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 January 2016


January 2016


Welcome to Snapshots, our first edition of a periodic e-publication dedicated to photography in Fairfax County Parks. This publication is aimed at providing a forum for information pertaining to photography in our parks as well as a venue for photographers to share their concerns and inspiration through photos and tips, stories and questions. With any luck, we can lure some talented photographers to join us in this effort and establish a two-way communicative venture. We want this to be fun and informative.

The Park Authority considers the many photographers, both professionals and amateurs to be ambassadors for our park system. You speak through your images and provide new perspectives on our properties and the people who recreate in them. Across more than 23,000 acres of open space and park facilities, more than 16 million visits take place each year. And those with cameras often capture them. With just a snap you may see wildlife at play; flowers in bloom, newly or nearly newlyweds in our gardens, children at play or the waters of our lakes or riverfront parks at calm or perhaps the chaos of a storm. There is so much to photograph and we are thrilled you are here to do so.

This publication was the result of concerned citizens, local entrepreneurs and business owners who asked us to rethink our approach to photography in our parks. The Park Authority Board heard these concerns and asked that staff adopt a different approach. The new online and affordable permitting system is streamlining efforts to manage the use of parks for photography. Again, we invite you to engage with us as we attempt to publish regularly, as content and interest dictates. If there is an interest, we would love to sponsor photographic displays and perhaps contests. It would be our pleasure to publish your photos in this publication, on our website and social media and on our Flickr page. Perhaps you know of a great spot for photographs, have a technique to share or have a question or concern. Maybe you took at photo worthy of public viewing. Send it in. You can reach us at or call the Public Information Office at 703-324-8662.

Snapshots has all the hallmarks of a successful publication. We hope you will take a look at this inaugural issue and add your input as well.

To continue to receive SNAPSHOTS E-News, follow the subscription link and select Photography from the interest categories.Subscribe

Warmest regards,
Judy Pedersen
Public Information Officer

Shooting Bird Photos at Huntley Meadows

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Amateaur photographer Tyler Reber shot this FOHMP winning photo of a barred owl in Huntley Meadows Park.
Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo credit: Tyler Reber.

Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria in a magnet for both birders and nature photographers because of the large variety of birds that can be found in the park and the number of great photo spots.

Natural Resources Manager David Lawlor says, “We have large meadow complexes which offer opportunities to see birds  in nice open, natural areas which aren’t very common in this region. We also have the central wetland with a half-mile boardwalk that runs through the wetland so you can get right on top of the animals.”

Photographers will find several species of rails and bitterns during migration time, with spring providing the best opportunities for a good sighting. Lawlor says he hopes to see the birds start breeding again at Huntley, and a recent restoration project was aimed at helping that along. Huntley also offers some of the best places to get good pictures of many species of ducks in fall and winter because of the boardwalk access. Lawlor says “you can get close to the ducks and get amazing pictures in a natural setting,” instead of on the small ponds or picnic areas you might find them in other places. “Most fresh water wetland birds can be found here in pretty good abundance, including redwing blackbirds, swamp sparrows during the winter time, green herons, blue herons and egrets of all sorts.” You can also find non-wetland birds, such as the raptors that migrate through in spring and fall.

Photographers are strongly encouraged to stay on the established, formal trails that are denoted on park maps available at the visitor center. The trails include the boardwalk and three observation decks which can provide a birds-eye view of the surrounding wetlands. It may be tempting to go off-trail to get that perfect shot, but doing so can create a host of problems.

One new path tends to lead to the creation of another and another, and before long a spider web of informal trails can grow across the park, threatening wildlife. Lawlor explains that animals avoid trails while breeding, so all these extra trails can interrupt breeding and nesting behaviors, forcing birds to move and possibly leave the park. During the winter  birds often struggle to maintain their weight  and the  additional flying and movement can  burn much-needed calories and impact the animals’ ability to survive winter and breed in the spring. All those extra trails can also help to spread invasive plant seeds, which threaten both plants and animals in the park.

Huntley Meadows has made it easy for photographers to get their photos without leaving the trails. Lawlor says two of the best spots for photography are the observation tower on the visitor center side of the park and the new observation platform accessible from the South Kings Highway entrance. The first tower is on the east side of the park and allows for morning photos with the sun at your back. The other platform is on the south side of the park, so most of the day the sun is at your back. The boardwalk affords photo ops throughout the day from various locations.

