Park Authority

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Open during regular business hours 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday

TTY 711

12055 Government Center Pkwy.
Fairfax, Virginia 22035

Sara Baldwin,
Acting Executive Director

Snapshots E-Newsletter April 2018


First Chance for 2018 Photos on First Hike

Photographers never let a little cold weather – ok, a lot of cold weather – get in the way of their art. That was certainly the case when shutterbugs across the county responded to the Fairfax County Park Authority’s First Hike Fairfax 2018 photo contest.

On New Year’s Day, the coldest since 1940, photographers were challenged to submit photos from their first hike of the New Year in one of five different county parks. More than 130 photos poured in. Park Authority staff selected their Top 10 pics (two from each site), and Facebook followers chose the winner.

With 289 votes, the winner was Patricia Strat, who captured a winter landscape at Riverbend Park. She received a four-month RECenter pass valued at up to $300. Because the race was so close, a runner-up prize was awarded to Jane Durrett for her photo of David and Harvey Durrett experiencing the joy of Cub Run Stream Valley Park. The Durretts received a one-month family pass to our RECenters.

Make plans now to bundle up next year and join the competition!

Photo credit Patricia Strat

Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo credit: Patricia Strat

Find out more about First Hike Fairfax and view contest photos.

Get Smart about Using your Smart Phone for Garden Photography – Part 1

Although award-winning graphic designer and photographer Cindy Dyer shoots with a DSLR for most of her work, she is a prolific smartphone photographer as well. She shares some of her tips here and in upcoming classes at Green Spring Gardens. Check the next issue of Snapshots for even more tips.

  • Read the manual—The more you know about your smart phone camera, the more natural it will feel when you’re shooting. Learn to use the panorama, macro and HDR modes, as well as autofocus and burst mode.
  • Get down and dirty—I’ve captured some of my best images while eye-level to the flower bed. Shoot upward to catch petals backlit by the sun and photograph the backs of flowers, too. Notice the tiny insects and pollinators, and include a brilliant blue sky behind your subject. I always carry a trash bag in my camera bag so I can sit and capture images of flowers laden with freshly fallen rain.
  • Take a step back—While I love focusing on a single flower, I also try to get sweeping garden scenes, such as a bench by a walkway bordered by a flower bed or a gazebo flanked by colorful container gardens. I especially love photographing the meandering paths and bright swaths of color in the rock garden at Green Springs Gardens.
  • Harness the light—I prefer shooting gardens in the early morning or later afternoon, preferably when the sky is overcast and the light is soft, making for more saturated color and no harsh shadows. On a sunny day, I may use a tri-grip diffuser to diffuse light over my subject. I also carry a handheld, inexpensive LED light to shed light on subjects in deep shade.
  • Divide and conquer—Don’t immediately center your subject. While extreme close-ups of a single flower work best centered, try dividing your frame into thirds like a tic-tac-toe grid and place your subject on a crossline. If you place your subject off center, look for interesting lines or texture in the “empty” space for added impact. Look for curves in your composition to lead your viewer through the photo.
  • Vertical, horizontal, long shot or macro? Go for variety. Some subjects demand one orientation or the other, such as a tall sunflower that cries out for a vertical shot. Get that image, but then move in closer for a horizontal shot of just the flower head. Center the flower and get a close-up of the seeds. Move the subject off-center and include blue sky. Turn your camera at an angle and see if that creates a striking image.
  • Beware the background—Keep backgrounds clean and simple and your subject will shine. Isolate flowers against a bright blue sky or backdrop of darker foliage. When I can’t control the background, I put a black or white sheet of foam core board or a collapsible reflector behind my subject to give a studio-like quality.
Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography
Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography
Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography
Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography Photo credit: Cindy Dyer Photography

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Cindy Dyer

You can learn more and put your knowledge into practice in one of Dyer’s Smart Phone Nature Photography classes at Green Spring Gardens. Register now for her class on Saturday, May 5, 2018 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. She will be offering another class in July. For more information, call 703-642-5173.

Cindy Dyer shoots botanical images as well as portraits, landscape and nature photography. She is a USPS Stamp Artist with 11 stamps showcasing her botanical photographs (Ferns, 2014; Water Lilies, 2015; and an image of a Sacred lotus at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, one of 16 stamps in the 2016 panel commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service). She has been published in American Photo, Shutterbug, the Washington Post, and many professional and trade publications.

Everyone Say Cheese!

fitness directors

Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo credit: Don Sweeney

Getting a good group photo can be tricky.

You know how it goes. It’s like herding cats to round everyone up. Once you start shooting, there’s always one person blinking at the wrong time, hiding their face or acting goofy when they shouldn’t.

There’s no way to completely rule out the human factor, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting a photo everyone will be posting to their favorite social media sites.

Don’t start rounding folks up until you know exactly where you want to place them. Make sure there’s enough room for everyone and you like the background. If the group is large, consider putting them in tiers by using benches or stairs, or you might want to stand on a chair yourself and shoot down on the group. Clear out or avoid distracting objects such as signs and garbage cans.

