Washington DC — November Scouting Report

Breaking News:  The scaffolding for the US Capitol Dome project is now completely up, but the unique illumination that makes it an interesting subject at night (see image below) may be about to disappear.  A check on the east front of the building showed an enormous white plastic sheet enveloping about 60% of the dome and scaffolding on that side and a small portion of the north side.

Capitol Dome Scaffolding

                                  US Capitol Under Repair  (View of West Front)                                   (Nikon D800E with 20-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; exposure 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

This week, I made two scouting runs into the city to determine the feasibility of an evening shoot in the coming weeks.   Along the way, I checked the status of other sites that may be of interest to local photographers.

The Bad News

Fountains: A number of the major and minor fountains are no longer running, having been shut down for the winter.  These include the Bartholdi Fountain, the Court of Neptune at the Library of Congress, the two small fountains on the plaza of the Supreme Court, the Joseph Darlington Memorial Fountain at the intersection of Indiana Avenue and 5th Street NW, and the Mellon Fountain at the Federal Triangle.  And, of course, the long neglected but potentially impressive Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues to languish along with the two smaller basins on its flanks.

The Tulip Library:  The colorful annuals that were blooming in profusion not many weeks ago are now gone.  But in the spring there will be a new display of tulips providing a great foreground for images of the Washington Monument.

National Gallery, East Wing: There is still one crane remaining alongside the building on the Constitution Avenue side.  Close crop shots from a number of angles are possible, however.

Renwick Gallery:  The renovation, begun earlier this year, is still underway and will probably last through next year. The Gallery is closed and well hidden behind the construction scaffolding.

Old Post Office: Also closed, also lots of scaffolding plus an enormous sign with the new owner’s last name prominently displayed.

The Good News

Fountains:  Some are still running, but time is growing short.  The World War II Memorial seems to be in full operation and likely will be one of the last to shut down.  Others that still have running water include the new Disabled for Life Veterans Memorial (plus the flame was going strong this afternoon), the cascades on the northwest side of the American Indian Museum, the Senate Garage Fountain (although the illumination was turned off a few nights ago), the reflecting pool at the Japanese Internment Memorial (Louisiana Avenue and D Street, NW), and the twin fountains/cascades on the plaza of the US Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, NW).

Kennedy Center:  The large temporary tent that had been erected on the south side of the building is now gone.  Those wishing to take photographs from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge pedestrian sidewalk or from vantage points on that side of the Center will no longer have to contend with this.

Upcoming Events

The 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree is making its way from Minnesota and is scheduled to arrive at 10 AM on November 21st.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 2nd.  Traditionally, the Capitol Police have suspended the requirement for permits to use a tripod on the Capitol grounds for the entire month of December.  Hopefully, that will be repeated this year.  Stay tuned….

Preparations for the National Christmas Tree and Pathway to Peace are well underway now on the ellipse, but much remains to be done.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 6th.

The National Hanukkah Menorah to celebrate the 8-day Jewish holiday will also be on the ellipse.  The lighting ceremony will be at 4 PM on December 16th.

So, get out and get shooting…

Washington, DC: October Scouting Report

Breaking News: There is a new Memorial in town–the “American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.”  It was dedicated in a special ceremony on Sunday, October 5th and was opened to the public yesterday.  An excellent article by Phillip Kennecott, the Washington Post Architecture Critic, gives all the details which can be found here.

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The Monument is located on a small plot of land bounded by three main streets a block or so away from the US Botanical Garden.  I visited it on Monday afternoon to check on the photographic opportunities.  As Kennecott notes, with one exception, the location is not surrounded by a majestic background.  That exception is the southwest corner where there is a fabulous view looking toward the US Capitol Building (northeast of the Memorial) as shown in the image below. Hard to see in this size, so click on the image for a better view.  Mid-afternoon is not the best time for a photograph, but I imagine that this could be pretty nice at twilight.

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The main features include two infinity pools. The larger pool, shaped as a triangle, is only ankle-high and on calm days could provide some impressive reflections as suggested by the image above. The second,  is star-shaped and is about knee-high and punctuated by a burning flame emerging from a bubbling fountain (see image below).

