Guides

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If you asked me my favorite time of day to photograph Washington DC, it has to be sunrise. Hands down, no questions asked, absolutely the best. Yes, the early wake up time can be a little brutal especially in the long summer months but it is so worth it. I love the alignment of where the sun rises among the monuments as opposed to where it sets from. It gives off this amazing warm glow on the memorials that’s hard to get at sunset. Plus there is this overwhelming feeling of peace and calm in a city that’s usually hustling and bustling during the day. At sunrise you’re more likely to get images with no one in them while at sunset it’s nearly impossible.

Whether you’re traveling or live within the DC Metro area, I highly recommend you try to make your way down to the National Mall early in the morning at least once. I typically try to arrive at my sunrise location about 30 minutes before the sun rises. That way you will see all the great predawn colors in the sky. Dress according to the weather and grab a coffee, you won’t regret it.

For the serious photographers out there, you may be wondering about tripods. For the most part they are not allowed. However if you’re photographing sunrise and there is no one else around, you could probably get away with it. I think the biggest concern is when the memorials are crowded and other people may trip over the legs. Out of all the times I’ve been out for sunrise (trust me it’s way more than I can count), I have been asked to put it away once while I was at the Lincoln Memorial. All other times other than sunrise at any of the memorials, it’s pretty much out of the question.

The United States Capitol is slightly different. Technically, it’s not the National Mall so the same rules don’t apply as they do at the memorials. There is way more security there and I’ve heard conflicting rules about tripods. The last time I spoke to a Capitol Policeman about it, he said they are allowed. However since then I’ve heard of photographer friends being asked to put it away. It seems like there is no right or wrong answer there so I would take your tripod if you want and just be respectful when photographing the grounds.

One last thing to note, I wrote a book all about photographing Washington DC. It’s called Snap DC: Your Guide to taking Extraordinary Photos of the National Mall and Beyond… and it is available on Amazon. So if you are interested in seeing more of Washington DC than just the sunrise, click here to check it out.  As an added bonus I created a 1, 3, and 5 day sample photo itinerary for your trip to Washington DC, click here to download my ideal schedule.

Now on to that sunrise…

The Lincoln Memorial

In my opinion, this is the ultimate sunrise location in Washington DC.  It’s the most iconic and it is the place that I tell everyone they must go if they have never been to the national mall and especially at sunrise. It’s the center of 4 great landmarks all within a central area. A one stop shop if you will.

Click here to read more

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Sony Alpha A7II Mirrorless Digital Camera

I got this camera when it came time to replace my Canon 5d Mark II. Coming from a heavier full frame camera to this mirrorless dslr, I could not have been happier. It just fits so perfectly in my hands. I’ve been using it for 4 years now and knowing all the settings and where each button is just second nature to me now. However my favorite part about the camera is how lightweight and small it is. It’s so easy to travel with and just throw it in my backpack when I’m not using it. I used to feel back and shoulder pains when I would carry the 5d Mark II around but I haven’t felt that with my Sony A7II. I’ve taken it hiking and even got caught in a rainstorm with it. It’s a great durable, reliable camera.

iwo jima, lightning, storm, clouds, rain, arlington, virginia, va, reflection, rain,
Although the camera isn’t waterproof, it is weather resistant. I’ve taken it out with me during rainstorms, snow storms, all kinds of weather and never had a major issue. I have these camera sleeves just in case, but never had to use them while out on the field. I mainly have them so I can cover my camera while it’s in my un-weatherproof backpack or purse. My camera settings for this image is F5.6 1/30 sec ISO 640 with 16-35mm wide angle lens handheld.

By the way, a newer version of this camera has come since I’ve purchased it. It’s called the Sony A7III (click here to see it on Amazon). It’s a great camera with great new features. I’m lucky enough to have very kind friends who have let me play with theirs and it’s very nice. You may think, what’s the point of still writing this review? Well if you’re in the market for a new camera and not willing to spend the price for the latest model, I think the A7II is a great alternative. It’s about $600 less but you’ll still get some great images. Plus I may or may not be in the market for a newer camera so I thought I’d throw up this review just in case.