Lawlor also reminds photographers that it’s important to respect the rights of other park patrons who may not realize they have set up for a particular shot. With a quarter-million visitors a year, everyone needs to share.

Every fall, the non-profit Friends of Huntley Meadows Park (FOHMP) organization sponsors a photo contest for photographers who have captured images at the park. Photos may be entered in multiple categories and there is a fee for each submission. Winning photos are displayed in the park visitor center from December through February, and photographers have the option to sell their photos at the visitor center with proceeds going to the FOHMP. A complete list of rules is available at the park visitor center and on the FOHM website.

To see some of the kinds of images you can capture at Huntley Meadows, check out the FOHMP's Facebook page.

Amateaur photographer Tyler Reber shot this FOHMP winning photo of a barred owl in Huntley Meadows Park.

Shooting in the Parks in Winter

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Colvin Run Mill in Winter by Don Sweeney

Colvin Run Mill in Winter by Don Sweeney
Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Don Sweeney.

Fairfax County Park Authority photographer Don Sweeney works year-round in the parks documenting the changing of the seasons, natural wonders, camps, classes, concerts and community events. When the pace slows in winter, he says it's a wonderful time to capture the Park Authority's many historic structures set against an empty backdrop of white.

In these images, Sweeney turns his lens on the buildings at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly and Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls. Sweeney reminds that shooting in snowy conditions can be tricky. He recommends overexposing your shot due to the fact that the camera will be fooled by all the white snow. The camera will try to make it 18% grey.

Sweeney is the staff photographer for Fairfax County Park Authority.

Green Spring Gardens is Picture Perfect for Weddings

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Colvin Run Mill in Winter by Don Sweeney
Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo credit: Don Sweeney.

When it comes to wedding photography, Green Spring Gardens is among the most popular sites in the Fairfax County park system.

Park Manager Mary Olien says, "People think gardens, flowers, love. The beautiful landscapes are the biggest draw." Some brides and grooms return to Green Spring Gardens for their wedding day photos because they got engaged in the park.

Olien says the white gazebo is one popular photo spot. Some folks like to use the historic house as a backdrop for photos, but wedding parties are asked to stay off the steps so they don't block the entrance. The huge central lawn makes another great setting and allows photographers to accommodate large groups.

Whatever spot you have in mind, please call ahead and make a reservation to use the park. Staff will be able to let you know if there are other events scheduled on the day you have in mind that could make parking tough or impact your photo plans.

Olien reminds photographers that everyone involved in the photo session needs to stay on the grass or paths at the park and stay out of the garden beds. Don't bring any decorations or props, such as chairs or tables, without permission, and leave any balloons in the limos. Olien says it's not likely in a wedding situation, but she also reminds that photographers and subjects are not permitted to climb the trees!

No indoor wedding photography is permitted at Green Spring, and be sure to display your photo permit in an obvious place so staff will recognize it.

Green Spring Gardens Photography Guidelines

Sweeney is the staff photographer for Fairfax County Park Authority.

Why One Photographer Loves Green Spring

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Family Photograph at Green Spring Gardens by Pamela Lepold
Click on photo for full resolution version. A family portrait at Green Spring Gardens by Pamela Lepold.

Pamela Lepold often puts her Commercial Photographer Permit to work at Green Spring Gardens to shoot family photos and the occasional wedding. She says, "It's one of the most beautiful places I know of in Fairfax County."

In addition to the beautiful setting, Lepold says Green Spring is great for photographers because it's open sunrise to sunset, allowing photographers to capture the better lighting that can be found early in the morning and late in the day. She also notes the park is small enough that you don't have to go very far to find a variety of backdrops – pretty flower beds, trees for shade or picturesque benches. It allows photographers to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

Lepold also likes that Green Spring Gardens is handicap accessible. "One of the parents with the last wedding party I photographed there was disabled," she says. "She was able to park close by and walk a few steps to our portrait location. That's another great feature of the park."

Some of her favorite photo spots include the bench by the visitor center, which is under a tree and usually surrounded by flowers. She also likes the stone walking path between the bench and the gazebo, and the front or back of the historic house, depending on the time of day. She particularly loves the giant tulip tree behind the house, but you've got to time it right to catch it in full bloom in springtime. Another plus for photographers - Lepold says benches in the park are conveniently placed facing east and west, offering opportunities to shoot in good light at different times of the day.