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At the south end, there is a series of glass panels, with etchings of quotes and images.  It is this section which is the most compelling and reminds us of the costs of going to war.

While I was there I wandered over to the US Capitol to check on the progress of the scaffolding.  It has grown considerably since my last visit but they have more to add.  The entire West Front is becoming increasingly absorbed by the renovation work.  There now is a shiny aluminum catwalk traversing the north (left) side of the building emanating from an enormous construction support compound that houses the nerve center of the renovation project.

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But the positive news today is the appearance of this new memorial and the purpose for which it was created.  When you get a chance, check it out.  The Federal Center SW Metro stop is only two blocks away.

 

Hidden Gem: Bartholdi Fountain

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Bartholdi Fountain, Evening Light

Last Friday, a photographer colleague and I went into the city to take some photographs of the Bartholdi Fountain, located directly across Independence Avenue from the US Botanic Garden.  The fountain is located in Bartholdi Park, a two-acre garden managed by the US Botanic Garden. It is named after Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the 30-foot tall fountain which is the central feature of the park.  Bartholdi is best known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty. The fountain was originally commissioned for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and was brought to Washington afterwards.  It fell into disrepair but a 3-year restoration was completed in 2011 and the result was well worth the wait. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 24mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; 5 separate images photomerged)

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Bartholdi Park, April 2012

The park features a wonderful horticultural display that changes with the seasons.  Tables, with folding umbrellas and chairs surround the fountain and benches are placed among the plantings where one can enjoy a few moments of serenity a short distance from the US Capitol Building. The park’s website can be found here. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D700 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 1/100th @ f/16, ISO 400)

Bartholdi Carla Steckley

Bartholdi Fountain by Carla Steckley

The best time, at least in my opinion, to photograph the fountain is during the evening twilight as shown above in the image taken by my colleague about 25 minutes after sunset.   (Technical Data: Canon DSLR on tripod with 13-85mm EF-S  f/3.5 lens; 1/20th sec  @ f/13, ISO 100)

It was an excellent evening for a shoot.  The weather was perfect, the fountain was illuminated and flowing normally, a fresh bed of pansies had been planted in the circular plot, creating a floral necklace around the basin.  The glass dome of the Botanic Garden across the street was being illuminated from within by a  green light.  A few people passed through the park while we there, but we were quite impressed  with a group of five (see image at top) who brought in a tablecloth, silverware, sparkling water, an assortment of cheeses, and other good things and had what looked like a wonderful evening as we moved around photographing the fountain.

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Bartholdi Fountain, Looking Southeast

Twilight lasts only a short time, but sometimes the lights of the city will illuminate the clouds overhead with an interesting color.  The image above, looking in a southeasterly direction toward the Rayburn House Office Building, was photographed just before we left, about 45 minutes after sunset. (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 48mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

And on nights when there is a moon, clouds are less desirable as shown in the image below taken last year. (Technical data Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @70mm; 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 800, 5 images photomerged)  This could have easily been a single image by bringing the extension back to about 35mm, but the moon would have looked quite small with that approach.

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Full Moon and Bartholdi Fountain, June  2013

 

Washington, DC–September Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Time is running out for fans of the Corcoran Gallery of Art which will close its doors at the end of this month, less than ten days away because it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  The closure is part of the transition of control of the Corcoran to the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.  Work will begin to renovate the second floor gallery space and it is expected it will be about a year before a smaller gallery space will reopen.   Here is a link to the Gallery’s website:

 Scouting Report

On Thursday, I made a quick scouting run into the city to verify that a planned shooting location for the next evening held no surprises.  Along the way, I checked the status of other sites that may be of interest to local photographers.

Problem Areas

Kennedy Center:  A large tent remains installed on the south side of the building, an obstacle for anyone planning to photograph the building from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge pedestrian sidewalk or from vantage points on that side of the Center.

John Paul Jones Memorial: The small water feature on the base of the statue was not operating.  It is not a well-known memorial despite its excellent location close to the World War II Memorial at the intersection of 17th Street and Independence Avenue.

