Pics in the Parks relaunch inspires residents to explore Boston’s parks through photography


One of Sharryn Ross’ photo submissions for this season’s first Pics in the Parks prompt, which asked participants to focus on one color. The photos were taken at the Arnold Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Sharryn Ross.

Jessica Xing, news staff

As the leaves start to change colors and cover the city in warm shades of red, orange and yellow, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has relaunched its Pics in the Parks program to encourage residents to get outside and explore Boston’s parks by taking photos.

Originally, the program involved meeting in person in a park with a photography instructor, but currently Pics in the Parks is virtual, allowing people to learn and improve their photography on their own.

Joan Doucette, an 84-year-old retired administrative assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expressed how she finds the prompts helpful.

“I like the idea that he gives you tips on what to look for. … He makes you very much aware of your surroundings,” Doucette said, referring to Steve Kruskowski, the program manager.

This fall’s relaunch will include four prompts posted every week, with the last prompt to be posted Oct. 25. Individuals are encouraged to submit photos by emailing [email protected] or by posting photos on social media using the hashtag #Picsintheparks. Some images are chosen to be featured in an online gallery and on the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s Instagram.

The program was revamped to be virtual during the pandemic to allow people to enjoy the parks in a safe, socially-distant manner, and has remained the same since.  

“It was really a nice thing to do during the pandemic because you really couldn’t meet people,” Doucette said. “I lived near the Boston Common and the Public Garden so it was very easy for me to take photographs and submit them.”

Since the pandemic, the program has been relaunched sporadically. The Boston Parks and Recreation Department decided to relaunch Sept. 30 because it’s a good time to appreciate the parks, especially during peak foliage, Kruskowski said.

Kruskowski said he crafts the prompts based on videos he watches, tips and tricks he finds online, photography books that he borrows from the library and what he personally thinks helps him improve his photography skills.

The three prompts that have been published so far asked participants to focus on color, texture and leading lines, respectively.

“It makes you very aware of what you’re looking at and doing,” Doucette said.

Sharryn Ross, a 75-year-old retired immigration lawyer who only recently heard about the program, said she believes the prompts will help her to broaden her range of photography.

“I think it will be fun to have a specific subject, because it’ll make me think about taking different kinds of pictures,” Ross said.

The prompts are also meant to help participants explore more features on their phones, Kruskwoski said. For example, a prompt from 2020 asked people to experiment with the preset filters on their phones.

“I have the iPhone 13 and it takes such incredible pictures,” Ross said. “I don’t even use my camera.”

Similarly, Doucette, who has been photographing for around 60 years, transitioned from using her Lumix camera to her iPhone this past year because she realized that her phone can take beautiful pictures.

When looking for photos to add to the gallery and feature online, Kruskowski said he works with one or two other employees to go through all of the submissions. They first confirm the photo was taken in a Boston park and that it follows the prompt, and then they look for photos that highlight the beauty of the parks.

Kruskowski said he expects the program to gain more participants as more prompts are posted. In the past, there have been around 50 submissions per prompt.

While there are currently no plans for a winter program, 12 prompts from previous years will still be listed on the website for anyone looking for extra photography challenges. The Boston Parks and Recreation Department is also working with the Boston Park Rangers and Urban Wilds staff to host Hike Boston, a program that involves open hikes and informational sessions in parks that aren’t as well known for those looking to explore local parks even more.