Fort Hunt Park, Virginia by Todd Henson

A view of Battery Mount Vernon at Fort Hunt Park along the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia.

Fort Hunt Park is located near Mount Vernon, along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, on land once owned by George Washington as part of his River Farm plantation. It is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is a national park. Though primarily a recreational park, with sports fields, playgrounds and areas for picnics or cookouts, it is also of historic significance.

Fort Hunt was completed in 1897, just in time for the Spanish-American War. It was built as part of the Endicott Coastal Defense System, proposed by Secretary of War William C. Endicott, to upgrade the country’s coastal defenses. Being located on the Potomac River, Fort Hunt, along with Fort Washington, across the river in Maryland, were tasked with protecting Washington, D.C. from naval assault.

Though completed before the start of the Spanish-American War, Fort Hunt never actually saw any action during that war. As technology advanced, the coastal defense system provided by installations like Fort Hunt were no longer needed, so its guns were dismantled and sent off to support World War I operations. But the fort continued to be used by the military until the 1930s, when it was converted into a Civilian Conservation Corp camp.

In 1933, Fort Hunt became Fort Hunt Park, part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a national park. However, with the onset of World War II, Fort Hunt was temporarily turned back over to the military and used for top secret military intelligence operations. This lasted four years, after which it returned to its status as national park land.

Today you can visit and walk along some of the remains of the military fortifications of Fort Hunt. There are four batteries still located in the park, as well as the Battery Commander’s Station.

Battery Sater

Battery Sater, Fort Hunt Park, Virginia

Battery Sater was completed in 1904 and supported three 3-inch rapid-fire guns with a range of 4.5 miles. It was the last of the four gun batteries completed, and also served as a command center for mines placed in the Potomac River between Fort Hunt and Fort Washington.

One section of Battery Sater from the ground level.

Looking out at Battery Sater from the top level.

A leaf filled walkway of Battery Sater.

A look inside one of the closed off rooms of Battery Sater.

I enjoyed photographing Battery Sater. It was one of the two batteries, along with Battery Mount Vernon, that supported three guns, making it second largest of the structures. There were lots of interesting little nooks and crannies to see while walking its walls. I even tried using the high ISO features of my camera to see into the dark of some of it’s closed off rooms.

Battery Porter

Looking up at Battery Porter, Fort Hunt Park, Virginia

Battery Porter was completed in 1902 and supported one 5-inch rapid-fire gun with a range of 7 miles. This gun was intended to draw enemy ships into range of the larger and more powerful guns of Battery Mount Vernon.

Battery Porter is fairly small, as it supported a single gun, so I didn’t create many photographs of this location.

Battery Robinson

Battery Robinson was completed in 1901 and, similar to Battery Porter, supported one 5-inch rapid-fire gun.

I didn’t make it to Battery Robinson this trip. I think I overlooked it when entering the park. I’ll have to return one day and create some photographs of it.

Battery Mount Vernon

Battery Mount Vernon, Fort Hunt Park, Virginia

Battery Mount Vernon was the first and the largest of the batteries at Fort Hunt. It was completed in 1898 and supported three 8-inch breech loading disappearing guns with a range of 8 miles. They were called disappearing guns because their recoil energy was used to lower them down below the protective walls. When they were reloaded they would be raised back above the walls to fire.

Looking down the length of Battery Mount Vernon, one of the batteries to the left.

Looking out at a battery of Battery Mount Vernon.

Turning away from the battery, towards the rest of the fort.

Looking out of Battery Mount Vernon to the rest of Fort Hunt Park.

Gated off rooms at the lower level of Battery Mount Vernon. Nothing can escape graffiti these days.

Battery Mount Vernon was the most interesting to photograph, as it was the largest and most complex of the structures. You can’t go inside any of these structures (they were closed off to protect the public from the asbestos and other chemicals in use at the time), but it has a lot of interesting elements along the outside. I created a few more artistic photographs of Battery Mount Vernon, including An Eye to the Battery, Facing Down the Tower, and Stepping From the Dark.

Battery Commander’s Station

The Battery Commander’s Station is the tower to the right. Battery Mount Vernon is on the left.

The Battery Commander’s Station was a tower used to observe the Potomac River and direct fire at oncoming ships. It could also be used to signal Fort Washington across the river in Maryland.

This was my first trip to Fort Hunt Park. It is a small park and easy to see in a short span of time. Of course, with the photographic opportunities of the batteries it would also be easy to spend many hours here. I hope to return during different seasons to see how the scenery around the batteries change. Perhaps I’ll update this page in the future with any new photographs I create.

I wouldn’t necessarily plan a long trip just to visit Fort Hunt Park. But if you’re in the area, or interested in history, it’s well worth the visit if time permits. It is easy to get to, right off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. If you visit leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of the park and its old fortifications.