The White House:  A small project is underway to repair a section of the iron fence along Pennsylvania Avenue.  The section is small, but efforts to have a centered photograph of the White House and the fountain in the front lawn will be frustrated. However, It doesn’t look like it will be a problem for long.

Renwick Gallery:  A major renovation, begun earlier this year, is still underway and will probably last through next year. The Gallery is closed and well hidden behind the construction scaffolding.  Nothing to see here, move along…

Old Post Office: Also closed, also lots of scaffolding. The Trump organization is busy transforming this historic building into a luxury hotel.

U.S. Capitol: Scaffolding is now about half-way up the dome.  This will be a long wait, but see the good news below.

The Good News

U.S. Capitol:  Depending on your taste, there may be some opportunities with the presence of the scaffolding.  We don’t have the benefit of the elegant illuminated effects that charmed night-time visitors to the Washington Memorial when it was being repaired.  But as the night approaches, the dome begins to look a little like a wedding cake.  In addition, the dome’s interior lighting is much brighter than usual, probably due to the construction work inside.  Take a look, get creative.

The Tulip Library:  The tulip season is long past but the garden, located along Independence Avenue, is full of colorful annuals.  The Washington Monument provides a nice backdrop

Court of Neptune Fountain: Fronting the Library of Congress, it was running nicely when I drove by but some of the figures could use a little scrubbing.  It appears that some white mineral deposits are appearing.

Senate Garage Fountain:  Running nicely, but I didn’t get a close look.  A great subject for a twilight shot, especially when the light show begins.  Located in the park between the U.S. Capitol and Union Station.

Bartholdi Park and Fountain:  This is my favorite park in the city and was the reason for the scouting trip.  I planned to join a fellow photographer the next evening to photograph the fountain at twilight.  The fountain was running as hoped and the park was in perfect condition.  I will do a post very soon on what happened.  In the meantime, here is a preview:

Bartholdi FountainBartholdi Fountain, September 19, 2014

Washington, DC—August Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Local readers, photographers or not, should take into account that this coming Monday to Wednesday (August 4-6) could be somewhat chaotic in downtown Washington as the leaders of 40- 50 African nations will be here for a summit meeting.

OK, back to our normal programming:

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to zip down to the city and check out the status of possible shooting locations.  The weather was cloudy and it looked like we might get a shower or two, so the prospects for actually stopping and doing some serious photography seemed remote.  I almost didn’t take my camera, but a Little Voice said: “You might be sorry.”

As it turned out, the Little Voice was right.  My first stop was Union Station which is still undergoing a massive interior renovation started months ago.  The first sight when you walk in the front entrance is a mass of scaffolding, huge tarpaulins, and netting to protect pedestrians from falling debris.  (See image below)

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 Union Station Washington, DC Under Renovation

But then I turned left and I was already glad that I had brought the camera. The west wing of the Waiting Area was free of construction and the station’s famous centurions were on duty and alert.  Be aware, however, that there is a strict prohibition on tripods at Union Station, so one needs a high ISO and a wide aperture, especially on a cloudy day. (Technical Data: hand held Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 45mm; Exposure 1/125th sec @f2.8, EV= -0.67, ISO 800).  Three images, photomerged.

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 The Centurions of Union Station

Over at the Supreme Court, a new repair project has just begun.  The Capitol Police officer on duty told me that this set of scaffolding had just gone up this week.

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 Yet Another Renovation at the Supreme Court

Next stop: The U.S. Capitol Building.  The long awaited and much-needed repair of the Capitol Dome is now underway and the scaffolding is being erected now.  On the positive side, Congress is on recess and the shallow reflecting pools on the eastern plaza have been repaired and the water is running again (See image below).

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 US Capitol, East Plaza

 Photographers that want to include the dome will have to accept the presence of scaffolding for perhaps the next two years.  (See the list of the end of this post for details on the situation around the Capitol.)  But there is a positive side: it makes one think about different approaches as exemplified by the image below.

