One of my least favorite clichés is the advice that when given lemons, you should make lemonade. I hear it a lot when I grumble to someone about unexpected complications that ruined a plan for a specific image. That’s all well and good (at least you have something), but you still didn’t get what you really wanted. I don’t dismiss this advice; you should always try to make the best of any given situation. But many years ago a photographer gave me what I think is far better advice and that was “Keep Showing Up.”
Those who read my post of 9 March already know that this is the time of year to capture a perfect solar alignment with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. And so for the past five days I have been showing up n front of the Memorial about 30 minutes before sunrise. What follows is a tale of following two guiding principles: making lemonade and being persistent.
The forecast for 20 March, the actual day of the vernal equinox, was for clear skies, exactly the conditions required for the image I was after. But I awoke at 5:30 AM to find a dense fog so thick you couldn’t see half of the Washington Monument.
and it was obvious that my chances were slim. So I set about making lemonade. I’ve learned you often can get the twilight blue color (see my post about Magic Hour) with cloudy weather just as you can with clear skies. The lighting system of the Lincoln Memorial is very well balanced for this time of day.
The artificial lamps enhance the architectural features of the building and there is just enough ambient light 20 minutes before sunrise to provide detail in the unlit surroundings. For about 3-4 minutes, the Memorial looks like a shining jewel box set against a brilliant blue background. The above image was shot at 6:48 AM about 24 minutes before sunrise.
The next day there was a heavy cloud cover and again things look unpromising. But clouds can often bring drama to an
otherwise ordinary image. So I waited a little longer than I had the previous day in order to get greater detail on the clouds but still retain the special quality of the lighting system working its magic on the exterior and interior of the Memorial. The above image was photographed at 6:55 AM, about 17 minutes before sunrise.
I should add that aside from weather problems, each day featured an interesting cast of characters that affected my opportunities for shooting. It surprises most people to learn that the Lincoln Memorial is a very popular place in the early morning. Most common is the exercise crowd. The two most impressive in this group were the squad of soldiers in full camouflage and full equipment packs doing laps around the Reflection Pool and a trio of very fit young women who ran up and down the steps of the Memorial for about an hour with only occasional breaks for some stretching exercises.
But I digress. On the third day the clouds were still with me and I had little choice but to make more lemonade. At least it had been relatively warm all three days. I decided to try my luck inside the building since I had very little of that kind of lemonade in my stock inventory. I found a nice location on the north side of the statue that made it possible to include the key part of the statue, all of
the dedication text above the statue, and the complete Gettysburg speech on the south wall in the background. It may be hard to read in this version but when it is fully enlarged to about 30” X 36” the engraved writing is easy to read. (Technical note: this image is actually 4 separate images merged together into a single image, taken at 7:18 AM, about 7 minutes after sunrise.) I think this is the best batch of lemonade of the week.
Having already disproved the old adage that the “Third Time is the Charm” I ventured out again on Sunday morning, encouraged by the small break in the clouds to the east. But it was more likely that the best angle this day would be to point the camera toward the Washington Monument. A mix of clouds and open sky in the east can often bring spectacular sunrises and I thought I would try a different angle, suggested by a fellow photographer on the first day.
If we insist on sticking with the lemonade analogy, the above image is probably Grade B, but the drawbacks (scaffolding on the Washington Monument, an near-empty Reflection Pool, and a construction crane over the new Museum of African American History) do provide some contextual interest.
So, this morning (March 24) was Day number 5 and if you have read this far, you are probably praying for a happy ending (or any kind of ending). The forecast called for a sharp drop in temperature, some wind (ugh!) and clear skies. And they were spot on. The sequence of pictures below show what happened over a 5-minute period. So it would appear that both pieces of advice were correct. When conditions didn’t favor the plan, I was able to capture some images I would otherwise not have gotten. And by the fact that I kept showing up, I also got the image I was after.
looking west at 7:10:38 AM Sun is partially visible just to north of Washington Monument which is behind the camera.
7:14:23 AM Sun is barely visible just to south of Washington Monument
7:18:00 AM Sun is almost completely visible on south side of Washington Monument
Perfect Solar Alignment