Southward Sights: A Day or Two in Washington, D.C.

Journal, Photography

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Last week I was southbound on my way to Washington, D.C. with a small group from the University of Maine Honors College.  I had a day and a half to explore the city with a few friends, and we never had a dull moment. We packed every hour with walking, talking, eating, and seeing. Exploring the city was fun, but while I was there I also explored a new view of the world: a view through a 14mm focal length lens, which I picked up just before I left (it’s a Rokinon 14mm F/2.8). The very wide angle is fascinating, but I found that it must be used with care to use it well. It certainly teaches you to mind your lines, foregrounds, and backgrounds. A wide perspective makes everything look like it’s “leaning back” if you look upwards, such as in the photo below. It’s not an effect I’m crazy about, but it can be used effectively. I played with the perspective corrections in Adobe Lightroom to “fix” the effect in a number of photographs from the 14mm, but sometimes the effect itself is compelling. In the photograph below, as was pointed out by Scott Fillmer (my uncle, and a photographer I respect greatly), the effect creates leading lines from the pillars, bringing the viewer’s eye out and to the Washington Monument in the frame.

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However, adding a perspective correction can also make a great photograph. This is essentially, digitally, the same as using a tilt-shift lens. Doing this in post will reduce the field of view, so it won’t be the a full 14mm view, but that is fine for many photographs especially if you have plenty of pixels to work with. The downside is that extreme corrections can degrade image quality. In the photograph below, I used the 14mm. In the original, the pillars are “leaning away” from you, much like the photograph above. I really wanted to convey how massive these pillars are in the Lincoln Memorial, and I think the perspective corrected photograph does a better job at that than the uncorrected one. It also is closer to how I remember it looking in person.

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You may have notice that I shot a lot of Black and White. This was not expressly my goal, but it happened to work well on a generally grey D.C. day while shooting a lot of white marble and white painted sandstone. However, color really makes the Washington Monument “pop” at night. This is interesting if you think about it, because most of the negative space around the monument is black… and the monument is white. however, the slightly blueish cast from the lights, the variations in the stone, and the small dash of color from the flags all contribute to the image.

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We saw a number of monuments and memorials, but I my favorite was the World War 2 memorial. It was very appropriate, and thought provoking. If the opportunity arises, go see it. One cannot help but think about the momentous struggle, the strength and bravery of thousands, the sad reality of this world war. I live in a free nation because young men my age stormed beaches, flew aircraft, manned warships, and lived (and died) through every hardship to combat a darkness bent on overtaking the world. If anyone out there has no respect for their military, they need to visit this memorial.

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Another memorial worth visiting (well, aren’t they all worth visiting?) is the Korean War Memorial. A wall, a flag, a fountain, and soldier statues commemorate this war and remind us that “Freedom is not free.”

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It wasn’t all wide angle fun in Washington, though. I found occasion to pull out a longer focal length, as was needed to photograph the Washington Memorial and the Capitol Building in the same frame.

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Also good for photographing D.C. guards. Yeah, she’s having a great day.

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