Like I said before, it was the size that got me with this camera. It’s so light and compact but to be honest, this camera would not be the same without my peak design hand strap. It basically allows me to go anywhere with a camera in my hand. Plus it allows the extra freedom of trying new angles and not having to worry about the camera slipping out of my hands. It’s hard to describe but I feel an extra sense of freedom and creativity with this camera that I didn’t even know existed with the Canon because I can just hold it in different positions longer without my hands/arms getting all tired.

One of my favorite things about this camera is the flipout screen. I love the way that it comes out so that I’m able to get low angle shots without twisting and turning my neck too much. When I first got the camera, I’d alway forget about the feature but now that I know its there, I probably use it 50% of the time while I’m out shooting. I will say that I take 99.9% of all my shots using the LCD screen. I just think it’s a better representation of what the final image would look like as opposed to looking through the viewfinder. Only when it’s too bright outside will I use the viewfinder.

Beautiful Even in Low Light

Oh and don’t even get me started on the low light situation. It’s FANTASTIC! While in Japan, I went on a rooftopping tour with Eyexplore Tokyo. Since some of the rooftops are so small, there wasn’t any room to even try to fit a tripod. So I experienced the whole tour with just my A7II and hand strap and it worked wonderfully. Even Axel, the photographer leading the tour was impressed with the camera in low light.

Since then I’ve realized that I’ve actually started carrying around my tripod less. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tripod, but sometimes it can be a little bulky and inconvenient. With my Canon, I used to always have it for every sunrise or sunset but with the Sony I barely even need it. Worst comes to worst, I’ll just shoot from really low and stabilize it from the ground (which is a great point of view and makes ordinary scenes look different) or find something to balance the camera on for a little bit.

Ginza, Tokyo, japan, asia, visit, travel, tripod, eyexplore, rooftoping, skyline, vertigo, buildings, people, street, on top, travel, HokkiaidoMy camera settings for this image is F4 at .8 sec at ISO 320. Granted Tokyo streets aren’t the darkest but the sharpness is pretty amazing, especially at ISO 320 handheld.

What Other People are Saying

If you’ve done your research on the camera there are a few gripes people may have with this camera. Here’s what I think:

To be honest, I’m still on the fence about focus peaking and I’m constantly switching it off and on. Sometimes I love it but other times it can be really distracting. There will be so much color on the screen that it will be hard to compose. The nice part is that you can just turn it off when you don’t want it. When in doubt, I just switch to manual focus and work from there.

Comparing the battery life of my Sony to my Canon, yes, it’s not that great. I’ve gotten used to carrying four batteries around with me. The cold winter months can be especially frustrating. However with those 4 batteries, I’ve never run out of enough charge while out on the field. Even if I’m traveling all day (even in Norway and Iceland) they held up long enough for me to get all the shots I wanted to throughout the day. I just had to make sure I charged them back up again when I returned to my hotel. I would highly recommend looking into a multi-battery charger like this one. It makes life so much easier and the price isn’t too bad either.

All About the Lenses

For me, lenses are what make the image. I love how each focal length will give you something different and you can get so creative with them. Yes, it’s true that Sony doesn’t have the wide variety of lenses available like other camera companies but for me and the type of images I like to capture, it’s more than enough. Even if you’re thinking about switching from a different camera brand to Sony, you won’t have to necessarily switch out your lenses right away. There are plenty of third party adaptors that will help you, I used metabones but there are so many more to choose from on Amazon. It will slow down your shooting flow (for some reason it takes a little longer to record the image onto your memory card) and you have to shoot in manual focus. But it also allows you the time to test out the camera to see if it’s really something you want to invest more money in.

Speaking of lenses, my two favorite lenses are the 16-35mm and the 70-200mm. For the type of photography that I like and practice, these two lenses are pretty much the only lenses I carry in my everyday camera bag.

