Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens / by Todd Henson

Ponds full of lotus blossoms at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

My brother and I had the opportunity to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, in Washington, D.C., during the lotus flower blooming season, which occurs during the typically hot and humid days of July. This particular day, though, was unseasonably comfortable. The sky was lightly overcast for most of the morning, providing nice soft light for photographing the lotus and water lilies.

This year I was immediately drawn to dragonflies alighting on the tops of lotus buds, flowers, or stems. I think they make great subjects and they usually sit still long enough to fire off a number of exposures.

Dragonfly on unopened lotus bloom, with seed pod in the background

Dragonfly with lotus blossom in the background

The bumble bees were also a lot of fun to photograph, though they make for far more difficult subjects than dragonflies. The bees don’t sit still for long, and focusing on one while at a wide aperture is challenging. I tried to pre-focus at a spot I thought a bumble bee might fly through, then fired off shots anytime one came close. It was very hit or miss, but great fun.

Bumble bee flowing into center of lotus blossom

The lotus flowers in bloom are the typical subjects this time of year, but I also find the seed pods, left over after the bloom has fallen, to be interesting subjects. One day perhaps I will go back later in the year when the seed pods open to reveal the seeds.

Lotus seed pod with out of focus lotus blossom in background

During July, Kenilworth also hosts a number of water lilies of various colors, including white, pink, and purple. The water lily ponds are often full of distracting elements, but if you work at it you can find some nice compositions. Granted, I did use the spot removal tool to clone out the more distracting floaters around the flowers.

Water lilies

Partially open water lily

I also experimented making a few infrared photos. The gardens have an attractive bridge over a couple of the ponds. One of the park rangers called it their “turtle bridge.” I don’t have an infrared converted camera, so I have to use an infrared filter that blocks out all visible light. This makes for long exposures, in this case about 3 1/2 minutes, causing a lot of blurry motion when the wind is blowing or when people are moving through the shot slow enough. But in this case there was very little wind, and any people that entered the frame moved enough that they didn’t show up in the finished photo. I white balanced on the tree leaves (chlorophyl), increased the saturation to bring out the gold in the cloudy sky and used split toning to add a little brown warmth to the bridge. All the trees, lily pads in the foreground, and lotus flowers in the background glowed in infrared and so were captured in white.

Bridge over ponds, water lilies in the foreground, lotus in the background

If you’ve never been to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens they are well worth a visit.