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The US Capitol, View from South Side

 And down the hill on the western side of the Capitol, the flowers around the base of the James Garfield statue are looking great.  I couldn’t resist this image, even with the scaffolding in full view.

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James A. Garfield Statue and US Capitol

 The following summarizes my observations on the drive:

Good news:

  • A lot of the fountains are running, including those in front of the American History Museum, the Library of Congress (Court of Neptune), Senate Garage Fountains, Supreme Court fountains, the Bartholdi Park fountain, the Haupt Fountains on Constitution Avenue across from the German Friendship Garden and most of those at the World War II Memorial (But see the Bad News Below).
  • Almost all of the scaffolding has been removed from the renovation project at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. (But see the Bad News below)
  • The eastern plaza of the US Capitol Building is no longer a parking lot (as it was on Thursday) for Congressional VIPS as they have departed for the August recess. The reflection pools surrounding the two main skylights for the underground visitor center are back up and running and there must have been a bump up in the gardening budget because the flowers around the Capitol are looking better than I have seen in a long time.
  • The National Park Service Tulip Library, located near the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and Maine Avenue, is well past the tulip season. But the annuals that were planted after the tulip bulbs were removed are looking good.  And it appears that an ugly wooden fence right across the street (ruining any possibility of combining these flowers with the Washington Monument) is in the process of being removed.  I have been hating this fence since I first saw it 7 years ago.

Bad news:

  • The work on the western wall (Freedom Wall) of the World War II Memorial is still not completed.
  • Although the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building is complete, there are no plans to open it due to a lack of funds. So there may be some minor gates and barriers to prevent people from entering the space.
  • The US Capitol dome project includes a large construction support zone on the northwest sector of the grounds and a lot of netting inside the dome. Tours are still ongoing.
  • The Supreme Court front entrance now has scaffolding for a new project.
  • The impressively tall fountain (name unknown to me) at the intersection of 20th and C St. NW is not running.
  • And, not surprisingly, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues its 10-year-plus streak of neglect, despite a recent renovation of the entire plaza surrounding it.

The Tripod Police

Usually, you see them coming.  But sometimes they come from behind and are inches  from your back before you sense their presence.  They carry guns, so you don’t have to be a genius to instantly realize that whatever they ask, you will do.

Many photographers consider the tripod as one of their most important tools.  Other than the extra weight, using a tripod out in the wilderness is not a big deal.  But when you are in an urban environment, especially one with a lot of high security issues such as Washington DC, you will soon run into the “Tripod Police.”

This is the affectionate nickname local photographers have for the armed men and women wearing uniforms and badges who often appear from nowhere and always start the dialog with those three little words, “Excuse me, sir (or ma’am)…”   As soon as you hear that phrase, you know there is a 80% chance that you will be packing up your tripod and moving on.

Over the past 15 years as a photographer, I’ve often been interrupted by guards, park rangers, and police officers and I should say right away that I understand they have a job to do.  In every case but one, they have been polite and in many cases they have shown some flexibility.  Nevertheless, to improve your chances for getting the photograph you want, there are a number of ways to avoid their interference.

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                The most obvious first step is to find out where tripods are allowed and where they are not.  For example, the U.S. Capitol grounds are generally off limits to tripods unless you have a permit.  But you can use a tripod on the sidewalk a few inches from the forbidden zone.  The image above was taken shortly before sunrise on April 4, 2010 (Nikon D700, 0.8 sec. @ f/18, ISO 200).  A Capitol Police officer came up to remind me that tripods were not allowed on the grounds without a permit but he was fine with my location on the sidewalk (1st Street NE).  The shot below was taken deep inside the no-tripod zone, but it was 30 minutes later when there was enough light to shoot hand-held (Nikon D700, 1/160th sec. @ f/10, ISO 200).

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                One can also get a four-day permit for photography on the U.S. Capitol Grounds (but only the grassy areas, not the sidewalks or driveways).  Click here for details.  Also, during the month of December when the Christmas tree has been installed, the requirement for permits is usually waived.  This is quite a treat since it is difficult to tell in advance when a snowstorm will occur.  Such an event happened on December 16, 2010 (Nikon D700, 1.3 sec @ f/14, ISO 400) and there was a whole gaggle of photographers out there with tripods.

