Keep Your Eyes Open by Todd Henson

Male White-tailed Deer at the edge of the woods watching and listening.

Sometimes as photographers we get so focused on one thing while out in the field that we may miss opportunities. I don’t think focus is bad, especially if you’re working on something very specific. But it can blind us if we become too focused too often.

As an example, I was hiking with my father in a nearby wildlife preserve, a small stretch of land along a river and not far from the city. Birds are one of the most common forms of wildlife I usually find so that’s what I was looking for, my eyes focused up into the trees.

Thankfully my father looked along the edge of the tree-line and saw this lone male white-tailed deer lit up against the dark foliage in the background. The deer saw us but didn’t seem overly concerned. It was curious, raising its ears to listen while watching us. When we didn’t do anything funny it went back to eating the greenery right in front of it before moving back into the trees.

This was a fortunate find. If I hadn’t been hiking with my father I likely would have missed the deer because I was spending so much time looking up into the trees. I need to remind myself to stay alert, to look around every so often, paying attention to my surroundings. You never know what you may find.

And it is sometimes helpful to have a second pair of eyes along with you. 😃

George Washington Birthplace National Monument by Todd Henson

Memorial Obelisk at the entrance to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

Earlier this year I went on a short day trip with my folks. One of the locations we visited was the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As its name implies, this location is a memorial to the birthplace of George Washington, who was born here on February 22, 1732. Very little remains from that time period, as the original house burned in 1779. The Memorial House was built in 1931 and is thought to be representative of houses of that time period.

This National Monument has a lot to offer visitors, so I’d highly recommend visiting at least once if you’ve never been. You can study a little history while here, and they have recreated architecture of that time period. There’s plenty of nature and wildlife, such as osprey and bald eagles. The local scenery is fantastic, and there are enough trails to get in a little exercise while touring the grounds.

History

Naturally, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is full of history. It is an attempt to recreate a small piece of history as a living monument.

Panorama of the Memorial House. This side faces Popes Creek.

The site contains the Memorial House, a Colonial Kitchen, Colonial Garden, and Colonial Farm. There is also the Family Burial Ground, and a Memorial Obelisk that was erected by the War Department in 1896 where the Memorial House currently stands. Later, in 1930, it was moved to its current location at the entrance to the park.

View of the Memorial Obelisk facing the exit of the park.

There is also a small visitor center with a number of historical artifacts from the site. And if you spend some time driving or hiking around the entire park you will discover other small historical treasures.

Architecture

The outline of the original house, with the Memorial House and Colonial Kitchen in the background.

The architecture, though not original, is representative of that time. These are not ruins, but recreations of buildings from that period of history. In 1936 archeologists unearthed the foundation of the original house. They later reburied it to preserve it, but also outlined the location with oyster shells. So you can see the size and location of the original house in relation to the Memorial House.

Side view of the Memorial House. The Colonial Garden was along the trail further to the right.

Nature & Wildlife

The Memorial is located in the Northern Neck of Virginia and is a great location to view nature and wildlife of various sorts. While we were there we watched many bald eagles flying overhead, as well as more osprey than I’ve ever seen in one location. There were almost 2 dozen osprey all flying over the large open waters of Popes Creek looking for fish.

Male Ruddy Duck swimming in an inlet off Popes Creek.

From one of the boardwalks stretching over a small inlet of water we watched as a curious little male Ruddy Duck waddled its way over to us, under the boardwalk, around the little inlet, then back out to Popes Creek. They are fun ducks to watch, with their tails sticking almost straight up as they paddle through the water.

Northern Watersnake in the brush between the trail an Popes creek.

We also found a Northern Watersnake along the brush at the side of a trail. Unfortunately, I think it might have been dead. It didn’t move for the short time we watched it, and zooming in on the photo it appears the head may have been crushed. I’m hopeful this wasn’t the case, but I didn’t try to poke at the snake to verify. I just created a few photos and moved on.

I don't know exactly what this interesting object is, but found it at the end of a tree branch. 

Scenery

This is a great location for admiring beautiful scenery. The back of the visitor’s center has a porch with a couple chairs that over look Pope’s Creek. While we sat there an osprey perched in a tree directly overhead. You could watch other osprey fly above the water, sometimes diving underwater for a fish.

A view of Popes Creek from the back porch of the visitor's center.

If you follow the trails you can see other views of the Creek and where it enters the Potomac River. Some of the trails weave through the woods, and one leads to a sandy beach.

Exercise

And, of course, with all the trails there is the benefit of exercise. Most of the trails are fairly level, so they aren’t overly taxing. Some of the trails are made from crushed oyster shells, which is easy to walk on. And the scenery makes the trails a joy to hike, especially on a day with comfortable weather.

View of the Memorial House through the trees.

This was my first trip to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument. I would like to travel back to this park during different times of the year. I’d love to see the Colonial Garden in bloom. And I’d love to bring my larger lens to photograph the osprey and eagles from the shore. I suspect it would also be a great place to visit if you just need a break and would like a peaceful place to relax.

Check out the George Washington Birthplace National Monument if you’re ever in the area. There’s plenty here to enjoy. And if you do visit let me know what you thought.

Don't Just Stand There! Photograph From Different Perspectives by Todd Henson

Most people create photos from the same position, standing up and holding the camera at eye level. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but if you always do it most of your photos will end up looking the same. If you’d like to give your photos a different look try shooting from different perspectives. Get up higher if you can, perhaps using a ladder. Lean down lower, or even lay on the ground. These different perspectives will help you create a range of images. The 3 images in this post are one example of how changing perspective can affect the look of an image.

Highest perspective. Prospect Harbor Point Light, a lighthouse in Maine.

The first photo was created at eye level. I was standing on a small raised portion of land looking out over the water. I thought it was a beautiful scene, with a very picturesque lighthouse on the far shore and some great fishing boats in the water for added interest. I like the photo. I think it works. But I knew there were other possibilities.

Middle perspective. Prospect Harbor Point Light, a lighthouse in Maine.

For the second photo I walked along the road, looking out at the lighthouse, watching the perspective change as I slowly walked downhill, closer to water level. If you look closely you can see the angle of the house beside the lighthouse has changed. The second image is more parallel to the camera. The first image was angled just slightly allowing you to see just a sliver of the left side. I also like this second image, and I think it also works. The elevation change has slightly changed the look of the image, but mostly the different look is due to a different composition. I was walking around, trying different shots.

Lowest perspective. Prospect Harbor Point Light, a lighthouse in Maine.

Finally, I walked all the way down to the water, to a small sandy beach. I found a position where I almost had a clear view of the lighthouse, with just a couple boats to the right. But to really change the look of the third image I got down low, bringing the camera almost to water level. You can tell it is a much lower position because the lighthouse now extends above the tree line. In the first image the lighthouse just reached the top of the tree line, and in the second it extended a little above it. To add a little more interest to the image I opened the aperture all the way, creating a very shallow depth of field, throwing the foreground water out of focus. I like this last image, and think it also works.

None of the images are necessarily better than the others. But each is different, both because I tried different compositions and because I changed my perspective, getting lower for each image. This is just one small example of how changing perspective can affect the look of an image. In this case it was subtle changes, but you can also create drastically different photos by changing perspective.

Next time you go out shooting I encourage you to try different perspectives. Don’t create all your images from the same eye-level perspective. Try different angles and different heights. If you’re photographing something down low, such as a flower, insect, or child, try getting down to their level. You’ll be creating an image from the perspective of your subject, and that can be an interesting change from the typical eye-level perspective.