Scouting Report: Getting Ready for Spring

The signs are unmistakable: the calendar says March, sunrise is coming earlier each day, the temperatures are rising, and the snow is disappearing.

Jefferson at Sunrise

Jefferson Memorial at Sunrise, March 12, 2012

After all, it’s been 3 years since I got a decent image on March 12th.  So yesterday afternoon (March 12th), I made a scouting run into the city to check out a few sites for possible photo opportunities.  As I made the rounds, it appeared that conditions were promising for a sunset image (see below) so I kept my eye on the clouds building up as I explored the area around the National Mall.

The scouting findings may be of interest to photographers in the Washington, DC area, others can skip to the end and see what happened at 7:25 PM.

Solar Cycle:  For the next few days, the late afternoon sun (when skies are clear) will be providing some opportunities as it illuminates the Federal Triangle Buildings along the north side of Constitution Avenue and the recently renovated Arts and Industries Building on Independence Avenue.

Fountains:  As usual at this time of year, virtually all of the fountains are still shut down for the winter.  This includes the fountains and pool at the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool between the WW II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  In addition, the waterfall at the northwest corner of the Museum of the American Indian is dry and the waterfalls at the FDR Memorial are also turned off.

The Tidal Basin:  There is a significant amount of ice still in the Basin, but this should be melted in a few days.

National Gallery, East Wing: The large construction crane is finally gone, although there is still a considerable amount of fencing and construction equipment on the south and east sides of the building.  However, there are good angles on the west side of the building.

Ongoing Construction:  The US Capitol is still under scaffolding, of course, and the white plastic wrap covering part of the scaffolding has been altered for the worse (who would have thought that was possible) by adding a section with a tawdry taupe color.  The new African American Museum is still far from completion and news reports state that the opening date has been pushed back to early 2017.  There is better news a few blocks to the west where the interminable construction project for a relatively small flood control wall (17th Street and Constitution Avenue) is all but wrapped up.  The unsightly wooden fence on the northeast corner of 17th and Constitution is gone, leaving a rather graceful stone wall curving toward the Washington Monument.  Across 17th, the construction equipment has been removed and the landscaping seems completed.  However, there are still some chain link fences protecting the larger trees along 17th Street.

Upcoming Events

March 14: DC Rock ‘n Roll MarathonThe Start Time 7:30 AM likely will complicate efforts to photograph anything else so plan accordingly.  Details here.

March 20: The Equinox.  Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

March 28: Kite Festival, the long-running kite festival will be in its usual location on the grounds of the Washington Monument starting at 10:00 AM.  For details, click here.

April 4: Full Moon. Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

Kite Festival 02

Kite Festival

Kite Festival 03

Kite Festival

Sunset at the FDR Memorial

As the sun edged closer to the horizon last night, I made my way over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial which is located on the west side of the Tidal Basin.  DC locals might think this is a strange location to capture a sunset, but I thought it would be a good backdrop for a specific feature at the Memorial.  The result is shown below.

Roosevelt Memorial

FDR Memorial at Sunset, March 12, 2015

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod, extended to 24mm; exposure 1 sec. @f/16, EV = -1.0 ISO 400.)

The Memorial, on 7.5 acres chronicles the four terms of Roosevelt’s Presidency.  This section, with the five pillars and five panels on the wall, were intended to represent the social programs (New Deal) during his presidency. The design has been criticized as the “least successful” of the many sculptures in the Memorial, and I would agree that their intended symbolism is opaque.  Nevertheless, I have found them to be an interesting photographic subject.

Coming Soon–Iguazu Falls (Really!)

Super Moon: Always Have a Plan B

Spoiler Alert:  There will be no moon photograph in this post; hence you will have to skip down several paragraphs if you just want to see the pictures.

Last week, the weather forecasters and other media were touting the so-called “Super Moon” that would be rising as a full moon on Monday evening.  I am always looking  for images that have a full moon nicely aligned with one of the iconic scenes in Washington, DC but a quick check of the details on time and placement were not encouraging.   The moonrise was timed to occur about 10 minutes before the sunset, so the moon would be pretty high before the deep blue twilight colors would be at their best. The best location seemed to be at the Tidal Basin with the moon coming up adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial but the placement wasn’t ideal.  But, you never know for sure, so it’s best to show up just in case.

But clouds began to appear in the afternoon, so prospects were getting dimmer by the minute. But one of the benefits of the location is that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is right along that side of the Tidal Basin and I had been intending to check some evening to see if the fountains were running and illuminated.  This would be Plan B.

Arriving at the Tidal Basin, it was quickly obvious that the media’s flogging of the Super Moon story had the expected effect: At least 3 dozen tripods were strung along the sidewalk of the Tidal Basin, with their cameras all pointed at the Jefferson Memorial.  But for a change, there was no consensus on where the best spot would be.  I joined the group closest to the Memorial (about 6 shooters) and checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app which confirmed this was the best spot.

With 15 minutes to go, I strolled about 100 yards up the sidewalk where a larger group had congregated (seeking safety in numbers?).  Here TPE was saying the moon would rise way off to the left of the Memorial while the PhotoPils app indicated the moon would be much closer to the Memorial and if it was right, this was the place to be. What to do? Well, the clouds looked really bad, there was a very nice bench right next to my tripod, the other photographers were friendly, and the FDR Memorial  fountains were only a 2-minute walk away.  The bench tipped the decision.

Ten minutes after the scheduled rise, one of the other shooters pointed out a faint pink circle almost completely covered by the clouds and it was way over to the left, exactly where TPE had predicted.  But it didn’t matter because it was hardly visible and soon was completely gone from view.  While my neighbors picked up their gear and started to migrate toward the other spot, I chose Plan B and went directly to the FDR Memorial.

The image below is a quick pick from the night’s take but I was pretty happy with all of the results.  It turns out that the light is very nice during a brief period of 10-20 minutes after sunset.  After that, the lighting tends to blow out and detail in the rocks becomes difficult to pull out.  The Memorial is loaded with fountains so this implies a number of future visits will be rewarding.

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FDR Memorial Fountain (2 seconds at f/16, lens at 38 mm)

When finished with the fountains, it seemed appropriate to check on the folks who had cast their fate with the moon.  It is entirely possible that there was a spectacular moment while I was away, but the scene below indicates that nothing was going on at 8:35.  It seemed best not to ask.

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Jefferson Memorial at Twilight