The US Capitol Through the Lens – A Photography Tour of Washington DC
Washington DC is one of the most photogenic cities in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are a hobby enthusiast or a seasoned Pro, this city makes you snap away more pictures than you anticipated. But because pictures of Washington DC are so popular, they sometimes look like you have seen them a hundred times before. I’ve been to DC quite a few times in the past couple of years and found some great spots to photograph around the city. In my most recent visit, I also went on a Photography tour of Washington DC, where I learned more about composition, technique and style and had the opportunity to take some great photos of the famous landmarks of the US Capitol.
Let me take you on a Photography Tour of Washington DC and share with you some of the most beautiful places to take fresh and stunning looking pictures of the monuments, parks and the people of the US Capitol.
Tips for Better and Unique Pictures of the Monuments
Taking pictures of the iconic Monuments of Washington DC are on the bucket list of pretty much all tourists, including myself and if you are reading this, it is probably on your’s as well. Here are some tips to make your Monument photos stand out from the same old same old vacation pictures.
1. Go Closer
Many of the monuments are so iconic that you don’t necessarily need to show the whole thing. Show a detail, like a window, or a row of columns instead of the whole building. People will still recognize it, but it will make your picture much more interesting, because people are challenged to use their imagination.
2. Add a Foreground
You can use trees or flowers, or maybe a statue or a fountain that adds a visual interest to the image. The picture above is a good example of rule 1 & 2. it is instantly clear that the pictures shows the US Capitol Building and the flowers and branches add visual interest to the image. You can also use people as a visual point of interest in your picture, like someone on a bike riding past, or someone carrying a bright umbrella.
3. Use a Different Angle & Perspective
Don’t take pictures of buildings head on. They look flat, one-dimensional and simply put: BORING! Lay in the grass, get on your knees, lay on your back. Use your feet and move around to find an interesting angle. Take a look at the two photos below and tell me which one is better:
4. Taking Pictures of Your Travel Partners in Front of Iconic Landmarks
If you are taking a picture of your loved one or friend in front of the White House, get close and show them from the chest and up, maybe even just their face or their silhouette, with the White House in the background. Nothing says amateur photography more than a full body shot of a person far in the distance in front of an iconic landmark. You won’t see your travel partner well, most likely won’t even recognize them, and they become a mere distraction of building behind them. So get closer and make them the focus of your photo.
5. Use Aperture to Direct the Story of Your Photo
Aperture or Depth of Field can be a great way to make pictures very unique. If you have a DSLR an advanced point-and-shoot camera, you can put your settings on manual and change your Aperture. A High Aperture number (like f22) will make everything in your photo sharp: foreground, background and everything in between. This is a great setting to photograph landscapes, gardens and large places. In this setting, you will need more light, so you have to increase your exposure time to get a bright enough photo. A smaller Aperture (f3 or f4) will make the point you are focusing on sharp and crisp, while blurring out everything that is closer to your focal point or further in the background. This is a great setting for taking a close-up portrait or a macro, for example of a flower or food.
Example of High Aperture (everything in focus):
Examples of Low Aperture (certain area in focus, rest blurry):
A Different Season – A Different Photo
The season a picture was taken in can drastically change the mood of the image. I put together some ideas on what makes each season special. These are ideas to inspires you to take advantage of what the different seasons have to offer as well as some cool events that tend to be very photogenic and fun to document with your camera.
Spring in Washington DC:
- Cherry Blossoms
- Azalea Bloom
- Memorial Day Parade
- National Asian Heritage Festival
- White House Easter Egg Roll
- Zoo (think: cute animal babies)
Summer in Washington DC:
- 4th of July Parade and Fireworks
- 9th of July: Alexandria Birthday Fireworks
- Baltimore: One Caribbean Carnival
- Fountains, exploring DC from the water
Fall in Washington DC:
- Fall Foliage
- Korean War Memorial in the early morning mist
- US National Arboretum
- Veterans Day Events
- Loudoun Winery Tours
- Night of the Living Zoo
- Rainy reflections
- Vietnam Memorial in the rain (it looks like the three soldiers are crying)
Winter in Washington DC:
- Snow Pictures of the Monuments
- Holiday Lights & Decorations
- Korean War Memorial in the Snow
- Frozen Water
- Downtown Holiday Market
- Snowball Fights at Dupont Circle
- Sledding on Capitol Hill
Most Photogenic Places in Washington DC
- Monuments and War Memorials at Night
- Georgetown (along the canal and around Prospect Street) is simply stunning AND you can stop at Georgetown Cupcake for a treat 🙂
- US National Arboretum
- Atrium in the National Portrait Gallery
- 6th floor Balcony of the NEWSEUM (great arial view of the Capitol)
- Library of Congress
- Natural History Museum
- Union Station
- Botanical Gardens
- U-Street/H-Street/Dupont Circle for Street Photograph
Photography Tour of Washington DC
When I was in Washington a few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a complimentary Photography Tour of Washington DC by Washington Photo Safari. I love photography, so I jumped on the opportunity and was very excited to learn about photography and discover some cool spots to take pictures of. I had a wonderful time and learned so much during this tour. If you would like to improve your photography and find some hidden gems in the Capitol to put on film (or on your memory card), I can highly recommend going on one of those tours.