16-35mm F4 Wide Angle Lens: Perfect for any landscape, cityscape, or well lit interiors. There is a little bit of a distortion sometimes depending on the angle you’re shooting at but for the most part I love this lens. It has the ability to create such epic scenes. I love it when shooting a beautiful sky and I want to capture as much as I can in a single shot without having to stitch the images together for a PAN-orama.

frozen, reflecting pool, ice, chunks, national mall, washington dc, travel, cold, winter, ice skating, walk, sunrise, washington monument, reflection, lincoln memorial
Look at all that foreground and background. There would have been no way to capture all of this into one image without the 16-35mm wide angle lens. My camera settings for this image is F10 at 2 seconds and ISO 250 handheld.

70-200mm F4 Zoom Lens: To be honest, it took awhile for me to realize the full capabilities of this lens. I had the same lens for my canon but didn’t use it much. It was heavy and didn’t exactly know when to use it. But now that the Sony body is so lightweight and this lens is even lighter than the f2.8 version, I am looooving it. My favorite is to capture a scene that already has so many layers to it but when you photograph it with this lens, the compression is absolutely gorgeous. By compression I mean the background appears closer to the the foreground than it actually is.

washington dc, national mall, sunrise, lincoln memorial, reflecting pool, washington monument, birds, pigeons, us capitol building, us capitol, best view in dc, visit, travel
So this image was taken from the same spot as the one right above it, just not on the same day. As you can see, the WWII Memorial and US Capitol are actually shown in this image because of the ultra zoom but it appears that they are right next to each other. In reality, the Washington Monument and US Capitol are actually 2 miles from each other. Oh how I love that compression! My camera settings for this image is F4 1/125th sec at ISO 1600 handheld.

rainbow, us capitol, washington dc, capitol hill, rain, clouds, day, sunset, national mall, dome, 70-200, zoom, close up, architecture, details, washington dc
Not only can you get amazing compression with this lens, you can also get those beautiful details in places really far away. My camera settings for this image is F/6.3 1/250th of a second at ISO 320 handheld.

The 28-70mm lens that you could get with the body is ok. It’s pretty generic and will help you get your feet wet with the camera but I personally don’t use it much. The only reason why I still have it is because it’s so small and lightweight. Sometimes I’ll just use it if I want to bring my camera just in case and be as light as possible, but most of the time it just stays home.

YouTube Videos I’ve Created about the A7II

Here was my first impression of the camera:

Obviously, I had to buy some accessories for it:

I also posted this review about a year after I got it:

I’ve even shot some videos using this camera. Minus all the drone footage, this was captured with the A7II:

I will be honest, it’s not the best vlogging camera. I’ve seen others on youtube who say they would prefer to have the LCD screen flip all the way out so they can watch themselves while they’re filming. This camera won’t let you do that. However, I still think the video quality is excellent. The 4K quality is exceptional and the 5 axis stabilization is far better than other cameras that I’ve seen. My number 1 purpose for cameras is photography but I think if you’re interested in doing both then the A7II would be a great option for you.

Some of my Favorite Images

I tried my best to pull images from different lighting situations:

Fireworks, july 4th, independence day, washington dc, reflecting pool, national mall, camera settings, lincoln memorial, night, lights, point of view,

F5.6 at 1/10th sec ISO 160 with a 70-200mm zoom lens shot on a tripod.

Snow Day, washington dc, us capitol, reflection, Rayburn House Office Building, House of representatives, government, spring, snow, white, trees, taxi, cab

F11 at 1/125th of a second at ISO 200 with a 16-35mm wide angle lens handheld.

US Capitol Reflecting Pool, us capitol, reflecting pool, washington dc, capitol hill, capitol building, capital, sunrise, early morning, pink, architecture, water, weather, wind, dome
F4.0 1/10th sec ISO 250 with 16-35mm with a wide angle lens handheld.

