Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Purple Tropical Water Lily by Todd Henson

Purple tropical water lily at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Water lilies can be such beautiful photographic subjects. But often they grow in crowded, busy, sometimes dirty ponds that create a compositional challenge. And they are often growing far enough into the pond you can’t quite get close enough to fill the frame or position them against a decent background.

But if you keep looking you can sometimes find a great subject against a pleasing background. I was fortunate to find such a situation at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

I was there for the lotus flowers, but the park also hosts water lily ponds, and I love trying to photograph water lilies. So this trip I actually went to the water lily ponds before looking at the lotus ponds.

I’m glad I did. It was still early and the sun wasn’t yet fully out over the ponds. This created a nice, soft light to show off the flowers without any harsh shadows.

Now to find a subject. I was very fortunate to find a lone water lily growing well above the water. And positioned just behind the water lily was a good sized lily pad.

Often the lily pads are damaged or dirty. But this lily pad was fairly intact and not too discolored. There were some off color patches, but by using a telephoto lens and a large aperture, which created a shallow depth of field, I was able to blur the lily pad enough that any rough patches mostly disappeared into the background.

I did the best I could to stand tall enough to look into the flower as much as possible. I wanted to see all that beautiful detail and color, the purples and the fiery oranges.

I also tried to line up the stem of the flower with the notch in the bottom of the lily pad, and place the flower so it was surrounded by out of focus green from the lily pad in the water behind it.

In the end this is my favorite photograph from the trip.

Stages of a Lotus Flower Blooming at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens by Todd Henson

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, in Washington, D.C., is full of beautiful blooming lotus flowers each summer. They have pond after pond of these amazing plants.

This year I tried to capture as many of the stages of the lotus flower as I could. Below are the results of my attempts, along with some examples from previous years.

Unopened Lotus Bud

Unopened lotus bud at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The earliest stage of the lotus flower I captured is the unopened bud. In this example you can see some of the folded up petals already turning pink. It won’t be long before this bud begins to open.

Newly Opened Lotus Flower

This lotus flower hasn’t been open long.

Newly opened lotus flower at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Finally, the bud has opened. Early morning light can work so well with these flowers, causing the petals to almost glow at times. You can still see green on the lower petals, which would have been the outer layer of the bud. I love the dark pink of the center since it’s still mostly in shadow.

Blooming Lotus Flower

Blooming lotus flower at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Now the lotus flower is blooming, almost fully open. The center is more open, less in shadow, but still a deeper pink than the outer petals. The out of focus green leaves of the lotus plant make beautiful backgrounds for the pink flowers.

Fully Open Lotus Flower

A beautiful, fully open lotus flower with a bumble bee buzzing into the center.

Lotus flowers can be so beautiful when fully open. This is one of my favorite photographs of a lotus flower, with a bumble bee flying in towards the center. This photo makes a beautiful print and can be purchased from my online store.

Fully open lotus flower at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

This lotus flower is fully open. In fact, it is at the later stages of being fully open, when it begins losing its petals. Notice the shape of the yellow center, with all the darker yellow dimples on the top. The seeds will form under these dimples. 

Closeup of the center of an open lotus flower.

It’s a little later in the day now and there were very few clouds in the sky, so you can see shadows forming on the petals. They lose the ethereal glow seen on the earlier flowers which were created a little earlier, and possibly when the sun was behind a cloud.

Green (Unopened) Lotus Seed Pod

Green lotus seed pod after the petals have fallen.

Now the petals of the lotus flower have fallen, leaving behind the central seed pod which has turned green. This one still has some of the hair-like portion that forms at the base of the center. I didn’t notice until later there is an insect flying just under the seed pod on the left. 

A large lotus seed pod, not yet opened.

This photo shows a larger seed pod, later in its development. Behind it is the blurred pink of a still blooming lotus.

Opened Lotus Seed Pod

Opened lotus seed pods.

In this stage the center section will dry up and turn brown. That’s beginning to happen in this photo, though the pod is still mostly green. Those dimples we saw on the top on the fully green seed pods have opened, revealing the seeds. The brown seed pods are sometimes used in flower arrangements.

Bonus: Lotus Flowers Dancing in the Wind

A pair of lotus flowers dancing in the wind, using a slow shutter speed to capture the motion blur.

Finally, as an added bonus, here are a pair of lotus flowers dancing in the wind. As the day progressed the wind began to pick up, making it more and more difficult to photograph the lotus blossoms without motion blur.

So instead of getting aggravated, I decided to go with the flow and intentionally slowed my shutter speed to make the most of the motion blur caused by the wind. I certainly wouldn’t consider this an award winning photograph, but it was fun creating. You never really know what you’ll get when you try these sorts of experiments.

I hope you enjoyed this short exploration of the stages of a lotus flower blooming. If you’d like to see more photographs from Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens check out the following posts:

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And if you’re looking for some beautiful wall art, check out Lotus Flower and Bumble Bee at my online store. It’s also available on throw pillows and various other products.

