

Spring Blooms and Bugs are Ready for their Close-ups

Getting up close and personal with your nature subjects can create stunning photographs, and Fairfax County parks have plenty of native flowers and insects that are waiting for star treatment with macro photography.

Don’t wait for it to get warm to shoot native wildflowers. They blossom before the tree canopy foliates, so now is not too early.

Park photographer Don Sweeney, whose macros shots are featured, recommends bracketing your f-stop to get different levels of sharpness and background blur.

Another tip…don’t just photograph the blossoms. The leaves and stems can help you identify the plant and may lead to a more interesting composition.

Photo credit Don Sweeney

Photo credit Don Sweeney Photo credit Don Sweeney Photo credit Don Sweeney

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Don Sweeney.

Find a New Way of Looking at Things in a Zen Art Photo Class

Tuan Pham, whose unique eye for photography was featured in the October 2016 issue of Snapshots, will be teaching a series of classes in Photography as Zen Art at Green Spring Gardens this spring. Don’t miss this chance to enhance your photographic vision and produce more meaningful images with a beautiful garden park for inspiration. Pham shot all of these photos at Green Spring.

The program meets from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on four Saturdays, beginning on April 15. Students need to bring their own digital camera and tripod and must be able to send digital images.
Register for Photography as Zen Art with ParkTakes Online.

Photo credit Tuan Pham Photo credit Tuan Pham
Photo credit Tuan Pham
Photo credit Tuan Pham

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Tuan Pham

Time to Renew your Photo Permit?

InstagramSpring and summer are popular times for photography in Fairfax County parks with graduations, weddings and a host of family celebrations on the horizon. There are more than 300 commercial photographers who hold permits to work in our parks. They come from as close as Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, to as far away as Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Utah and California.

If you shoot professional shots in the parks, don’t forget that a commercial permit is required. If you already have a permit, please take a moment to make sure it has not yet expired. Get the details on photo permits at:  Commercial Photography in the Parks.

Get your Photos Seen on Instagram

InstagramInstagram provides a quick and easy way to share your best photos and draw attention to your work. At the Park Authority, we welcome contributions to our Instagram site to help us showcase our parks and our programs. We can help showcase you, too, by providing a photo credit in the Instagram post. If you don’t already, please follow us on Instagram and send your best park shots to: View these and more photos and follow us on Instagram.

A little green for St. Patrick's Day

302 dogs and more than 1000 humans showed up at #GristMillPark yesterday for #IdesofBark.

A little birdie told me this weekend = sweet golf weather!

SNAPSHOTS Reflections

email       We would love to hear from you! Comments or suggestions for SNAPSHOTS E-News are welcome. We encourage you to contribute an article and share your photographs to be included in a future SNAPSHOTS E-News.

Email comments, articles and photographs to


Editor: Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer

Writers and Contributors: Carol Ochs

Layout and Design: Mary Nelms

Photographers: Don Sweeney, Tony Clements, Ed Eder, Gil Langley, Tuan Pham

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