Angular Flow No. 2 by Todd Henson

Angular Flow No. 2

The Story

Angular Flow No. 2 is a photograph of water flowing over a dam above Great Falls on the Potomac River, between Maryland and Virginia. This photograph was created on the Virginia side of the river. A previous image, Angular Flow No. 1, was created on the Maryland side. As with the previous photograph, I had been photographing the falls and some of the various birds that congregate along the river.

At one point I ended up at the dam upriver from the falls. For the previous photograph I was standing upriver from the dam looking downriver. For this photograph I was standing just downriver from the dam looking upriver.

As before, I loved the patterns and tones created by the flowing water as it flowed over the dam. And I wanted to capture the interesting forms created by the churned up water below the dam, so I knew I needed a fast shutter speed.

The Technique

To get a fast shutter speed I just needed to open up the aperture of my lens, which lets in more light allowing the sensor to get a proper exposure in less time. As a side effect this also reduces the depth of field, but I chose such a small portion of the dam, and this was intended to be an abstract image, so the shallow depth of field wasn’t a great concern. You can see the water closest to and furthest from the camera is slightly out of focus due to the large aperture.

Using an aperture of f/5.6 and raising my ISO to 800 let me use a fast shutter speed of 1/2500 second, freezing the foaming water below the dam and letting us see some of the interesting patterns.

The Processing

Below is the raw image before I made any adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. It is a color image, but there isn’t much color and it didn’t contribute anything to the photograph so I knew I would convert to black and white.

The original raw image for Angular Flow No. 2

The exposure was a little darker than I would have preferred so I raised the exposure in Lightroom, lightening up the water. I also brightened the whites and darkened the blacks to add a little more contrast. And finally, I converted the image to black and white and adjusted each color channel to balance the tones. In this case there wasn’t much color in the image so I didn’t tweak much.

Angular Flow No. 2 - The final version in black and white

What do you think, would you have done anything differently? Let me know in the comments below.

Angular Flow No. 1 by Todd Henson

Angular Flow No. 1

The Story

Angular Flow No. 1 is a more abstract photograph than I usually create. It depicts water flowing over a dam above Great Falls on the Potomac River, which flows between Maryland and Virginia and past Washington, DC.

I had been on the Maryland side of the river photographing the falls and also some of the many Great Blue Herons that congregate at the falls looking for fish. A little later in the day, while standing on a platform overlooking the dam above the falls I was taken by the interesting lines and tones as the water flowed over the dam.

I liked the look of the flowing water, and how the dam created a distinct line between the darker water above the dam and the lighter water below the dam. I figured a slow shutter speed would accentuate this, smoothing out the water and showing all the different tones, helping with the abstract nature of the scene.

The Technique

I wanted a slow shutter speed but I didn’t have a neutral density filter with me, so instead I stopped the aperture of my lens down as far as it would go, f/36 in this case. Stopping down the aperture limits the amount of light that gets through the lens to the camera sensor. That’s why it lets you use a slower shutter speed, the sensor needs more time to collect enough light for the exposure.

Stopping down the aperture also increases the depth of field. I wasn’t all that worried about the depth of field in this case, but it does help assure the line of water going over the dam is in focus.

Be aware, using very small apertures can also adversely affect the sharpness of a photograph due to diffraction. In this case I wasn’t as worried about that, as the subject was flowing water. But you may notice your photos are a little soft when you use the smallest aperture. If this happens open the aperture a little more.

Setting an aperture of f/36 and keeping my ISO as low as I could (ISO 200) let me keep the shutter open for 5 seconds (requiring a tripod), creating just the sort of look I was after.

The Processing

Below you can see the raw image I started with before making any adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. This is an unprocessed raw, so it is naturally a little flat. I didn’t think the rocks in the background added anything to the image, as I was most interested in the water, itself. So I cropped out the top part of the image. I also noticed the rocks were not very sharp.

The original raw image for Angular Flow No. 1

Next I tweaked the white balance and made various other adjustments to bring out a little more contrast between the different parts of the frame. As you can see below, the blue, reflected from the sky, begins to look a little unrealistic. But I had in mind a monochromatic photograph to concentrate on just the tones and lines so I wasn't worried about how the colors looked, just how the contrast and patterns looked.

Initial color processing of Angular Flow No. 1

Finally, I converted the image to black and white and tweaked all the color channels to adjust the levels of grey associated with each color. I brought up the whites and darkened down the blacks. In the color images the water flow was not quite horizontal, there was a slight upward tilt towards the left. So I rotated the image just slightly to make the water flow more horizontal. I thought about cropping such that the diagonal line of the dam ran from one corner to the other but I actually preferred the look where the line ends just above and below the corners.

Angular Flow No. 1 - The final version in black and white

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Would you have done things any differently?