Morven Park is a favorite spot for both amateaur and professional photography in the Leesburg and the greater Northern Virginia area. “Morven Park is one of my favorite places to take pictures,” says professional photographer Marty Shoup, “since it has so much variety it offers lots of opportunity for creativity.” Whether you’re looking for the perfect location for a professional photo session, a casual outdoor spot to take pictures with friends, a background to show off your adorable pets, or beautiful flora to photograph, the park has something for every photographer. Some couples will even take engagement and wedding photos here. “Depending on your personal preference, you can focus on the natural beauty of the grounds, wildlife, trails, wide open spaces, and the historic structures. Plus, with its expansive 1,000 acres it’s rarely crowded, so you don’t have to worry about people wandering into your shots.”
When and Where to Take Pictures at Morven Park
The historic Mansion is a popular spot for portrait photographers. The impressive, centuries-old structure can offer a stunning backdrop and give a sophisticated or even regal impression to your photos. On the other hand, Shoup prefers “to focus on the natural elements around the grounds.” The park is full of trails, pathways, wrought iron gates and cobblestone, water features and picnic areas that can be perfect for photos. “There are several great spots that have brick walkways and stone benches surrounded by greenery. Those are always great spots for taking pictures of people.” Depending on the time of year, you might also get flowers like daffodils, magnolia blossoms or gorgeous fall foliage.
While spring and fall are always beautiful times for photography, the park is beautiful year round. According to Shoup, “Every season has unique characteristics that allow you to capture the beauty of Morven Park to evoke different moods.” Whether it’s the “serenity of a fresh snowfall” or “the nostalgic feel of summer evenings,” the acres of trails and foliage at the park will always have something to offer a photographer with a good eye.
Ultimately, “The best thing you can do at Morven Park is go exploring. With 1,000 acres to explore, you can surely find lots of opportunities for great shots!”
How to Improve Your Shots at the Park
Whether you’re using a smartphone camera or a state-of-the-art DSLR, understanding composition and lighting will improve your pictures (and flatter your subjects, if you’re taking family portraits).
1. Get the Context
For photos of people, “frame wide enough to capture enough context (such as the Mansion in the background).” While your subject should be the center of attention, making sure their surroundings are included can provide context and atmosphere in the photo. “You may need to position the subject well in front of the mansion to get more of it in the frame.” If the context of the picture is some of the park’s foliage, consider having your subject interact with it instead — for example, sniffing the flowers or looking out from behind a tree branch.
If your camera or phone has the option to widen the aperture, that will help blur out the background and put the focus on your subject without losing the context of their beautiful surroundings.
2. Don’t Look at the Sun
You’ve probably been in a group picture where the photographer had you face directly into the sun. While the direct light helps to accentuate the subject and avoid the silhouette effect of having the light behind them, it usually results in squinting. The glare can also flatten out the subject’s face, actually causing you to miss subtle details in the photo.
Instead, Shoup suggests, try positioning your subjects “so they’re lit mostly from the front, but not directly into the sun.” Consider the time of day as well — morning or evening will provide a softer, glowing light, while midday will be brighter and harsher, and may cause squinting. On an overcast day, the light will be even and soft (although keep an eye on the forecast to avoid getting caught in the rain).
3. Pose Creatively
When you pose your subjects, be mindful of the effect you’re trying to create. Is it a professional or business photo? It will probably be more formal — for example, a headshot taken from directly in front, with the subject smiling. For casual photos, on the other hand, “you have a lot more flexibility for posing people.” Take into account your subject’s personality, and experiment with different poses and camera angles.
Taking pictures of a group can present special challenges. It’s easy to have everyone stand in a group, with the tallest people in the back; however, consider mixing it up a little. “Avoid the lineup style,” Shoup suggests, “where you position all subjects side by side in the same focal plane. It’s better to position them in layers and different heights to give the photo more depth.” Try to use the surroundings of the park to your advantage. Can you have some people sit on a bench with others standing behind them? What about the steps of the mansion? Think outside the box of standard group photos, and give your creativity free reign.
4. Narrow Your Focus
If you’ve decided to photograph some of the park’s natural beauty, such as flowers and other foliage, consider using closeup shots. According to Shoup, “a wide shot of a rose bush is relatively uninteresting, while a closeup of the texture of the flower petals is much more attractive.” Focus in on the details of texture and color, and look for other elements, such as raindrops catching the sunlight.
5. Look for the Unusual
While some shots are classic and timeless, the park abounds with opportunities for more unconventional photos, as well. “Look for opportunities to take photos of unusual objects you wouldn’t normally think to capture. This may include unusual angles or closeups. Beauty can be found everywhere,” says Shoup. Learning to keep your eyes open for beauty you might not otherwise notice can be one of the most rewarding aspects of shooting at the park.
Keep the Park Beautiful
No matter what time of day or what holiday is coming up, Morven Park is the perfect place to take pictures. However, “given that Morven Park is an historic property, it’s very important to leave things undisturbed. Be patient and don’t ruin the experience for others.” Whether you’re taking pictures before homecoming or prom, family pictures for Christmas cards, or landscape shots, make sure to share the space respectfully with others, and take any trash with you. And, of course, always follow posted speed limits and park in designated areas only.
Remember that during normal park hours, there is no photography fee for using the park to take pictures. Being respectful of the property helps us to keep offering the grounds for photography free of charge. You can read more about Morven Park’s photography policy here.
Morven Park, once the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis, welcomes 200,000 visitors each year, and it has something for every photographer. At Morven Park you can explore our 1,000 acres or attend family friendly events, immerse yourself in history and civics, and discover world-class equestrian events. Find your happy place. Come play, learn, and discover Morven Park.
Morven Park is a nonprofit that relies on donations to fund its work in historic preservation; the world-renowned Morven Park International Equestrian Center; youth sports and athletics; and a unique civics education program that partners with Loudoun County Public Schools. Our community can play in our gardens and grounds, learn how our past influences the present in our museum and collections, and discover the treasures of Morven Park. Learn more, or donate, HERE.