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 2019



April 2019

In the Spring a Young Man’s Fancy...

Alfred, Lord Tennyson got it partly right those many years ago when he wrote, “In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Young women get hit by the love bug, too, as we head into the prime prom and wedding months.

If you’re looking for a special spot to photograph everyone in their gowns and tuxes, consider your local parks. Fairfax County parks offer striking natural and historic backdrops and are close to home.

Green SpringGreen Spring Gardens is the first park that often springs to mind with its backdrop of blooms and gazebo settings. This park is particularly popular with the prom crowd, so it’s wise to call ahead to discuss your plans and avoid the crowds.


Riverbend ParkRiverbend Park and the major Lakefront parks – Burke Lake, Lake Accotink and Lake Fairfax – are popular photo spots for their water backdrops. But don’t overlook some of the smaller parks with water scenery. Consider parks such as Royal Lake, Lake Mercer or Huntsman Lake for their reflective photo spots, too.


Colvin Run MillFor a taste of history, Park Photographer Don Sweeney recommends Colvin Run Mill with its dramatic water wheel. Sully Historic Site provides another background etched with time. At Frying Pan Farm Park, photographers like to use buildings such as the Blacksmith Shop and Middleton Barn as backdrops. The weathered and linear look of the fences is also popular.


If you’re planning a wedding or other social event at the Twin Lakes Golf Course or Laurel Hill Golf Club, the scenic backdrops are part of the package. Have some fun with non-traditional poses while you’re there.

Laurel Hill/Twin Lakes Golf Courses

There are a few rules to keep in mind. Photography sessions must take place during normal site operation hours. Photographers and their subjects are asked to stay out of plantings, respect natural resources, keep entrances and exits clear, honor all posted signs, and be courteous to other park visitors.

Commercial photographers are required to purchase a Commercial Photography permit at an annual cost of $25 to shoot in the parks. Additional fees and reservations are required for large group photography at select parks. Get details at:

Read why one commercial photographer loves Green Spring Gardens for portrait photography in the January 2016 issue of Snapshots.

Take the City Nature Challenge

If you’re into nature photography, then take the City Nature Challenge.

More than 160 cities around the world are taking part in this friendly competition to see which metro area can spot the greatest numbers of wildlife. To participate, simply take photos of plants and animals in the Washington area April 26-29. Use a camera or smartphone and post with the iNaturalist app.

The photos will contribute to a worldwide database of urban wildlife, and you might help the Washington, D.C. metro area win the challenge! Get details at A number of Fairfax County park sites will be sponsoring activities linked to the Challenge. Find details in the April ResOURces newsletter.

Read on in Snapshots for tips on taking eye-catching wildlife photos.

Take the City Nature Challenge

Putting a Focus on Wildlife

Large and small critters present different issues when it comes to getting your focus just right.

Nature photographer Michael Glagola says large animals typically don’t move at a speed where focus is a problem, but sometimes they can be so large that at certain angles, their body length exceeds the depth of field of the lens. On the other hand, depth of field isn’t a problem with small critters, but they can quickly move out of range if you don’t focus instantly.

Here are a few of Glagola’s tips for overcoming these focus issues:

Focus on the Eye – If the eyes of wildlife are in focus, the animal “appears” to be in focus even if other body parts are a little fuzzy. These squirrel photos are a good example.

Putting A Focus on Wildlife

Pre-focus and Lock Focus – Focus on something that the wildlife is likely to visit, such as a nest or feeder, hold/lock the focus, and take the photo the instant the wildlife appears.

Putting A Focus on Wildlife

Manual Pre-Focus – Focus on something the wildlife is likely to visit, and once focused on that spot, shift focus to manual so it won’t change. This works best if light conditions are poor or you may have a long wait for your subjects to appear.

Putting A Focus on Wildlife

Glagola can be reached at or 703-830-6860.

Photo Credit: Michael Glagola

A Look Behind the Camera

Don SweeneySnapshots shifts its focus behind the camera this month to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) photographer who’s been capturing the best of our parks for 30 years.

Don Sweeney is the man responsible for countless park and rec photos that have appeared on the Park Authority’s web pages, on posters and brochures, in programs and social media posts, and here in Snapshots. Each quarter, his photos grace the cover of Parktakes magazine, the county’s largest subscription publication.

At the FCPA, Sweeney is called on to cover sports and special events, take portrait and still life images, and capture plant and animal life, too. He most enjoys “covering events and having the challenge to capture a fast-moving and ever-changing subject and make some sort of sense of it.” Of course, he says the best part of his job is the chance to be in the parks. “People are having fun, getting exercise and learning about history and the natural world. The worst thing is that there is something going on seven days a week. I always feel like I’m missing something.”

His advice to other photographers: “If your photography process works, do it. Don’t worry if it’s the ‘correct’ way to do it. If it’s not working, change something and try again.”

Sweeney is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) with a BFA in photography. His background includes stints in sales at local camera shops, freelance photography and work as a stripper – make that Cameraman Stripper. That’s the person who strips line negatives and halftones onto flats to burn plates for printing. The world wasn’t always digital!

Here are some of Don’s favorite event shots:

Don’s favorite event shots

Don’s favorite event shots

Don’s favorite event shots

Classes for Young Shutterbugs

If you’ve got a budding photographer in the house, sign them up for a Park Authority photography camp or class.

Photo Explorers Camp is designed for campers age 8 to 13 and is being offered this summer at Oak Marr RECenter, Lake Accotink Park and Frying Pan Farm Park. Students can learn new skills while exploring their own creative talent. Topics include focusing and motion techniques, separating subjects from backgrounds, using creative modes, exposure and some basic editing. Campers do one major project a week and many smaller activities to learn and practice skills. Oak Marr campers also get a daily swim break. Find details at Parktakes online.

Classes for Young ShutterbugsNature Photography & Hiking Camp is geared toward explorers age 11 to 17. Fish & Explore takes campers off-site to explore the outdoors. Participants will learn techniques to become a better photographer as they capture stills of landscapes, flora and fauna while on extended hikes. This camp covers basic camera functions, lighting, composition, and how to upload to save to a computer. Special lessons include in-depth techniques to enhance images through lab sessions. Camps will be based at the Lee District, Providence and Spring Hill RECenters. Questions should be directed to: or 703-215-1066. Register through Parktakes.

The Park Authority offers Digital Photography classes year-round at a variety of park locations for students age 13 to adult. Topics include your camera's controls, resolution, flash, composition, stop motion, close-ups and more. The courses include weekly assignments with reviews. Software and printing also are covered. Find Digital Photography and Digital Photography II classes at Parktakes online.

Veggies Ready for their Close-ups

The Park Authority launched a new Instagram site this month that will feature photos from and info about the county’s 10 Farmers Markets. These are producer-only markets that benefit local growers and businesses, as well as your appetite.

Follow the markets on Instagram @FairfaxFarmMarkets and look for snapshots of vividly-colored fruits and vegetables and mouth-watering baked goods available for sale from April through December. Check out the Farmers Market website for dates and locations, and stop by with your camera to capture some stunning still-life images. Don’t forget to do a little shopping while you’re there!

eggies Ready for their Close-ups

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

Layout and Design: Don Tubel

Photograph Contributors: Don Sweeney, Elizabeth Duke, Michael Glagola

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