Silver Line Opens—Scouting Report

Before a photographer starts to capture images, he/she must know how to get to the intended location of the shoot.  In the Washington, DC area this can be an interesting challenge.  There are all kinds of transportation options, and they are constantly changing.

Yesterday brought a huge change with the Grand Opening of the Washington Metro’s new Silver Line. I stayed home on Day #1 while the VIPs, media, and first-day riders had their fun.  But today it would be just regular folks riding the rails and I decided it was a good time to start exploring.

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Welcome Signs Everywhere

The first thing riders need to know is that not all of the five stops on this section have dedicated parking facilities, so we started at the Reston station which for the time being is the end of the line.  (In a few years, the line will extend to Dulles Airport.)  There are several free and paid-for apps for smart phones and tablets available to help with route planning, but I haven’t tested any yet.  The Washington Metro’s website has a Trip Planner that is somewhat clunky but can help with basic routing scenarios.  We decided to be typical riders and just show up.

The Reston Station has a large underground parking garage that also houses the bus arrival and departure zones, plus a secure bicycle storage area that is quite large and features a repair facility.

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One of the Fairfax Connector buses in the Departure Zone

The elevator from the parking garage deposits you on a plaza that is surrounded by construction projects for apartments, stores, restaurants and who knows what else, so this could be a lively place in the near future.

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Signs Guide the Rookies (like us)

The architecture of the Silver Line stations is quite different from other above ground Metro stations; I’ll leave it to architecture critics to assess their aesthetic merit.

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The Walkway in Foreground Leading to the Station

The pedestrian walkway is open and airy, with mesh screens covering the openings allowing the sound of the traffic below to serenade you during the short walk to the station.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the days when we have wind and rain.  But today at least it seemed much more pleasant than walking through a tunnel.

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The Walkway

Inside the station, the many skylights contributed to the feeling of openness.  Metro personnel were out if full and friendly force to help anyone with questions. Signs were everywhere providing useful information. Riders lined up to get their fare cards replenished and moved through the turnstiles to the train platform.

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More Help for the Newbies (everyone)

 We hopped on, found a seat, and settled in for the ride.  The Silver Line passes through the Tysons Corner/McLean, Virginia area (4 stops), then joins the same route as the Orange line, passing through Falls Church, Arlington, and into the District of Columbia and then out to Maryland where it terminates at Largo.  On this day, the most popular of those 4 new stations was the Tysons Corner Center where shoppers were taking advantage of this new option for getting to this sprawling complex of stores, restaurants, and movie theaters.

In about 15 minutes, we arrived at the last of the new stations—McLean—and got off to wait for a train going back to our starting point.  It was nearly deserted, but that likely will change tomorrow when the workweek starts.  There are a number of large office buildings nearby whose workers are prime candidates for the new service.

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A Good Number of Bikers were Testing the System

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Our Return Train Arrives


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Flying Over the Infamous Beltway

The ride back was equally smooth and the Reston Station was still crowded with passengers checking out the new line. Our costs for this excursion were a paltry $1.75 each because we never left the McLean Station. For all the fare card machine knew, we never boarded a train.  And parking, usually $4.85  was free on this day. So it was just the minimum fare.

It should be interesting to see how all this plays out.  If you are thinking about trying the Silver Line, the complicated part will be getting to the station. Numerous bus routes have been set up to serve these stations, and figuring out the ideal route will take a little research.  If you plan on parking at the Reston station, I’d recommend a trial run because the entrance and  interior design of the parking area is not, shall we say, fool-proof.


The Washington Monument: Opening Soon!

The Washington Monument is the iconic structure of the city of Washington DC and I have been photographing it since 1999 when I first got serious about photography.  Yet despite the numerous images I’ve made of it in the 15 years since then, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I never made it to the top during that time.  But even though I do have a few excuses—such as an earthquake—it serves no purpose to bore you with a recitation of them.  Instead, I have seen the error of my ways and I fully intend to be up there as soon as possible when it re-opens next month.  Details about the re-opening are below, but first a few highlights from the past 15 years are in order, not necessarily in a chronological order.


