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 May 2016


May 2016

Camera Traps Capture Wildlife in Action

By Carol Ochs, Staff Writer

Brian Balik conducts occasional park programs to demonstrate how the cameras work.
Click on photo for full resolution version. Photo credit: Brian Balik.

One way to get great wildlife photos is to stay out of the way and let the camera do all the work. That’s the idea behind camera traps being used for research at some Fairfax County parks. These trail cameras, or game cameras, are placed along wildlife trails. When an animal wanders by and breaks an infrared beam, the heat or motion triggers the camera. The cameras can be set to record one or multiple frames, and they can be programmed with a five- or ten-minute delay between shots so the same animal isn’t photographed over and over again. The camera boxes can be fitted with an infrared flash so the animals won’t be disturbed.

At Riverbend Park, naturalist Brian Balik has been using the cameras since 2013 as a research tool to capture the comings and goings of deer, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes and fox, such as these. He manages projects with more than 300 trail cameras throughout the Washington, D.C. area, using multiple cameras at most locations.

If you have an interest in setting up your own camera trap in a county park, you must get permission first from natural resources staff and/or park managers. Balik is happy to work with photographers to point them in the right direction or have them help with his projects. You can reach him at

Balik conducts occasional park programs to demonstrate how the cameras work. The next session of Camera Trapping in Wildlife Ecology is coming up on Sunday, June 5, 2016.

Park Pix Tips
Diving into Depth of Field

By Jessica Wallach, Photography Instructor

Frying Pan Farm Park Long Depth Composition by Jessica Wallach

Frying Pan Farm Park Shallow Depth Composition by Jessica Wallach
Click on photos for full resolution versions. These striking photos shot by Jessica Wallach at Frying Pan Farm Park illustrate the impact of shooting with a deep vs. shallow depth of field.

One of the great pleasures of photographing outside is you have room to create deep depth of field. Depth of field is the amount of the picture that is sharp around the focal point. The larger the lens opens, the less around the subject is in focus and the more separation there is from the background.  With camera apertures of F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16, F22, each represents a fraction and needs twice the amount of light as the previous one.  In this scale F2.8 is the largest the shutter opens and F22 is the smallest.

If you put your subject on a bench 10 feet away from a fence and want just that subject to be in focus, then you want a shallow depth of field and want to use a large aperture life F2.8 or F4.  If you want the fence in focus, too, you want a large or deep depth of field and a small aperture like F8 or F11 or F16.

However, it is easy to forget these other factors that govern depth of field:
Distance from camera to subject and subject to background. The farther away your subject is from the camera and the closer the background is to the subject, the more depth of field you will have. This is a great reason to photograph in the parks. There’s plenty of room to step back for those family photos and make sure everyone is sharp. 
Lens Size. A photo taken with a 200 mm lens will look like there is ashallower depth of field than a photo taken of the same thing with a 50 mm lens.

Sensor Size. The larger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field. So if you crave a larger sensor for its low light capabilities, just remember you might be giving up some depth of field. (I know I did and it drove me crazy!)

If you want your children to learn about depth of field and other photography skills this summer, check out the Photo Explorers Camps at Oak Marr RECenter and Frying Pan Farm Park listed in Parktakes Online.

Jessica Wallach is a Community Hybrid Photographer who teaches photography classes at Fairfax County park locations and owns Portrait Playtime - Your Story, Our Lens.

Preserve Those Great Summer Moments with Photos in the Parks

By Don Sweeney, Fairfax County Park Authority Photographer

Tree in Early Summer by Don Sweeney Tree in late Sun by Don Sweeney
Dragonfly by Don Sweeney Butterfly by Don Sweeney

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

I think this particular summer we are all going to be ready to get outside since the weather has been so challenging.  Here are some practical tips to keep you comfortable and help you get the best photos in our parks the summer.

  • Early summer is better to get the greenest of trees. By August things start to die, and not in the good way they do in the fall.
  • Don't forget that insects make great photo subjects. Spiders get bigger as the summer goes on and into the fall. Dragonflies and butterflies are plentiful in August.
  • Avoid shooting in the middle of the day when the lighting is very harsh. I prefer late day shooting. If you have to shoot in the middle of a day, use a fill flash. Turn the flash down at least one stop.
  • Have extra shoes and socks and a change of clothes with you. Nothing is worse than having wet feet all day.
  • Pack a cooler with water, or better yet, use a CamelBak on a shoot. If you get dehydrated, the photo shoot is over.
  • Consider a waterproof housing or a GoPro, which is waterproof. You always seem to be around water in the summer.

Sweeney is the staff photographer for Fairfax County Park Authority.

Bluebells Tolling for Great Photo Ops

Bluebells at Riverbend Park by Don Sweeney Bluebells at Riverbend Park by Don Sweeney
Bluebells at Riverbend Park by Don Sweeney Bluebells at Riverbend Park by Don Sweeney

Click on photos for full resolution versions. Photo credit: Dave Ochs.

It seems there are almost as many cameras as bluebells each year when Riverbend Park hosts it annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. This year, shutter-happy tourists and professional photographers alike kept their iPhones and SLRs busy as the colorful native flowers put on a show. Here’s a look at what they found in mid-April.

Photo Ops Abound in Fairfax County Parks

From still life to new life...

Green Spring Gardens Plant Sale Frying Pan Farm Park Piglets


Kid to kids...

Baby Goat Goat kid and Kids


And natural wonders to historic markers...

Difficult Run Ox Hill Battlefield Marker - Kearny

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

There’s always something to tickle your shutter in Fairfax County parks. Take a stroll in a park, attend a program or show, or delight your portrait subjects with a natural background, but keep that camera handy as you discover what’s waiting for you in the county’s 400+ parks.

Sweeney is the staff photographer for Fairfax County Park Authority.

Share your Park Photos on our Instagram Site

InstagramThe notion that a picture is worth a thousand words dates back to newspapers of the early 1900s, but the idea is even more relevant today in the world of eye-grabbing social media posts. The Park Authority is now showcasing the best of the nature, history and fun that can be found in county parks on its own Instagram site. Photos tell the story on Instagram, and we need your help to make our site shine. Please submit your best park photos via email to: We can provide credit within the Instagram post. We also can post photos with or without an Instagram filter. Your choice. And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to see our story unfold.

Explore Photography in Fairfax County Parks through SNAPSHOTS

Welcome to the May edition of SNAPSHOTS. SNAPSHOTS is dedicated to photography in Fairfax County Parks and aims to provide a forum for sharing information pertaining to photography in our parks as well as a venue for photographers to express their concerns and inspiration through photos and tips, stories and questions.

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.

It would be our pleasure to publish your photos in this e-publication, our website, social media and Flickr. 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. If there is an interest, we would love to sponsor photographic displays and perhaps contests. Let us know. You can reach us at or call the Public Information Office at 703-324-8662.

Warmest regards,
Judy Pedersen
Public Information Officer

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


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


Editor: Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer

Writers and Contributors: Carol Ochs, Jessica Wallach, Don Sweeney

Photographers: Don Sweeney, Jessica Wallach, Brian Balik, Dave Ochs


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