Washington DC photo hints

I grew up near Washington DC, and I’ve made many trips (both business and pleasure) to the area since then.  So I feel somewhat qualified to offer ideas on photo opportunities in our nation’s capital.

US CapitolUS Capitol

My most recent visit was last week.  Lynn and I went to Williamsburg, VA to see Caroline (our niece & god-daughter) graduate from high school.  We decided to go early so we could spend a few days as tourists in downtown DC.

"Uncommon Valor was a common Virtue"“Uncommon Valor was a common Virtue” – I was very happy when I saw how the light was falling as we arrived at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.  I couldn’t wait to get off the bus!

I probably don’t have to tell you that DC is a rich photo environment.  Monuments, memorials, museums, history, art, architecture, gardens, government, and more are everywhere.  But how do you get interesting photos, ones different from everyone else’s?  Here are some suggestions.

Try using an Infra-Red modified camera.  I really like the way mine renders buildings against foliage and the sky.

Smithsonian CastleSmithsonian Castle – Infrared, Black and White

Take an evening guided tour:  Lynn signed us up with the Bi-Partisan Tour Company for their “Epic Evening Tour” (thanks Lynn!), and we both really enjoyed it.  They took us around to great locations and allowed us to see them in a different light (dusk, blue hour, and night).  I think it added interest to my photos.

If you do take a tour, stay alert in the bus and watch for good vantage points as you ride.  I spotted the Washington Monument behind the Jefferson Memorial and rushed back to make this shot when we parked while everyone else went into the building itself.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial at duskThomas Jefferson Memorial at dusk – with the Washington Monument in the background

It’s almost always crowded.  You can try going in early on a Sunday morning, but if you’re there with everyone else you’ll have to use the people in your photos or find vantage points / ways to minimize them in your photos.  I don’t know how many were at the Wall when we were there – it was elbow to elbow and had to be thousands.

Crowds at the Vietnam Veterans MemorialCrowds at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963.  Ghostly figures move around the base of this long exposure photograph of the Martin Luther King Memorial at blue hour, with the Washington Monument in the background.

If you go at night, be sure to take your tripod.  It can be a pain, but my night tour images wouldn’t be nearly as good if I hadn’t taken mine.

Some other hints:

  • Contact your senators or congress person to arrange a tour of the capital (you’ll need to start months in advance).  If that doesn’t work out, there are commercial ones available that will still get you a guided tour inside.
  • Take wide or ultra-wide angle lenses.  Building interiors don’t fit in the frame with a standard zoom.
  • Before you go, practice making stitched panoramas.  You can use this technique in place of an ultra wide lens.
  • Stay in a hotel as close to the National Mall as you can.  Parking is scarce and expensive.  You’ll be walking or catching rides to get where you want to go.  Wear comfortable shoes and clothes, and use your light weight photo gear.
  • If you’re from Florida, you’ll appreciate the price of admission.  All of the museums and monuments are free.  Museum hours are usually 10am – 5:30pm.  Lines were typically short, but some will require reservations (check first). You can visit monuments 24/7, but rangers are only available 9:30am to 10pm.
  • You might have cooler weather in May or early June.  It’s not as pleasant to walk around later in the summer with the temperature at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can spend many days (or weeks!) exploring DC.  But if you run out of things there, Photo ops abound in the surrounding area.  Two that I’d highly recommend are the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center just south of Dulles, and Great Falls Park about 30 minutes NW of DC.

I’m collecting Washington DC photos in this album on Flickr, and I’ll add to it as I finish processing images from this trip.  Please check it out!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go to Washington DC and make some photos!

©2017, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

7 thoughts on “Washington DC photo hints

  1. A great account of how to get good shots, which, because of all the planning, foresight and dedication, doubles as an explanation of why yours are so terrific!

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