Conclusion

Hope this review helps any of you who are considering purchasing the Sony A7II. Overall it’s a great camera and I couldn’t be happier with it. In the case of cameras, size really does matter 🙂 and I love the compactness of it. The image quality is beautiful and colors are vibrant. The 5 axis stabilization and amazing ISO makes it a great camera to shoot at night or in low lighting situations.

Like any other camera, if you are having doubts about whether or not you should purchase it, I’d start by renting one. Borrowlenses.com is a great resource to borrow almost any camera or lens you could think of. If that still doesn’t help, feel free to drop me a comment and I’ll try my best to help answer any questions you may have.

Happy Snapping!

Sale
Sony Alpha a7IIK Mirrorless Digital Camera with 28-70mm Lens
  • World's first 5-axis in-body image stabilization in a full-frame camera.
  • Use your favorite lenses without blur from camera shake.
  • Capture stunning images with full-frame, 24.3MP resolution. Lens Compensation: Peripheral shading, chromatic aberration, distortion
  • Fast hybrid AF with phase-detection - 30% faster than a7.
  • Compatible with Sony's E-mount lenses, and others with adaptors.

 

Whenever people find out that I’m a photographer 9 times out of 10 they’ll ask me about camera equipment. Either about my current situation or recommendations for cameras they’re buying. I’ll then follow up the question with another question, What do you want to take pictures of?

Since I can’t give specific recommendations on this post, I’ll give you a general idea of the type of cameras I would recommend a friend.

Here’s my current/past camera equipment.

You can see that I started off with Canon. It was a great camera but my biggest complaint was that it was too big and bulky for me. My back would start hurting if I was traveling and carrying it around in my backpack all day. So I switched to the mirrorless system and have not looked back. I can’t imagine shooting with any other camera. So my recommendations are based around quality, ease of use, and size aka the three biggest factors for camera equipment for me.

Side note: Switching to the mirrorless system has made me a huge Sony fangirl now and I’m not even mad about it.

My Camera Suggestions:

The Point and Shoot:

sony rx100 vi

Sony RX100 VI– I think point and shoots are great cameras. They don’t have to be anything fancy but I love how this one still has the option for manual settings. Even though it’s not one of those big “fancy” cameras, you can still have full control over what you want your images to look like. If you’re feeling a little insecure with your camera abilities, you can easily switch back to automatic settings too. You get a great zoom, more than enough megapixels to print large and it’s easy enough to just slip into your back pocket and take it anywhere with you. Remember that “the best camera, is the camera you have on you”- Chase Jarvis.

The Cropped Sensor:

Sony A6300– If you just plan on shooting for fun like on vacations and special events, then this camera is great. It’s small enough to fit in your purse but the ability to change lenses is amazing. With this camera you get great video quality, fast auto focus capabilities and the best part is that it’s under $1,000 and that includes a 16-50mm lens.

The Full Frame:

Sony A7III– Obviously, I’d recommend my camera to ANYONE who wants to get more serious about photography but since it has come out, there’s been an upgrade that would probably be more appealing. Check out the Sony A7III. To make sure you’re getting as much of the scene in front of you, this full sensor frame may be the camera for you. I personally feel so free to be even more creative with this lightweight mirrorless camera but the biggest appeal for me is the silent shutter and faster focusing auto focus system. And can we talk about the longer battery life! That will definietly come in handy in the winter time when I’ve found the battery loses charge the quickest.

My Lens Suggestions:

Lens Adapter:

metabones adapter

Metabones Adapters– Different lenses are what’s going to make your images look different. I understand that if you are already invested in a camera system (like Canon or Nikon) but interested in checking out the Sony without investing too much into the camera system, try Metabones adapters. This allows you to still use your Canon lens with the Sony camera. In my experience they may slow down your shooting flow a bit. For example you can only shoot in manual focus and it takes a little bit longer for the image to save on to your memory card but it’s a great way to test out the cameras without having to buy all new lenses.