Park Authority Photographer Don Sweeney says, “With large groups (over 25) I give them time to organize organically after explaining where they should stand. After they self-gather, then I correct people I can’t see and balance out the shoot.”

With smaller groups, such as the one pictured, Sweeney may take a different approach. This shot was very technical to position, and it took some of the energy out of the group. So, Sweeney explains, “After we had everyone positioned, I instructed everyone to step away a few feet and said, ‘Okay, you know where you need to be. On the count of three, everyone run into position and strike a pose.’ Everyone had fun, and the picture reflects that.” In a smaller group, Sweeney says he will sometimes ask everyone to strike a goofy pose to loosen people up.

To keep everyone happy and save time, remember the basics.

Check to make sure your battery is charged, your SD card has space and you’ve got the right lens for the occasion. Use an aperture around f8 or higher to keep everyone in focus.

Be aware of the lighting. Unless you’re trying something artsy, you want to see faces, not silhouettes. However, if everyone’s looking into the sunshine, you’ll have a photo full of squinters. Not a good look on anyone. If the group’s small enough, use a fill flash to put some light in their eyes, but if you use a flash, make sure it won’t reflect off anything in the photo. If possible, use a flash diffuser or flash bounce card to soften the light.

The clock is ticking, so don’t be stingy with the SD card. Shoot in bursts or in continuous mode. The more photos, the more chances of getting it right. Pose taller people in the back and toward the middle. If someone is the center of attention at the gathering, put them in the center of the photo. Have adults hang onto wiggly toddlers. Get everyone to group together closely to avoid awkward gaps.

Check your group for weird shadows and awkward hand or body positions. Be certain you can see all the faces.

If others decide they want to take a photo, too, make sure the group knows when you’re ready to fire so they’re looking at you – and not at someone else’s camera. Let them know that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.

Add to your look of authority by using a tripod. It will give you a steadier shot and also help you keep your hands free in your role as director.

Lights, camera, action!

Tips for Getting Noticed on Instagram

The Park Authority would love to post your Fairfax County park photos on our Instagram site. Here are five tips to make your Instagram photos look their best on our site and yours:

  1. Ignore the Rule of Thirds - The square format of Instagram lends itself to a lot of symmetry. The Rule of Thirds may work in some cases, but centering your photo works well in Instagram. Don’t feel confined by the Rule of Thirds; it is difficult to always implement in a square image.
  2. Lead the eye to the subject - This can be difficult in a square format, but use lines and architecture to draw the eye to the most visually appealing part of the photo.
  3. Crop, don’t zoom - Shoot in portrait or landscape mode and then crop to square. This gives you more flexibility to play with crops in Instagram and will maintain a higher resolution of the photo. It will also allow you to use the photo across different platforms. If you will be using the photo for an Instastory, be sure to shoot in portrait mode.
  4. Don’t be square - Some photos look better in horizontal or vertical format. If you have a photo that this applies to, use it. For a more professional look, apply a white border to the image to maintain the 1:1 ratio. If you don’t add the white border, Instagram’s grid format will automatically crop your photo for thumbnails; the border tricks Instagram into not cropping your photo.
  5. Be authentic - Personality is as important as photography on Instagram. Find your voice on Instagram and maintain a consistent look and feel to your account with both photos and engagement. Many accounts choose to use one filter for all photos to maintain consistency and establish a recognizable “look.”

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d-bird of paradise border example

Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo Credit: Christine Mead

Go Beyond the Automatic Setting on your DSLR with a Photo Class

There’s more to photography than point and shoot. Learn to get the most from your digital camera in a Park Authority photography class.

This spring, parks are offering an introductory Digital Photography course and the follow-up Digital Photography II.

In Digital Photography, students age 13 to adult will learn to go beyond the automatic setting. The class will cover topics such as camera controls, resolution, flash, composition, stop motion and close ups. Software and printing are covered, too. There are weekly assignments with reviews of your work.

Depending on your schedule, you can sign up for a five-week or ten-week series of courses. The lessons run for one hour, 25 minutes or one hour, 55 minutes. Classes are offered at Burke Lake Park, Oak Marr RECenter, Providence RECenter, Spring Hill RECenter, Wakefield/Audrey Moore RECenter and Frying Pan Farm Park.

More advanced students can register for Digital Photography II. It’s being offered at Oak Marr RECenter, Spring Hill RECenter and Wakefield/Audrey Moore RECenter. Students can choose a five-week or ten-week series.

Don’t Forget to Check the Expiration Date on that Permit!

PermitAll photographers conducting business on Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit. Those permits are good for one year, so if you have one, please take a moment and check the expiration date. If it’s time to get a new one, you can quickly purchase that $25 Commercial Photography Permit online at:  Commercial Photography in the Parks.

Permit holders automatically become part of the Photographer's Ambassador's Club, which includes a subscription to SNAPSHOTS. Those who wish to participate in the creation of Ambassador's Club activities and materials are asked to contact the Public Information Office at 703-324-8662.

SNAPSHOTS Reflections

emailWe 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, Cristin Bratt

Layout and Design: Mary Nelms, Don Tubel

Photograph Contributors: Don Sweeney, Cindy Dyer, Christine Mead, Patricia Strat

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