When asked if there's a bad time to shoot at Green Spring, Lepold couldn't think of any. In fact, she was amazed during a wedding shoot in November how much was still blooming as leaves were falling.

Over her 16 years as a photographer, Lepold says Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) in Chantilly has grown to be another of her favorite Fairfax County Park Authority sites for family photography. In contrast to the elegant look of Green Spring, ECLP offers a more relaxed appeal with tall grasses and places to chase kids around with a camera.

Wherever you choose to take your camera, Lepold says it's important not only consider factors like lighting, it's also critical to take the time to really get to know your client and what they want from the experience.

Lepold operates Pamela Lepold Photography which offers wedding, event, portrait and advertising photography in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Photography Permits Top 200 Mark

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Photographer, Dan, at Hidden Pond Nature Center Since the Fairfax County Park Authority's new commercial photography regulations went into effect last June, 228 photographers have purchased the $25 annual permits. Branch Manager Steven Lewis says he is "very pleased with the positive response from the photography community in helping us define and create the new process and procedures." Lewis adds, "We look forward to more opportunities to enlist the photographers' help in showcasing the beautiful park system we all enjoy."

Under the current rules, all photographers conducting business on Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit. The Commercial Photography Permit is good for one year from the date of purchase and can be purchased online by credit card. It covers commercial photography at more than 400 parks without additional fees or reservations.

Reservations and additional fees apply only at the following sites: Green Spring Gardens, Colvin Run Mill, Sully Historic Site and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, as follows:

For small group photo sessions (total of 11 people or less, including photography staff), no additional fees or site Photo Session Reservations are necessary.

For groups of 12-19 people (including photography staff), a Photo Session Reservation (with additional fees) is required. The fees are $25 per hour with a two-hour minimum.

For large groups of 20-74 the fees are $100 for each two-hour photo session and an additional $50 per hour thereafter.

The two-hour minimum was established to ensure photographers have sufficient time to prepare, conduct and clean up after the session. Photo Session Reservations and fees are processed by the individual sites, on a space-available basis.

Reservations for groups of 12 or more are confirmed when the fee is paid.

Park Pix Tips
Selecting the Right Gear When Shooting in Fairfax County Parks

By Shaun Kurry, Photography Instructor

Family Photograph at Green Spring Gardens by Pamela Lepold
Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo at Burke Lake Park by Shaun Kurry.

Regardless of the subject you are shooting, when you take to the field to capture an image, preparation is everything. Knowing ahead of time how you want to capture the subject will make you more efficient when in the park. Just because you have 18 lenses for your camera does not mean you need all of them in order to capture a series of portraits of a family. That blue heron or red-tailed hawk is not going to let you get close enough to them to use a Macro lens or Fish Eye. Fill your camera back/backpack with only the items you need so that you spend more time focused on the process at hand. Not to mention the fact that walking a mile or two with 4 pounds of gear is a lot easier the 20 pounds.

Also, be sure that you come prepared not only with the right lens, but also the right accessories. You can’t always guarantee that the place you park your car is the place you want to photograph. If you need a tripod, spend the few dollars it takes to get a bag with a shoulder strap for it. Have more than one memory card on hand. Ten 32Gb memory cards offer a far greater insurance policy then one 256Gb card.While on that subject, have more than one battery for your camera as well as any other accessories you may need. We may be an interconnected and wired society, but the trees haven’t gotten that memo yet. An outlet may not be at your disposal for charging.

Lastly, if you are operating as a professional in the park, act as such. Have business cards available and be courteous to the other park goers who are simply there enjoying themselves. Your actions are as much an advertisement of your business as your images are. Everyone around you could be a potential customer so spending the extra time answering peoples questions about what you are doing could actually be you cultivating your next client.

Kurry teaches photography classes at Fairfax County park locations and is co-owner of SKuared Photographic which provides architectural, industrial, commercial, event and sports photography to a wide variety of clients in the Mid-Atlantic region.

SNAPSHOTS Reflections


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, Shaun Kurry

Photographers: Don Sweeney, Dave Ochs, Shaun Kurry, Pamela Lepold, Tyler Reber


To continue to receive SNAPSHOTS E-News, follow the subscription link and select Photography from the interest categories.


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