Landscapes: Wide Angle Lens

16-35mm f4 wide angle sony

16-35mm F4– I love this lens. If you look at mine, I have all kinds of scratches and scuffs all around the body because I’ve used it so much. That also means it’s built to last! But why do I prefer the F4? The only reason is because it’s so much lighter than the F2.8. I’ve never found myself wishing for the wider aperture and when it comes down to it, the size makes a huge difference to me. Plus its about $800 less than 2.8 for just one stop difference.

See examples of this lens here and here

Unique POVs: Telephoto Zoom Lens

70-200mm g master sony
70-200mm F4– If the ability to zoom in from very far isn’t awesome enough, it’s the compression that makes this telephoto zoom lens one of my absolute favorites to shoot with. It can be used for all types of subjects as well: Landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, sports. The focal length is just so versatile.

See examples of this lens here and here

I hope this guide helps. Please let me know if you have any questions about any of these suggestions or if you want me to recommend any other kind of gear.

Happy Snapping!

Christmas Gift Guide for Photographers 2016

 

A guide for any level of photographer. All of my personal favorites.

Practical gifts
1. These Rocket Air Blaster:  are pretty awesome. They blow out air but won’t suck it back in. Awesome to clean those little dust spots on lenses or mirrors. I have 2.
2. SD Cards  So simple, yet so necessary. You can’t get more practical than that.
3. Domke Protective Wrap makes it super easy to take your camera or lenses on the go and keep them protected.
4. When I travel I like to keep all my cords and electronic things together. This Travel Electronic Organizer  is perfect.
5. It’s important to stay hydrated and comfortable while out shooting. The Swell Water Bottle will help keep your water tasty.
6. Gorilla pod tripods are cool because they can support the weight of DSLRS but I’d still be a little careful with it depending on the lens. Super fun to get creative angles with this.

Fun gifts

7. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is about you and your creativity. 5 stars. Highly recommended.
8. These Personalized Greeting Cards by Moo are such great quality. I mean the paper is so nice and thick plus they have lots of other great personalized gifts.
9. I love this JBL Speaker. I listen to it all the time while editing my images and blast it when I’m in the shower.
10. Another essential to keeping comfortable while taking pictures. These Rainboots are comfortable to walk in all day.
11. Fujifilm Instax Printer I have S-1 but the S-2 looks even cooler. I love being able to take pictures on my phone but print them out on this Polaroid film.

All photos available for print and licensing >

Independence day is right around the corner and I’ve been getting a lot of questions about where to shoot. So here it is, the best places to shoot the fireworks in Washington DC with views of the monuments:

Of course the National Mall is the top pick. This was taken on the Washington Monument lawn facing the Lincoln Memorial. The earlier you get there the better, but you don’t have to wait all day. I got there 3-4 hours before the fireworks started and there was still plenty of room for everyone. Count on the metro to be super crowded. And of course, the bathrooms are an extraaa long wait.

Fireworks on the National Mall

Fireworks on the National Mall

Here’s a quick little video to watch them in action:

Another good place to go is Roosevelt Island off of the GW Parkway. You get a killer view of the Lincoln and Washington Monument all lined up. You could pack a picnic and go early for this one but again, its not completely necessary. There are so many places along the trail that offer great views of the fireworks. However, the traffic on the parkway can get pretty nuts. Especially once the fireworks get going, many cars stop to watch. If anything, plan on walking to Rosslyn metro station to get home.

washington, dc, lincoln memorial, washington monument, fireworks, july 4th, independence day, celebration, night, gw parkway,

A 10 minute walk from Roosevelt Island

Last but not least, Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington VA. This is the ONLY one where I recommend you get there as early as possible. Like pack a lunch and dinner because I’ve seen some people wait there starting morning time. The only area available to sit and watch is the little grassy area by the apartments so go early if you want a good line up of the Iwo Jima memorial with the DC monuments. Did I mention you should go early?

iwo jima, marine corp memorial, fireworks, dc fireworks, washington dc, angela b. pan, abpan, night photography

Fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial


Skip to 3:50 to see what it’s actually like.

