Photo tips

Best photo locations for cherry blossoms

Cherry blossomsThe time of day you’re photographing cherry blossoms determines the best place to photograph them.

Many serious photographers arrive at dawn to avoid crowds and get that sunrise shot. The best spot is along the Tidal Basin by 15th St. SW and Independence Ave. SW across from the Holocaust Museum. The sun will be behind you and cast a glow on the water with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial as a backdrop.

If you’re coming more around 7 p.m. for sunset, go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Independence Ave. SW and West Basin Dr. SW. The sun will be behind you near the Lincoln Memorial so you can shoot eastward with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument as backdrops.

Any time of day, you can photograph around the King Memorial. It’s a good entrance way into the Tidal Basin and the oldest 50 trees that were part of the 1913 planting still remain to the left of King as you near the water. You can tell by their large girth. This is a good place to photograph King through the blossoms.

There are isolated pockets of cherry blossom trees throughout Washington, but you can’t beat 3,000 around the water when it’s full bloom.

Hidden DC photo spots

Washington,_D.C._early_Spring,_2013_2071People ask all the time about hidden, off-the-beaten path photos. The funny part is there are so many along the National Mall. I’ll talk about many in a series over coming months, but the first and best one is the back of the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited landmark in Washington. About 6 million people annually climb those steps, sometimes 50,000 per day in the busy spring and summer months. If you only see one thing in Washington, it’s probably Lincoln. No. 2 is probably the White House.

People know the Lincoln Memorial, maybe because it’s on the $5 bill. He’s one of the greater presidents ever, though I say George Washington was first for creating and later giving up power. But if not for Abe, we might be a handful of countries across the continent.

So take the normal photos in front and by the statue. And then let’s walk just a few feet and suddenly leave the crowd when going around the corners of the building at the top of the stairs.

Washington,_D.C._early_Spring,_2013_2069It doesn’t matter which side you try, but I would say turn left exiting the statue chamber because it’s normal to turn right. We’re trying to ditch the crowd to get clean photos.

Once you turn the corner, look down the row of columns. It gives you a new perspective, an old world perspective of the monument. You can photograph those empty rows, but also have people stand behind the columns and stick only their heads out. It’s a funny photo.

Next, let’s go to the back side that faces the Potomac River and Virginia. On a winter’s day, look down the Memorial Bridge and you’ll see Robert E. Lee’s home on the hill and white grave stones of Arlington National Cemetery.

Focus on the water and be patient. Wait for a boat to come by for some perspective. On a spring morning, tree blossom turn the scene into some French impressionist painting, especially when raining.

It’s an unusual uncrowded vantage point and hidden in plain sight.

Best Romantic Photo Spots

Best romantic photo spots

It’s not unusual to see weddings around the National Mall and the U.S. Capitol. Maybe the gardens, fountains, majestic buildings or being in a park draws them, but on a spring day you’ll often see the happy bride and groom posing for a photographer.

The next generation to this idea is engagement photos. They’re becoming very popular with the twenty-somethings. Indeed, both of my daughters heard the question popped in a public area in town.

Where should you go for a best romantic photo spot? Here are six good ones.

  1. Jefferson Memorial – The Tidal Basin area has many couples among the trees declaring their love. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial has become popular, but the Jefferson Memorial seems popular among the young government workers. It’s a cool building, patterned after the Parthenon in Rome and there’s water, too. I’d take someone to the edge of the water on the right side of the Jefferson to get both in the photo. Dumbarton_Oaks
  2.  Dumbarton Oaks – There’s an admission fee for this private estate, but it’s the most beautiful grounds in town and plenty of vistas for photos. Kind of a secret garden theme.
  1. U.S. Botanic Gardens – My oldest daughter became engaged here inside the building at a bench off the main walk. Wintertime makes this a big option since it’s climate controlled, but if you’re big into plants go for it. Feel free to use the bench idea.
  1. Capitol Gardens – There are several excellent venues for the Capitol. The Senate Fountain on the north side near Union Station is an excellent view. Water and a building, always a great combination. There’s a red brick springhouse on the west side of the dome along the path that’s perfect in warm weather. And, you can’t go wrong by the rail on the west side that overlooks the National Mall.
  1. Lincoln Memorial – The most visited attraction in town is an attractive backdrop. I’d stand either near the bottom one flight above street level so the rising building is in the background or at the top with the National Mall as the background. For the latter, go to either end of the building for more privacy and use the columns as borders of your photo.
  2. Grace Episcopal Church – That wedding couple by the red door featured above is an active church just below Wisconsin Ave. and M Sts. NW in Georgetown. My great grandparents were married there. The red door and gardens make for a great photo within sight of the sidewalk but often in a world of its own.

Barred D.C. photo sites

Washington is the seventh most photographed city in the world, but some buildings and inside exhibits are barred.

