Tuesday, December 19, 2017

3 Things To Keep In Mind When Photographing Historic Sites

I have been a student of history since I was in the seventh grade. I read a book on the American Revolution and never looked back. Since then, I have enjoyed reading about both American and European History. So any time I have a chance to visit a place of historical significance, I start thinking about the places I want to photograph during my stay. I also think about these three things when I plan out what I want to shoot.

1.) Think About Silhouettes: I was in Washington D.C. a couple years ago. It's my favorite city to visit, and I try to go at least once a year to visit friends and family. On this particular trip, I was staying at a hotel that was less than a mile from the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, VA. I got up pretty early and arrived before sunrise. My main goal was to get shots of the monument from several different angles at a fairly close distance. And since I got there so early, I was able to take the shots at my own pace because there was no one else around. After spending almost an hour there, I felt I had what I needed and packed up my gear to head back to the hotel. I took one last look over my shoulder at the monument before leaving the grounds . . . and stopped dead in my tracks. I got my camera back out, checked the settings and got the shot you see below. It was my favorite one of the morning, and I would have missed it had I not taken one last look back and seen the silhouette of the Marine Corps Memorial against the rising sun. Silhouettes can completely change the complexion of the shot, so look for opportunities to make them a part of your photo.

The Marine Corps Memorial At Sunrise (Arlington, VA)

2.) Look For Unique Angles & Reflections: While it's nice to get the typical postcard shot, it can be even more interesting to look for an angle that you don't see very often.  The Washington Monument is arguably one of the most photographed historic sites on the National Mall. I took several shots of it during my visit, two of which I included in an earlier blog post. But I also took this one. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky on this particular day, so I thought it would be interesting to get a shot right next to the Monument looking straight up. The end result was the illusion of the tip of splitting the sky in two. Take a look. I thought it gave a neat perspective that people don't see very often.
The Washington Monument splitting the DC sky. 

Another effect I look for is reflection. In most cases, this involves the water. And in Washington D.C. there is plenty of water to incorporate this theme. The Potomac River and the Tidal Basin are possibilities but the wind has to be pretty calm to get the desired results. The reflection pool on the National Mall works pretty well at night, but using it in a shot during the day time means dealing with a lot of crowds. But there is one place in particular where you can use reflection quite well and that is at the Vietnam War Memorial.  The names of all the fallen soldiers are etched into polished granite, which looks practically like a mirror. Being at the memorial is powerful enough, but there is something particularly reverent about seeing the people trying to find the names of friends and family members whom they lost in that conflict. My father spent a tour in Vietnam. He was fortunate enough to make it back. He knew many that did not. The shot below shows a gentleman looking for the name of someone he either knew or served with who did not come home. Getting this photo of him as he is searching the west wall is a slightly different use of reflection than what people might typically see.
The west wall at the Vietnam Memorial
 3.) Use Leading Lines To A Point of Interest: The great thing about taking pictures in the D.C. area is you can lead the viewer from one monument to another through the use of leading lines. I was at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the shot below. It is one of the newer ones, and it is located on the north side of the tidal basin across from the Jefferson Memorial. The site is dominated by a 30 foot sculpture of Dr. King cut out of white granite. It is actually out of frame to the right in this shot. Behind the sculpture are two walls spanning across the grounds. Each panel has one of Dr. King's quotes. This shot caught my eye because the wall runs to the east and takes the viewer's eyes right to the Washington Monument, which is close to a mile away. This is another way to capture a commonly photographed site in a different way. In this case, I was able to use the monuments honoring our first President and one of our founding fathers and the most important civil rights leader in our history.

The wall at the MLK Memorial going to the east, with the Washington Monument in the distance.
I could literally spend days in Washington D.C. taking photos and still not feel like I've gotten everything I wanted. But you all probably have other places you prefer to visit. These tips would apply to any sightseeing trip, whether the destination is historic or not. The one thing I will say is that when the story behind the shot has a historic component to it, the shot itself has a different feel. I can't explain it. That's just my take. In any case, keep these thoughts in mind on your next trip, and I am sure you will get some great photos. Until next time . . .

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