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                The Lincoln Memorial has a strict rule against tripods on the steps or inside.  Actually, this makes sense because of the crowds and one can imagine the difficulty for tourists if every local shooter wanted to bring a tripod.  But the plaza is generally OK.  Moreover, there are exceptions, such as when you and the guard are the only two people there.  The image below was taken on a cold morning just before sunrise in September 2012.  There was no one else present, so I asked the guard if I could use my tripod (which had no metal spikes on the legs) for a few quick shots.  He agreed and I set up quickly and took about five images.

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                Sometimes you will be interrupted when you least expect it.  Last year, I was looking for a new angle on the Washington Monument before the scaffolding was removed and chose a spot on the edge of the Tidal Basin, just north of the Kutz Bridge (Independence Avenue).   I had thought this was probably one of the least sensitive spots in the Mall area so I was not expecting to attract the attention of any security people.  But sure enough, over the din of the passing cars, a voice behind me said in that unmistakable tone of authority: “Excuse me, sir.  What are you doing here?”  The answer seemed obvious to me—a camera on a tripod, a camera bag open next to me, etc.  But I followed my own advice and played it straight: “I’m photographing the Washington Monument.”  She seemed a little uncertain—not a good sign with a person who is packing a pistol.  After a few questions, she told me a passerby had alerted her of a “suspicious person” and she was checking it out.  What I had interpreted as uncertainty was actually a slight case of embarrassment because the officer knew exactly what I was doing.  But she had to go through the procedure because I had been “reported.”  After a brief interview, she allowed me to continue and wished me well.

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                            Above image: where I was reported as a “suspicious person”                            : Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm zoom at 29 mm,5 secs. @ f/16, ISO 100)

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                               About 10 minutes later, I crossed the street for this one                                   (Nikon D800E, 24-70mm  zoom at 38 mm, 8 secs. @f/16, ISO 200)

                The one location where you absolutely have to play it straight is when you are taking photographs from an elevated position—such as a roof terrace—in view of the White House.  I recently was given permission to take photographs from the 9th floor terrace an office building with a fabulous view of the Executive Office Building and a partial view of the White House.  I made the mistake of assuming their permission was all I needed and with great excitement about this opportunity set up my tripod and camera overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.  It looked like there would be some excellent conditions for a sunset followed by a perfect twilight scene.  I had taken a few shots and suddenly heard the all-too-familiar question coming from behind me.  I turned to see three armed police officers (but their pistols were holstered) approaching me in a “spread configuration.”  Behind them were two individuals in civilian clothes who turned out to be the head of building security and the property manager.

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                                                  Taken before my “Security Check”                                                 (Nikon D800E, 70-200 mm zoom at 200 mm, 1/125th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

                One of the officers showed me his credentials and I knew this was not a tripod problem.  They were Secret Service and wanted to know what I was doing on this roof.  As I explained, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that three more men were observing all this from the rooftop of a building behind the Renwick Gallery on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue.  One of my interrogators asked for my identification and then walked some distance away and made a phone call apparently reading the details from my driver’s license to the person he was calling.  While this was going on, the officer in charge very politely explained to me that they had no knowledge I was going to be there and that while photography is permitted, advance clearance is necessary.  He added that, assuming the clearance call revealed no issue, I would be allowed to continue my photography.  At this point, I had two questions running through my head: who were those guys on the roof across the street?  And would the light, which was now becoming very nice, be OK if and when I was permitted to resume shooting?  I never did find out the answer to the first question, except that they disappeared as soon as the clearance on my ID check came through.  As for the second question, here is the image I took after I was left alone again on the roof.  In retrospect, the fact that eight people were actively engaged in making sure I was just a photographer on that roof convinced me that I had better not be making casual assumptions when I get a similar opportunity in the future.

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Taken about 30 minutes after my “clearance.” (Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm zoom at 24 mm, 2 secs. @ f/16, ISO 400)