Photographing Washington DC – Pt 2
This is the second of two posts that will talk about my photography adventures in Washington DC. Part 1 discusses how I shot the National Mall and related Memorials. To repeat some of what I said in that post, I traveled there in November 2015 and had some spare time to explore the sights with camera in hand. Weather was great (for the most part) and I was able to spend time with my brother and, later, a friend joined us.
In this post I’ll try to talk about my approaches in shooting some of DC’s other sites – some well known and some a little further off the regular track. I’ll show a few spots near the mall, Arlington Cemetery and locations near Dupont Circle.
Click any image to view it larger.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
I’ll start with one location that I hadn’t visited before, but was on my ‘must-do’ list this trip. The Library of Congress is located a short walk behind the US Congress Building. I had seen photos online and really wanted to see it in person. I was not disappointed.
The Library of Congress is housed in the Thomas Jefferson Building. When you enter, you’ll have access to the Great Hall, which is full of ornate design, mosaics and sculptures. You’ll also be able to see the main reading room from the visitor gallery on the second floor. There are lots of vantage points and endless compositions to choose from. I’ll admit that I was a little overwhelmed and would like to go back there for more shots.
I also wish that I had brought a tripod with me. Light was low towards the end of the day, but I think that any time of day would be helped with a tripod. To combat this, I used railings, my foot and whatever else I could find to stabilize my camera.
I shot at a wide range of ISO from 200 to 1600. The photo on the right (statue) was shot at 200ISO, f4.5, 1/4s – while using a railing to steady the camera and 28mm lens. I shot all of these Library of Congress photos with a 28mm lens on a full-frame Nikon D800e.
This image on the left was shot from the visitors gallery that overlooks the Main Reading Room. One problem with shooting in this area is that it’s enclosed in glass. Thankfully I had a polarizing filter with me and could cut most of the reflections out.
I also shot a vertical panorama of the Reading Room from the Gallery (right) and the polarizing filter helped make this one possible. I still had some glare at the very top that I needed to crop out. Light was dim, so I shot this at 1600 ISO, 1/80s.
Shooting in low light, without a tripod leads to a number of decisions that I have to make on most shots. First, how much depth of field do I need (or want) (or can get away with) – this is depends somewhat on the lens as a wide angle has a lot of apparent depth of field. I also need to consider the lens when selecting aperture. Will it perform as well at f2.8 as a f8? Not likely with the Nikkor 28mm, so if I want to get maximum sharpness in the corners, then I stop down to about 5.6 or 8. This of course will affect my shutter speed, so now I’m shooting at f7.1 and 1/13s (ISO 200). This is really borderline for a handheld shot, and not the best situation when the tripod is at the hotel. I’m also dealing with areas of dark shadows in the ceilings and bright end-of-day light coming in through the windows. So many choices! I ended up going with the 1/13s shutter speed and placing the camera on my foot for balance. I waited until every person was out of the scene and shot. The low angle gave me an interesting perspective on this area of the Grand Hall.
I shot number of frames like this, but many have people I didn’t notice at the time or a self-stick poking out from the edge. Getting an isolated shot in popular tourist areas is always a challenge.
Sadly, the day we planned on visiting the Ford Theatre, it was closed. The theatre wasn’t open, but they did have a museum in the basement that displayed a lot of memorabilia. Also, the Petersen House across the street from the theatre is open for tours. This is the location where Lincoln was taken after being shot and died the following day.
The room itself was quite small, and dark – somewhat unremarkable for such a historic location. I decided that I should include their small sign to add some ‘heft’ to the image. I ended up shooting this one at 6400 ISO and had a color cast that I didn’t want to deal with, so I converted it to black and white with a sepia tone to help ‘sell’ the history of the event and location.
It’s always fun to visit the zoo, and although it was the coolest day of the trip and overcast. Normally I would take a telephoto to a zoo, but I didn’t pack one for this trip. I shot these with my 85mm lens so I had some ‘reach’ for the animals I saw. I usually challenge myself to try to make as natural of a shot as I can within the zoo environment. This isn’t always possible with glass, ropes and other barriers. You’re also limited by lighting, time of day and other factors including (most importantly) animal behaviour.
It also helps to be on the lookout for things that are happening behind the scenes. You never know when you’ll see a gorilla using a computer.
Getting around DC is really easy with the Metro System. It helps to pick a hotel near a line and have your points of interest within walking distance of a stop, which is what this trip was all about! Here’s some photos I shot while waiting for the train.
There’s always something to shoot. Always a new composition to try. I took a lot of panning and slow shutter speed / blurry train shots and most of the them didn’t work. But it was fun to try. Even a simple shot like pointing down at the escalator (they’re long, so I had a lot of time) can result in a fun composition. Remember, you have a card full of hundreds of possible images and not a roll of 24 exposure film.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
I was in DC during the week of November 11, a solemn day in many countries. We took the Metro out to Arlington on that day as we knew the president was laying a wreathe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We thought we might be able to catch a glimpse of him if we were in the right place at the right time. It turns out that he was giving a speech at an amphitheater after the wreathe ceremony and we were able to find seats and catch everything.
To get this shot I borrowed back the 18-200 zoom that I was lending my brother. We were about 150 feet away with a clear view. Vice President Biden was also there and I was able to catch a fun moment when a young fan ran up to greet him.
After the ceremony, the rest of the morning was spent wandering the grounds past the endless tombstones and monuments. It was a wonderful fall day, but tough to fully enjoy. These were all shot with a 28mm lens, some are merged panoramas.
Our hotel was in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood. At one time it was home to the movers and shakers of DC and many grand homes still remain. In fact most of the former homes that still stand are embassies and part of ‘Embassy Row’. Some homes are available for tours, so we visited a couple. One belonged to a former president (Woodrow Wilson) and the other belonged to a local brewmaster. The “Brewmaster’s Castle” was an ornate palace, while the president’s home was much more subdued.
The Brewmaster’s Castle (Heurich House) is a wonderful stop for anyone in the area. We had a great guide tell us the history of the home and family, and after the tour we could take some photos. The light was very low which called for a high ISO. It was tough to get detail out of the dark woodwork in the dark rooms.
Woodrow Wilson House is about a 15 minute walk from the ‘castle’ and takes you past many embassy buildings, statues and other sites. The tour give a great history into the man, his presidency and the house. Most interesting fact? He didn’t have the money to buy the home when leaving office, so some people pooled together the money to buy it for him. He was also the only president to stay in DC after leaving the oval office.
The house is formal, subdued and (of course) lit with dim lights. I normally don’t like noise in my images, but I found in this series that it added a nice texture to the scenes and helped fill the mood.
That concludes Part Two of my DC Photo tour. Thanks for reading this far! If you missed Part One, you can find it here. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or email me at Art@ArtWhitton.com