Confused by what sights to see on your short visit to Washington DC?
There are so many monuments, memorials, and museums. Where do you even start?
If want to know the absolute best of the best things to see in Washington DC, keep on scrolling. This guide is for you!
I’ve lived in the Washington DC area my entire life and in that time I’ve gotten to know the city very well. It has changed so much in the past few years that it may be hard to keep up with all the new and fun things to see. Sometimes I even think it’s hard to keep up with all that is going on. There have been new museums, memorials and points of interest that would be fun for a solo traveler as well as families all at the same time.
So in this guide, I will share some highlights of my favorite sights as a Washington DC native and photographer.
This image has been shared more than 3.6 million times.
Probably much more than that but with so many people showing it to their friends and family, I know my name has been lost and I can’t keep track. To say it’s been an honor is an understatement. The number of conversations, emails and private messages I’ve received about this one image has been overwhelming but so humbling. Even to this day, 7 years later, I will still get messages in my email box specifically about the emotions people have felt about it.
This post isn’t to brag or to show off. It comes from the bottom of my heart. The deepest gratitude I can offer to the beautiful city I call home, all those who have taken the time to tell me how much this image has meant to them, and especially all the veterans and families who have been impacted by the Vietnam War.
So I wanted to take a moment and talk about the story behind the image, Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Sunrise:
It All Started 11 Months Prior. January 6th, 2012:
I woke up for sunrise with every intention to photograph the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I had visited the memorial one time before but did not come out with images I was super excited about. After a conversation with a friend, I decided I needed to go back.
Little did I know, the sunrise that morning was going to be EPIC!
I’ve lived in the area my whole life and been photographing the National Mall for over 8 years. I’ve pretty much been to every one of these places at least 20 times. So I compiled the top 7 best spots to make your trip to the Nation’s capital easier to navigate.
I’ve done all the research for you so you can just get out there and shoot. Here’s everything you need to know to capture a stunning sunrise in Washington DC:
How to Prepare for Sunrise
I love the alignment of where the sun rises among the monuments as opposed to where the sun 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.
Don’t worry though even if no one else is around, park police have the memorials under constant surveillance which makes this one of the safest places to be in DC at night. If anything bad should happen, help will not be far away.
I typically try to arrive at my sunrise location about 30 minutes before the sun actually 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 so I would just take your tripod if you want and just be respectful when photographing the grounds. The worst that will happen is that someone will ask you to put it away.
In my opinion, the Reflecting Pool 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 to 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.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Focus on the Story International Photo Festival for an AMAZING festival. I felt so inspired and grateful the entire weekend. I got to see so many amazing images, watched so many great presentations and best of all hugged so many wonderful photographers. I could not be more thrilled.
Obviously my favorite part of the entire weekend was the photowalk. I am still shocked and so honored that about 70 people showed up on a Saturday morning at 5am to walk around the National Mall. Thank you so much to everyone who came out. I hope you had as much fun as I did.
And I can’t help but smile while I scroll through the #FOTSwalk18 hashtag on instagram. The weather called for partly cloudy skies and we even got a little bit of fog rolling through, it was perfect! There were so many great images and I wish I could post them all! But here are a few:
Special shout out to @chantale1 for the group shot at the beginning of our walk.
Thanks again to everyone who came out. I’m so grateful to have so many talented photographer friends. Be sure to check out the #FOTSwalk18 hashtag to see more images from the walk. And thanks again to Focus on the Story for putting on such an amazing photo festival! I can’t wait for the next one 🙂
On Monday night before I went to bed, I checked the weather like I always do. It called for fog in the morning so I set my alarm to wake up for sunrise. I didn’t have any real plans of where I was going to go, I just knew I wanted to go somewhere near water. So I figured the reflecting pool would be cool.
I walked around and nothing really was catching my attention so I made my way over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I figured with all the Memorial day festivities that it may be cool. I was wrong. It was freakin’ amazinggggg. I don’t know why I’ve never done it before.
There were so many flowers, notes, and just little tokens of appreciation to our veterans. I even saw cans of beer. It was one of the most touching displays of affection that I have seen in a very long time. I took the time out to read some of the notes that were left there and I just can’t even imagine what friends and family had to go through during this period of time. I can’t even imagine what the men and women who severed our country had to go through during this time either. I am so grateful for all of their sacrifices. If not for you, I would not have the beautiful life I have today. I have so much respect and gratitude to you, veterans. Veterans of then and veterans now. Thank you.
At the end of the wall were just a whole bunch of American flags. I loved the repetition and how they were reflecting in the memorial. I think the fog really helped to capture the mood too.
My camera settings for this image is F5.0 at 1/200th of a second and ISO 800 with my Sony A7II and 16-35mm wide angle lens.
This image is very different for me in two different ways.
It broke my instagram silence. Which I was not planning on doing for a while but it was such a good sunrise on Saturday that I couldn’t help myself.
Because its of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A place I haven’t photographed in YEARSSSS.
Let me explain. I think most of you found me because of my Vietnam Veterans images that went viral a couple years back. If you don’t know what I mean, you can see one here and the other one here. When that happened it was probably one of the most surreal moments in my life. I had no idea those images would be shared or even liked as much as it did. And I’m forever grateful for it. Those images really changed my photography career in the best ways possible.
And for a long time I had this fear in my head that I could never go back and take a better image than I had in 2012. 6 years later and I’m still not over it and I walk past the memorial almost on a weekly basis. Its kind of nuts the kind of tricks your brain can play on you.
So I finally did. I went down the the Vietnam Veterans memorial and tried to capture the sunrise as best as I could. It started off with me taking the same exact images I had before but then I started getting creative. I started thinking about all the things that I’ve learned about composition and my new favorite techniques to capture an unique cityscape. And I felt as excited and inspired as I ever have about photographing this beautiful memorial. I learned that I can’t let fear of not being good enough hold me down from doing what I love.