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Scouting Report: April 15, 2014


The Cherry Blossoms are gone, the lunar eclipse was hidden by clouds this morning and it’s been raining all day.  So what better way to keep on the move than to make a scouting run into the city?  It’s that time of year when the fountains scattered around the Washington National Mall are being turned on.  Three weeks ago, only the World War II Memorial was operating.  But now many of them are running; of the nine that I checked, seven are happily pumping out the spray.


News Flash:   We interrupt this post to announce that one of my images was selected for “Monochrome Madness,” an event produced by Australian photographer Leanne Cole, a professional photographer in Melbourne whose blog has over 23,000 followers.  You can see her post with the 44 selected images here.  Now back to our regularly scheduled post on Washington, DC fountains.


 Fountains Currently Running


 Navy Memorial Fountain, National Archives in Background

 Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue between 8th and 9th Street NW):  This is one of the better fountains in the city, and can’t be easier to photograph.  You are steps away from a Metro entrance, benches are plentiful, and an excellent French boulangerie  (Paul Bakery)  is on the west side of the plaza.

Supreme Court   (1st Street NW, across from the Capitol Building): The two small fountains on the north and south sides of the front plaza are now running.  While not very impressive, any photo that includes the basins looks much better now than when they are empty.


Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

 Court of Neptune Fountain (1st Street SW, across from the Capitol Building): New York sculptor Roland Hinton Perry was only 27 years old when he completed the fountain in 1898, when the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress was opened.  This is not your average fountain and the physicality of the scene is quite dramatic when the water is running.  The nearby Capitol South  Metro Station is a short walk of two blocks.

Image Senate Fountain at Night

Senate Fountain  (opposite the intersection of Louisiana Avenue NW and North Capitol Street NW): This is one of the few (perhaps only) fountains in the city with a variable color lighting system).  Boasting a view of the Senate side of the US Capitol, it provides a number of photo opportunities in the evening light.  The Union Station Metro stop is within easy walking distance.

Japanese American Patriotism Memorial: (Directly opposite the Senate Fountain in a small triangular park between Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, and D Street NW):  Technically this is not a fountain, but a flowing pool which is the principal feature of the park.  Dedicated only ten years ago, it recognizes the mistake made by the US in the forcible placement of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans into ten internment camps.

National Museum of the American Indian (Intersection of Maryland Avenue and Independence Avenue SW ):  The fountain is located on the northwest corner of the museum with the water cascading over large boulders and flowing along a channel on the north side of the building.  The Federal Center Metro Station is about 3 blocks to the south.


Moonrise, World War II Memorial

 World War II Memorial   (17th Street between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue):  The fountains are now running although they are turned off sometime during the night and resume operating just before dawn.  However, the repair project at the west end of the Memorial is still unfinished.  As a result, the two waterfalls on either side of Freedom Wall are still dry.   Even so, this memorial offers more photo opportunities than any of the others on this list.  No nearby Metro Station.

Fountains Still Dry

Banneker Fountain (South end of the L’Enfant Plaza on 10th Street SW):  Probably the least well known site on this list, the 30-foot tall column of water (when operating) is the central feature of the Benjamin Banneker Park.  Banneker was an African American who had a role in the original surveys that eventually resulted in the layout of the city of Washington.  However, the historical evidence is unclear on the specific details.  The small park, designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley was constructed in 1967.  Kiley is currently being featured in a major retrospective of his work at the National Building Museum.  The L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station is about 5 blocks to the northeast.

Bartholdi Fountain (Across Independence Avenue SW from the US Botanical Garden):  This fountain is the central feature of a small park maintained by the US Botanical Garden,  It was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who is better known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty.  I will write a separate post on this fountain when the water is turned on.

I expect that both the Bartholdi and Banneker fountains will be running within a few weeks.  Stay tuned…



Cherry Blossoms–Not Yet!

Like most local photographers, I am eagerly awaiting the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere in the city.   Unable to contain my enthusiasm any longer I drove down this morning to check things out.


Already forewarned by Mitch Zeissler’s blog post yesterday, I did not expect to find any blooms but I did want to see what new parking restrictions the festival authorities had dreamed up.  As the image above shows, there was a mystical fog hanging over the Tidal Basin and the trees are still a long way from their peak performance.  Here is another view with a composition that might be worth going after in a week or so, no matter what the weather is.