Half Day Monuments and Memorials Photo Safari
The Half Day Monuments and Memorial Tour is the most popular tour and I can see why. You start out with a short theoretical class, where you go over some photography basics, like composition, camera settings, aperture and the like.
Our guide David, who is also the owner of Washington Photo Safari, had a vast amount of knowledge about photography and so much passion, not only about teaching us to take better pictures, but also for his city. He uses simple language and example images that make it easy for beginners to understand those sometimes confusing aspects of photography.
I would consider myself an advanced beginner. I have heard and played around with the manual settings on my DSLR and Sony Point-and-Shoot, but don’t have enough practical experience that I intuitively know what the right aperture and exposure are in a specific situation, to get a certain effect in a picture. The short lesson was great for me to review some of the technical terms and ask some questions about certain types of photos that I had wanted to shoot, but never got quite right. If you are an advanced photographer, you might want to check out some of the tours that offer instructions on certain photography skills, such as Water Drop Photography, Master Class: Review & Critique, or a full day HDR Workshop.
After the lesson, which we had in a coffee shop, since it was raining, we hoped in David’s car to start our photography tour of Washington DC and its iconic Monuments and Memorials. First, went to the bronze statue of Einstein to put the things we just learned to the test, Next stop was the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. David showed us some hands-on examples of how to composition our images better, find an interesting angle and see the world through a photographer’s eye. He also looked at some of our images and critiqued them, explaining what we could improve or what went wrong.
We finished off the tour at Union Station, where David showed us a trick to make people disappear with our camera, which was pretty cool. Now I know how to fake my own ghost photos 🙂
Other Tours offered by Washington Photo Safari
Washington Photo Safari offers a lot of different Photography tours of Washington DC and surrounding areas. Some of them focus on a certain place, so you get to experience the sights of the city along with a great photography lesson, while others focus on a special technique or event. They offer a lot of options of cool and exciting photography tours. Here are some examples:
- Full Day/Half Day Monuments and Memorials Tour
- Baltimore Mt. Vernon Photography Tour
- Exploring the National Zoo
- Mirrorless Digital Photography
- Photo Scavenger Hunt
- Cherry Blossom Tour
- International Pillow Fighting Day
- Snowball Fights at Dupont Circle
- 7-Day Photography Cruise to the Bahamas in 2017
For upcoming photography tours of Washington DC, you can check out the Photo Safari Calendar.
The Final Verdict: Washington Photo Safari
As I mentioned before, I received this photography tour of DC for free, but I am striving to share an honest opinion with you about my experience. I have to say that I truly loved this tour. David is a great instructor. You can feel his passion. He loves teaching people how to take better pictures and many of the tips I shared with you above where part of what he told our group during his instruction session. David is a very nice and interesting man and after just a few hours, I felt like I was meeting up with an old friend, so he could show me how to work my camera. As we walked between the different photo sights, we talked about photography, cameras, travel, life and so much more. You can feel that this isn’t just a job for him, but that leading these tours, meeting new people, and sharing his love for photography is his life.
David started his business in 1999 and has taught over 33000 photo enthusiasts the ins and outs of shutter speed and how to take the perfect picture of Lincoln at night. Almost 1/3 of his clients are repeat customers, and one lady even participated in 58 tours total. While I probably won’t beat that, I already made up my mind to sign up for another Washington Photo Safari Tour when I visit DC again (hopefully soon). I learned a lot during this short 1/2 day workshop and feel that my photography will benefit from David’s tips. It gave me the confidence to shoot more pictures in the Manual setting and take more advantage of what my camera is capable of.