The most prominent no-no is the Pentagon because it is a military installation. There are big signs on the perimeter that say no photos and they mean it. Occasionally, I’ll walk a group through the tunnel under I-395 into the parking lot on the way to the 9/11 memorial and someone will take a photo of the building. Moments later, a security vehicle will come by and tell people to stop. I’ve never seen security confiscate anything. Tourists aren’t spies and the police know it. Besides, someone with a long lens could photograph the Pentagon from the highway.

If visiting the 9/11 memorial, you can take photos of it and the building can be in the background.

On the National Mall, the only prohibition is no tripods because someone could trip in the heavy crowds. But, in less busy times you can usually use them for a brief photo. Just don’t take all day. And, don’t set up under Lincoln’s statue because the National Park rangers will stop you. No tripods by the White House, either.

Mostly, public buildings around town are made for photography. It’s the insides that includes some restrictions. The White House tour doesn’t allow photos, not for security reasons but because they want to keep the line moving. I know someone who proposed during a Christmastime tour and the guards took a photo using the groom’s iPhone so you never know.

The House, Senate and Supreme Court chambers and Library of Congress reading room prohibit photography. There are some art exhibits around town that also bar photos to avoid diminishing the old art. And, no photos of George Washington’s false teeth at Mount Vernon, either.

Sometimes a guard comes out to the sidewalk to tell you no photos. Seems like every six months this comes up, probably because of new guards, and the police chief sends out a notice that photos are allowed in public areas. If it happens to you, chalk it up as bad luck and let it go. Arguing with security is never a good idea. I shutter to think what could happen.

Anyway, take all the photos you want. Even better, come on our photo tours and we’ll show you the good spots.

 Lincoln Memorial

Best Lincoln Memorial photo tips

There are two times to photograph the Lincoln Memorial – at night and early morning. Otherwise, the overhead sun leaves it looking flat and the evening sun is behind the Lincoln to provide a dark photo.

Night photography can be easy, but a little tricky. National Park Service rules prohibit tripods that are often needed for time elapse photos. But, you can get away with it if farther out from the building in slower times of year. The Lincoln gets six million visitors annually so it can get really crowded in the spring especially and tripods are a hazard. A one-legged monopod is allowed, but you still have to hold it.

Seen from Lincoln MemorialThat said, most cameras, iPads and iPhones take a decent photo at night when the light leaks out of the Greek-inspired Parthenon building. I’m a big one on using the Rule of Thirds and standing to the right corner of the building to generate perspective.

The morning light reaches Lincoln with a golden glow. This burns out pretty quickly and while the morning overall isn’t bad, the best is the early rays.

Where should you stand? Depends on the pic you’re looking to get. You can get the sunrise over the Capitol dome at dawn from the top Lincoln steps. It’s a pretty cool photo.

Family photos should be on the steps down near street level. Have the photographer shooting up towards the family on the first rise.

What about the statue? Morning is definitely better with the sun behind you. On a rainy, foggy day, the inside area around the statue can get a really misty glow. It’s rare, but really cool on cool spring mornings.

So keep watching Mr. Lincoln. There are plenty of times and angles to capture.

Everyone photographs the Lincoln Memorial, White House and U.S. Capitol. Now they’re ready to see some hidden gems around town. The good news is they’re all around us. But if we’re going to rank the best hidden photo gems, here are three favorites you can easily find.

Best Hidden Gems


Teddy Roosevelt Island

Technically, it’s in Virginia despite feeling close enough to touch the Kennedy Center. Teddy Roosevelt Island is a speck of land in the Potomac River that has been abandoned for decades. You have to walk across a wooden bridge from the Arlington side off the GW Parkway (spacious, free parking) to reach the island where you’ll find this 17-foot statue by Paul Manship plus two fountains and four large stone monoliths.

The rest of the 88.5 acres is filled with different opportunities. You’ll see deer at some point and riverfront views of Washington plus a marsh. Weekends can be busy, but there are chances to feel alone in the middle of the region’s six million people.

You can easily spend a day at Arlington.


Arlington National Cemetery

Four million people annually visit the military cemetery. And, you can almost see the triangular rut they walk to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

But you’re so missing out if that’s all you see. The far southern sections are my favorite. The ones in the far back offer endless rows of white head stones (and a reprieve from the rolling countryside) while the western sections (to the right when entering) are like a cathedral of stones as you walk below the rolling hillside. It’s here that you can truly capture the magic of Arlington while seeing legends like Audie Murphy, Joe Louis and William Howard Taft.

Capitol fountain

Senate Fountain

It reminds me of the opening scene of “Married with Children,” though those fountains are in Chicago. The Senate Fountain on the north side of the dome complex is gorgeous with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop. We often include this spot in our walking photo tours.

The great part of Washington is one-fourth of the land is owned by the federal government with so many national parks. Indeed, Washington’s the greenest major U.S. city with trees comprising 20 percent of the canopy.

So go find some places off of the beaten path. At least, they’ll feel like it. Or better yet, come with us on our walking tours.