And if you need a few tips on how to photograph the fireworks, here’s a little video I made a couple of years ago on how to do it. This is the exact way I shot all these fireworks images in this guide.

Hope you enjoy and Happy Independence Day!

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DC is so awesome! Why wouldn’t you want to visit the Nation’s Capital? Theres so much more to it than just the government. Fun museums, beautiful art, beautiful people and amazing eats. What more could you want?

So here’s a little guide on how you can get the most out of the city without feeling like you missed out on anything.

Day 1: National Mall

Do I really need to explain? This is why you come to DC! There are so many museums, monuments and history that this could really be your whole weekend. But in case you don’t have the time, these are the highlights:

Favorite Museum: It’s always a toss up between the Smithsonian Natural History Museum or National Gallery of Art. Go to either one of them and you won’t regret it. Then let me know which one you like better cuz I can’t decide!

Tip: Go to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum early and go to the live butterfly exhibit before it gets super crowded. So fun!

national gallery of art, washington dc, east building, west building, lights, smithsonian, art installation, multiverse, leo villareal

Tunnel connecting the East and West wing of the Gallery of Art

Best View: From the top of the Washington Monument. You gotta plan this one early, but if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, this is the best seat in the house.

washington monument, washington monument reopening, #wamoreopening, instameet, us department of interior, doi, lincoln memorial, wwii memorial, constitution gardens

View of the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and WWII Memorial from the top of the Washington Monument

Day 2: Penn Quarter/Chinatown

This little neighborhood is one of my favorites in DC. It has a character all on its own.  While you’re there check out the top level of the National Portrait Gallery. Super modern, super interesting.

Electronic Superhighway , america, neon lights, tvs, Nam June Paik, national portrait gallery, washington dc, exhibit, art, modern,

Electronic Superhighway in the National Portrait Gallery

Favorite Eats: I’m a ramen fan! And Daikaya is one of the most popular places for these noodles in DC.  Theres usually a line but you can skip it and head to the second floor for  Izakaya. The food is just as good and you don’t have to wait as long.

Shopping: Such great shopping in Penn Quarter. You’ve got all the big name stores as well as some that are exclusive to DC. If you’re a photo enthusiast like myself, you GOTTA check out the Leica store. Sooo awesome (Homer Simpson drool).

Day 3: Capitol Hill/Georgetown

Eastern Market: The cutest little market right in Capitol Hill. There’s a lady that sells baked goods at her own stand. Sorry I don’t know her name but she is the only one who sells coconut cake. Serious yumms right there. And I don’t even like coconut. But there are so many stalls to get great food, meats, local art and flowers. Be warned, it can get crowded on the weekends.

Afternoon Tea in Georgetown: Capitol Hill and Georgetown are not that close to each other, so you may have to take a taxi for this one but going Georgetown is the perfect way to spend your afternoon. So why not have afternoon tea with some furry friends at DC’s first and only Cat Cafe: Crumbs and Whiskers. Just remember they are reservations only.

cat cafe, washington dc, georgetown, crumbs and whiskers, adoption, dessert, tea, coffee, cafe, reservations,

Didn’t move an inch the whole time we were there. Treat bribes didn’t work either.

Last but not least, a leisurely stroll around Georgetown is the perfect backdrop to more shopping, more great eats and the cute views like this one.

the georgetown, canal, georgetown, washington dc, shopping, reflection, boat, travel,

The C&O canal brings the right amount of history to this hip neighborhood

Dinner and drinks on the waterfront with a view of the Potomac River is a must. The best view is definietly at Sequoia but Farmers Fishers Bakers has some great farm to table food too.

*And if you really want to get down with DC, you gotta get down with go go music. YESSSS!!!!!

Enjoy your weekend in DC and let me know if you liked these suggestions or would like to see more 🙂 Follow some of my other DC guides:

Must See Sights
Inside DC
Tidal Basin
Lincoln Memorial