lotus blossom

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.


Lotus with Bumble Bee - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Image of Lotus Flower with Bumble Bee against green background

Each year Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens grows ponds full of lotus plants. These plants bloom during the typically hot, humid summer. If you happen to be there on the right type of day, especially early in the morning when the sun is low and the light is soft, you can create some very nice images. When the lotus flowers are open and the sun back lights the flowers they glow a beautiful pink color.

This particular morning I had found a nice looking flower with a large green leaf behind it. The leaf almost perfectly framed the pink flower, providing a striking contrast between the green and red/pink. The sun was behind the lotus and the sky was cloudy giving off a soft light that provided the glow I was after. After lining up the flower with the leaf in the background I waited. Bumble bees were flying from flower to flower, and my goal was to capture a bumble bee in flight above the lotus. Depth of field was a challenge. I was shooting wide open with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a 2x teleconverter giving me an aperture of f/5.6. This was to assure the background was just a soft out of focus area of green tones. There wasn’t a lot of light and I kept the ISO at 200 giving me a shutter speed of 1/250 second. I probably should have raised the ISO for a faster shutter speed to increase my odds of capturing a flying bumble bee in focus.

Strangely enough, the very first image I made was my favorite of that session. It captured a mostly in focus bumble bee with a nice orange batch of pollen, wings in motion, just over the core of the lotus flower and between two pink petals. I kept shooting, trying to improve on the first image, but none of the following images captured to me, what the first image had. Below is a selection of some of the other unprocessed images. In several cases I only captured part of the bee. In some it was more out of focus. In a couple the bee was above the flower with green background. I much preferred the bee against the soft pink/white background. It helped the bee pop out just as the pink of the flower against the green background helped the flower pop.

Sometimes you get lucky, as I did this time, and you capture your favorite image the first time. But more often than not the best image doesn’t come until later, after you’ve made a number of shots, perhaps tried different perspectives, changed angle, tried different focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds. So even if you think you’ve captured a great image it almost always pays to keep shooting, keep experimenting, keep practicing. And always be aware of the light. Without the right light this image would not have worked.

To process the final image I darkened the background a bit, adding a vignette to help focus the eye on the glowing lotus flower. I increased the vibrance just a touch to accentuate the pinks and yellows, and added a slight tone curve to provide a bit more contrast. I felt this image was nice enough out of camera it didn’t require much processing. Below is the final image.

Final image of Lotus Flower with Bumble Bee


Lotus and Water Lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens - 2015 by Todd Henson

Dark pink lotus blossoms just opening

Opening lotus blossom covered in rain drops

It’s that time of year again when lotus and water lilies are in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C., when they hold their annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival. The day started with rain, leaving us wondering if it was worth the drive if it was going to be a wash out. But the rain was forecast to clear up so we made the trip and it was well worth it. The rain left water droplets on all the flowers, naturally saturated all the colors, and honestly, kept some of the early morning crowds a little lighter than they might have been otherwise, though the crowds did grow as the rain stopped. It’s fascinating all the different people who show up to view these flowers. One day perhaps I’ll photograph some of the people as well as the blooms.

Bumble bee above dark pink lotus blossom. There are several streaks of rain on the left side.

One thing I noticed this year was some of the ponds contained lotus blossoms that were lighter in color, a very pale pink that almost seemed to glow. The overcast day was perfect for photographing these, no harsh light, no hard shadows. Just an evenly lit glowing lotus blossom. Other ponds held lotus blossoms of a much darker, deeper pink. These had beautiful color, but didn't glow quite like the paler blossoms did. I love the variety.

Bumble bee above a lotus blossom

Small green insect on lotus blossom

Six-Spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes Triton)

As with last year I found myself looking for insects to add some extra interest to the photos. This year there were very few dragonflies because of the rain, though they did begin coming out after the rain ended. I did manage to capture a couple bumble bees, as well as several other small insects. The most distinctive insect (arachnid, actually) I photographed was a fishing spider. I believe it was a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes Triton), if I've identified it correctly. I found it on a lily pad. When other folks walked closer it dove into the water and disappeared. Fascinating.

Pink water lily and a small insect

The lotus blossoms draw the largest crowds, but if your timing is good you can also view some of the beautiful water lilies in other ponds. Kenilworth has a nice variety of water lilies. Some are very simple white flowers, in fact, my favorite photo of the day is of a white water lily. Some of the water lilies are similar shades of pink to those of the lotus. And some of the water lilies are amazing shades of purple, though I don't have any photos of those in this post.

White water lily, my favorite image of the day

The photograph, White Water Lily, is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.

We usually arrive early in the morning and continue photographing and walking around until we get comfortably tired. But this means we often don't spend a lot of time around the festival events. This year was no different, but we did see the tail end of a presentation by and about Cindy Dyer, an Alexandria-based photographer who was recently honored by the United States Postal Service by having a series of her photographs used on a set of Forever Stamps. She's a very talented photographer and has produced some beautiful images. She is well deserving of the honor.