Four days in Washington D.C.

Last month I took an all too short family vacation to Washington D.C. It was our first time to visit the city, which gave me an opportunity to put into practice some travel photography techniques.

There is so much to see in our nation’s Capitol, where it seems that there’s a statue of a guy on a horse on nearly every corner, it would be hard to see everything in 4 weeks let alone 4 days. When faced with limited amount of time it’s wise to plan your schedule and build-in some time for picture taking.

It may sound a bit strange, after all, can’t you just take pictures during your normal itinerary? Sure you can, but the best pictures are taken in the best light, which comes at the beginning and end of the day. Midday light tends to be flat and boring. Try to plan your indoor sightseeing when light is less important during that time and save the morning and afternoon light for the outdoor picture taking. We visited the national archives which houses revered documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Pictures aren’t allowed in the archives so they were perfect for a midday visit.

Of course there is plenty to shoot. Washington D.C.. has incredibly majestic buildings and grand monuments and getting overall photos of them is obligatory. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for details. Both the Capitol and the National Archives buildings, for example, have some incredibly detailed relief sculptures as a part of the edifices.

Speaking of time of day try to make time for some night photography. It’s the one thing that I wanted to be sure we did on our trip.  A city can take on an entirely different look at night. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. stands next to the White House. It’s a gigantic edifice built in the French Second Empire-style architecture. It’s very ornate but in the daylight it’s very imposing and a bit foreboding looking with its granite walls and columns. At night it’s distinctly different. It’s much more inviting looking more like something out of a Disney movie.

There are a couple of ways you can go about shooting night shots. The first and easiest is go out by yourself or a small group on your own which is good if you have time to do a little exploring. The second is to take a night bus tour. Many tourist destination cities like Washington D.C. and New York have such tours. Since we were on a tight schedule that’s what we chose.

The advantage of that is that you get to see many sights in the most efficient way. A knowledgeable tour guide can tell you interesting facts about the sights and the most popular vantage points from which to view or photograph them. The downside is that you’re on someone else’s schedule. While there may be some flexibility built into the tour, you only have so much time to spend at each stop.

On our tour, we were able to get off the bus at each stop to take pictures. Some of the stops allowed us time to get a lot of photos. At the Lincoln Memorial for example not only did we get exterior photos of the building but we were able to go inside the monument as well. On the other hand, we were only able to get shots of the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin before moving on. All in all, given our limited timeframe I think the bus tour was our best option.

When you’re in a hurry it’s understandable that you might take one shot then move along to the next sight. Try to shoot different angles of the same subject for a variety of pictures. Fortunately in Washington D.C. there are several sights that can be seen from many vantage points. The Capitol dome can be seen from blocks away down Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Mall. The same can be said of the Washington Monument. As we moved around the city we can One of our favorite views of the Capitol was from the 6th floor balcony of the Newseum, which afforded us an unobstructed view from a high angle just a few blocks away.

Unless you’re facing a major storm, inclement weather doesn’t have to dampen your travel photo opportunities. In fact, it can actually be an enhancing factor to them. On the evening of our night tour, fog descended over the city. Not the low-lying tule fog that we have here in the Central Valley, but a high mist that hovered several hundred feet off of the ground. At times it obscured the top of the 555-ft tall Washington Monument. Some people might have been disappointed but the fog helped to add and air of mystery to the pictures shot that night.

Through the night the fog turned to a light rain, which continued into the morning. As the rain abated it left many puddles and I was able to get a shot of the Capitol dome reflected in one of them.

Lastly, even though a short trip may have limited time and opportunities but try to keep and eye out for unscripted and serendipitous moments. The Great Hall in the Library of Congress features neoclassical architecture and elaborately painted ceilings and it’s easy to get caught up in staring in awe at the spectacle. I managed to get a shot of a fellow tourist taking a picture as she stood in front of one of several large flags hanging over an archway to take a picture of the ceiling which made for a very patriotic scene.

After our night shooting outing we decided to take the Metro subway back to our hotel. Entering the McPherson Square station was surprisingly eye catching. The concrete ceiling and walls of the passenger loading platforms of both that station and our destination of Foggy Bottom were a rectangular, web-like pattern that gave the places a futuristic feeling.

Even if you’re on a short vacation with a limited amount of time, with a little planning and forethought, you can still bring home some great travel pictures.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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