If you want to improve your photography and see some of the most photogenic places in Washington DC, I can highly recommend Washington Photo Safari. I can’t wait to take part in my next photography tour of Washington DC with David.
Do you like photography? What kind of pictures do you like to take? What camera do you shoot with?
Photography Tour of Washington DC – Pin for later:
This is a wonderful presentation style.
I have never been to this city, but looks fantabulous to me through your lens!
First time here.
Greetings from India!
Thank you Indrani, I appreciate your sweet comment. Washington DC is a gorgeous city, so if you ever have a chance to visit, do it 🙂
We sadly only spent half a day in Washington DC and that was in a cold winter. Would totally like to go back!
Hey Patricia, yes 1/2 a day is not enough time for that city. That gives you an excuse to return 😉
Washington D.C. is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time now. Your photos make me want to do it even more!
You should definitely plan a trip. DC has a timeless beauty and it is gorgeous in every season. I highly recommend going 🙂
I’ve never been to Washington DC, but your pictures look lovely and these are great tips! The angled photo looks SO much better than the head on one!
Doesn’t it? It is really amazing what a few steps to the side can do.
Great article! We were just there a few weeks ago and have a (work-in-progress) photo album from it on our website as well as a mini-guide. Feel free to check it out;
Wow, those shots are great. I love the colorful houses. Very beautiful!
Great tips! I learned all of these in film school as well, so I know they can take a little practise.
Yes, it definitely takes a bit of practice. I tend to forget about photography in between trips, unless I go with the main purpose of taking pictures.
What a fun way to get to know a city and improve your photography at the same time! I imagine that I’d learn a lot on a tour like this – both about the city and about my camera. I love the photo of the Capitol with the lilies in the foreground.
Thank you Jen. It is one of my favorites as well. I highly recommend a tour like that. They offer them in many cities now, so keep an eye out when you pass through a larger city on your journey.
Brilliant article and awesome pictures! Thank you so much for your tips!
Great tips! I’m always playing around with my camera and different angles. I love the photo with the wall and the girl + her reflection.
Thank you Sarah. That picture reminds me of the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List. I watched her for a little while and then just snapped it when nobody was in the way. Glad it turned out the way I had hoped.
I used to live near DC, so I’ve explored the city lots and lots, but never as a photographer. I would love to check out this photo safari. What a great experience, and your tips are really helpful too.
I have the same problem. I almost never take my camera when I am back in San Antonio. And the sad part is, that I usually have my point and shoot in my purse and I still forget haha.
Photo tours are a great way not only to improve your photography technique but also to get to know a city. You get so many more details when trying to find different angles. Great post!
Yes, you are so right, Mihaela. This was a great tour. It forced me to take a closer look and be present, while I was out exploring.
It is such a beautiful city with so many places to take photos. The gardens and parks are just beautiful.
Yes, the parks in DC are stunning year round, but especially in the spring. It looks like you walked into a Monet painting.
Great pictures that bring alive the elegance of Washington, and some great tips too.
So many great tips here! And I live here!
I love the idea of adding foreground. Have been doing this ever since seeing a professional photographer do this for an advertising shoot. I like it sometimes to make it even less obvious so you just get another hint of color. And yes, sometimes I bring my own if there is nothing around – fabric works too 😉
Yes, the foreground can add so much to a picture. You can drape your coat over a stone in the foreground or just lay on the ground and use the green grass. Just be creative and work with what you have at hand 🙂
This would have been amazing when I lived in DC. I so regret that I don’t have many good photos from that time. Your photos make me miss it 🙂
Maybe you should plan a visit to your old stomping ground? DC is such a beautiful town and I feel right at home there! Love it <3
We were actually planning to share something similar for San Francisco! A new perspective on a much photographed spot is always exciting to see. Great ideas!
Very cool idea Taylor. I’d love to read your article! San Francisco is my secret love.
What a useful post – Washington DC is so photogenic, those white buildings contrast well with the blue sky of summer. I hand’t considered the other seasons!
What wonderful tips and photos! DC is the most photogenic city in the USA and such a gem to explore. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to circulate this, because I have several friends heading to DC this summer. …and now I want to go.
I always love photography tours…they let me see souch more of a city than I usually would love. This one looks fantastic! 🙂
I have visted the Washington for once. But I missed the whitehouse. Next time I will visit the whitehouse for first and will capture the lots of photos, I wish I get a chance to take photo with president