In the right conditions, fog can add a unique dimension to a photograph.  The image below was taken on March 22, 2012.  The blossoms were very early that year.  The fog in this image was not as  dense as this morning, but the effect with the Jefferson Memorial is quite different that would have been the case on a sunny morning.  A large version of this image is hanging in a conference room of a building on Pennsylvania Avenue (no, not that building).   Technical data: Shot at 1/125th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400; 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens set at 24 mm.  I was quite close to the tree so this is a Photomerge of six separate images in Photoshop.


The Festival authorities have imposed the usual parking restrictions around the Tidal Basin.  Ohio Drive is closed to southbound traffic and parking there is restricted to tour buses and vehicles with handicap permits.  The small lot adjacent to the paddle boats concession is closed and is filled with media and commercial partners in tents of varying sizes and shapes. The tents will detract from images you may want to shoot from the Jefferson Memorial side toward the Washington Monument.  People in other categories, however, will no doubt appreciate the health benefits of the long walks from the special parking areas set up on Haines Point.  Just follow the pink signs if you drive. In truth, driving is a bad idea when the blossoms approach their peak unless you plan to arrive before sunrise.   Take the Metro instead.

I’ll be updating the cherry blossom status with new posts in the coming days, but I would also recommend that readers check out the blog post by Mitch mentioned above; he has links to several live webcams that show the current conditions the Tidal Basin and the Mall.

Scouting Report

Every so often I like to take a quick drive through the city to check on what’s happening with some of my favorite locations.  Yesterday I decided it was time for another because spring will soon be upon us.  Typically, I am looking for construction projects that may finally be completed, the appearance of new obstacles since my last scouting run, whether a given fountain is running, and what flowers might be in bloom.  So what follows is an example of a periodic report that will be of interest primarily to photographers interested in possible photographic opportunities in the coming weeks.


              Major News:  Access to the observation tower will be ended soon, most likely by the end of March in order to make way for the renovation of the building by the Trump Organization.  The tower will re-open in 2016.  See my blog post with details here

              Fountains:  It is still too early for most fountains and I didn’t see any that were operating during my circuit.  If you have a specific favorite (mine is the Bartholdi Fountain across Independence Avenue from the Botanic Garden), you can send a question using the comment field.

              National Gallery of Art, East Wing:  The exterior work, involving the removal and reinstallation of the marble veneer seems nearly done.  The estimated completion date is spring 2014.  A single large construction crane remains on the Madison Avenue side and there is a large temporary construction building on the lawn bordering 3rd Street.                

              Smithsonian Arts and Industries  Building:  The long-term renovation project continues, but the end for the exterior seems to be in sight.  The scaffolding has been removed from many parts and the finished exterior looks great.  Unfortunately, according to a 13 January article in the Washington Post, the building will not re-open to the public in the foreseeable future due to a lack of funding for the work needed for public access and operation.

              Supreme Court:  The repair and renovation of the West Façade was completed last November but the scrim they used during the project was really cool.  The scrim was like a big painting of the front to diminish the ugliness of all those scaffolds, a technique commonly used in Europe.  But it’s gone now and a quick glance at the front of the Supreme Court yesterday showed no sign of any work being done.  So photographers can snap away, but be aware that a tripod cannot be used on the plaza or the steps.  I’ve been able to use a tripod on the sidewalk without any problems, however.  


              U.S. Capitol Building:  The Dome of the Capitol Building is scheduled to go under scaffolding sometime soon, but as of 21 February, there was no sign of work having begun.  So if you have plans for photographing the Capitol as it normally appears, you had better hustle.  Don’t forget that a tripod permit is required if you want to use one on the Capitol grounds. You can find a copy of their rules and a form here.

                Washington Monument:  Although the earthquake repair is finally complete, a portion of the scaffolding is still present.  It looks like they have progressed only a little since late December, the last time I photographed it.


                World War II Memorial:  The fountains are not running and the pool is empty.  Moreover, the repair project at the west end of the Memorial is still unfinished.  A guard told me last year that it had something to do with the recent renovation of the Reflection Pool and we are well past the estimated completion date he gave me.  But once the fountains start up again, there will be plenty of shooting opportunities unaffected by the work site.