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Heather & Hari’s Fall Family Portraits at Green Spring Gardens

A man, a woman, and a young girl sit closely on a wooden bench at Greenspring Garden, surrounded by autumn foliage. The adults lean in affectionately towards the girl, who smiles warmly in her colorful dress. This family portrait captures the essence of loving connections and nature's beauty.

This is a family I look forward to working with every year. My first session with this family took place in the harrowing year of 2020, under the socially distant, wind-tunnel conditions at Jones Point Park below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Old Town Alexandria. Their daughter, at (I think) barely four years old, was already a total ham for the camera and immediately fell in love with the portrait session process and my penchant for letting my youngest subjects express themselves creatively as a means to win their buy-in. Let’s just say she very much took the ball and ran with it. At this point, I’m honestly not sure she’s going to give it back.

Since that first session together, I look forward to the way this budding diva greets me, almost like a family member she sees only rarely, but who is always hiding candy in their pockets. I’m not, but perhaps I should be.

On this occasion, I pulled up to Green Spring Gardens about 20 minutes ahead of the family. This was my first visit to this location and I used the time to wander the grounds, get acquainted with the features, and check in with the office to make sure the permit I had secured a couple of weeks earlier was all in order.

I was honestly shocked that this location had flown under my radar — although it’s a little outside our standard service area for portraits, it’s huge, gorgeous, and multidimensional. It calls to mind the versatility of Brookside Gardens up in Bethesda, but with a distinctly more Virginia vibe. As I was returning to the parking lot to wait for the family to arrive, there was Heather & Hari’s daughter, approaching me with the trademark enthusiasm of a stage manager who needs to get this show on the road.

I was playfully evasive, “why hello, what are you doing here!?” — “We’re here to take pictures with you, silly!” She replied, cocking her head to one side with a grin. Heather and her daughter had arrived together, directly from school. Hari was a few minutes behind them and this gave me a chance to catch up with Heather a bit and gush about the location — it had been Heather’s suggestion from the start. I love when my client’s introduce me to new places.

Before long, Hari pulled up still needing to change out of his work-life shirt and into his family-life shirt, which he did with a sort of tumbling fashion in the endearing way that only a dad can. We had a laugh, then wasted no time getting started. Green Spring is big and I’d pinpointed more than a few spots I wanted to take advantage of. Too many, really. We began the work of our session near the pond which sits in the lowlands north of the park proper. This is a special area that this family has meandered around on many warm summer days.

We B-lined for a small gazebo situated between two discontiguous bodies of water. This is one of Heather & Hari’s daughter’s favorite spots — it also just so happened to be one of the few areas down there that wasn’t awash in harsh sunlight at the time. What luck. We warmed up with some photos around the gazebo with the whole family, and some with Hari and his daughter with the sparkling water creating a glaring, but also pleasing, backlight.

From here we stopped for a photo next to a cute footbridge, then wandered around the way toward the rest of the park. Our walk led us through a rustic wooded trail which looked incredible at this time of year. Along the way, we found a big stump, which my star subject took a liking to. She climbed her way to the top and used it to show off her rainbow-colored dress that she had picked out herself.

The path we were on led us directly to one of the spots that I had identified earlier — Green Spring’s “Secret Garden”. A small and intimate, tightly woven, network of paths that wound their way through what I assume is a butterfly garden. We did a round of most of our top priority photos in various areas around the Secret Garden. The whole family, dad and his daughter, mom and her daughter, plus a few especially striking photos of just the little one navigating through some of the scenery and posing on a little red tike-sized bridge spanning a miniature frog stream.

As we carried on, we stopped around various spots I had already identified, and new ones that spontaneously caught my eye as the late afternoon lighting conditions shifted. It wasn’t long before Hari would need to leave for a meeting, and so we started to wind down our main session around Green Spring’s primary gazebo. Although often reserved for small weddings and elopements, it was empty on this day, and I used it and the surrounding pathways to capture some really nice photos with a wider angle.

Once Hari departed, the three of us remaining circled back to a few little spots we’d skipped over earlier for a little mini-session with mother and daughter. And with that, the sunlight was fleeting, and we wrapped things up. There were so many things I loved about this session — from the almost family-style familiarity with my subjects, to the exploration of a stunning new-to-me location, and the distinct phases this session progressed through. The warmth and sweetness of the photos are a near-perfect reflection of how this session felt to capture and I can’t wait to see what we get into next time.