Purchase Fine Art Prints by Todd Henson

National Park Service Centennial by Todd Henson

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) turned 100 on Thursday, August 25, 2016. The National Parks, and other lands managed by the NPS, truly are some of the jewels of the United States. The NPS works to preserve some of the most beautiful locations in the country, while still keeping them open and accessible to the public. I have benefited greatly from this system of parks and monuments, and I hope they continue to be preserved far into the future.

I have not visited nearly as many of the parks or monuments as I would like, but included in this post are photographs from a number of the locations I have had the privilege of visiting, sometimes multiple times. The National Park Foundation can help you find a park near you.

National Park lands are known for their iconic scenic views, beautiful mountain ranges, flowing streams and waterfalls, and fields of flowers. But they are also home to wildlife of all sorts: mammals, reptiles, birds, spiders, etc. And the Park lands also include many monuments and memorials showcasing fantastic statues and amazing architecture. If you haven't been to a National Park, Monument, or Memorial lately, get out there! Go visit one today. And take along your camera, create a few images. It's worth the trip.


Locations Around the National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Memorial at night

Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool at dawn

Washington Monument & Cherry Blossoms Reflected in the Tidal Basin

National World War II Memorial Water Fountains

Storm over the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin in Black & White

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial in Infrared

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial and Washington Monument in Black & White

Closeup of Jefferson Memorial in Black & White


Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, Washington, D.C.

Lotus Flower and Bumble Bee against green background

White Water Lily in dark pond

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Bridge in Infrared

Dragonfly on unopened Lotus Flower


Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park in Black & White

Pika in Rocky Mountain National Park

Uinta Chipmunk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Clark's Nutcracker in Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellow-bellied Marmot in Rocky Mountain National Park

Facing the Storm in Rocky Mountain National Park (Black & White)


Acadia National Park, Maine

Long exposure of a rocky shoreline in Acadia National Park, Maine (warmer tones)

Long exposure of a rocky shoreline in Acadia National Park, Maine (cooler tones)

Panorama of inlet and rocky beach in Acadia National Park, Maine


Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland

Falls Along Canal in Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Great Blue Heron Above Falls in Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Double-crested Cormorant in Potomac River at Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park


Great Falls Park, Virginia

Prelude to Rafting at Great Falls Park in Virginia

Kayakers in Potomac River at Great Falls Park

To the Falls, Great Falls Park

Facing The Fingers on the Potomac River at Great Falls Park


Turkey Run Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia

Blue Phlox at Turkey Run Park

Yellow Trout Lily at Turkey Run Park


Prince William Forest Park, Virginia

Stream in Prince William Forest Park

Quaker Ladies Flowers in Prince William Forest Park

Daisy Fleabane Flower in Prince William Forest Park

Arrowhead Orbweaver Spider in Prince William Forest Park


Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive Sunset in Shenandoah National Park

Flowers along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park


The resource list below contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.


Resources from my library

National Parks: Our American Landscape
Earth Aware Editions

Ian Shive, recipient of the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, is well known for photographing America's National Parks. His work is showcased in a book titled, The National Parks: Our American Landscape. I own a paperback edition of this book, and it contains some fantastic imagery, along with a number of essays by different writers. The book is in landscape format, approximately 8" x 10.5" and is 228 pages in length.

Ian's photos in this book present a far better sampling of our National Parks than I've done above. He has visited and photographed a great many of the parks over the years, capturing all aspects of them, from the iconic to the smaller, more subtle details. I believe Ian is a true master of his craft.

Photographing America's National Parks  with Ian Shive.  Image credit: CreativeLive

Photographing America's National Parks with Ian Shive. Image credit: CreativeLive

In addition to the book mentioned above, Ian Shive has taught a 3-day class at CreativeLive titled, Photographing America's National Parks. This class includes over 15 1/2 hours of video, along with several PDF documents with extra info, such as the keynote slides and some amazing examples of Ian's work. I own this class and really enjoyed watching it. This was the first CreativeLive class to take the studio out to a National Park, allowing Ian to demonstrate, in the field, how he goes about creating his images. Most of the topics he discusses are relevant to any form of outdoor nature photography, whether in a local park, National Park, or just in your own backyard. In fact, he advocates starting in your backyard. Most of us have something near us worth photographing, and having it close by gives us the opportunity to easily return over and over again at different times of the day and during different seasons. We can really learn the place. And this helps later when we travel to other locations because we've already spent the time locally learning our lessons, getting to know our gear, learning about light and composition, knowing what's possible.

The class includes many videos on location. The locations include several parks along the Olympic Peninsula, such as Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. In some videos Ian takes us through a photo shoot, describing what he sees and what he's thinking as he works the scene. In others he takes us on a scouting trip, looking for scenes that might prove promising at a different time in different light.

Back in the studio he talks about how to select and edit your images and takes us through his process. As with many of the CreativeLive photography classes, this one includes critique sessions where they discuss student photographs. These are great learning sessions. Later he talks about the business side of nature photography, describing different markets for selling your work, including a stock agency he founded, Tandem Stills + Motion.

Photographing America's National Parks is available seperately or as part of the Travel Photography Toolkit, which also includes: Post-Processing for Outdoor and Travel Photographers with Ben Willmore and Travel Photography: The Complete Guide with Ben Wilmore. I purchased the first two and received a free copy of Travel Photography: The Complete Guide.