Explore Washington D.C.

A Photography Buff’s Snap-Happy Day in D.C.

From a gallery of Pulitzer Prize winners to a legendary camera maker and a tip-filled tour

It’s no surprise that Washingtonians are passionate about the camera’s art. After all, the “father of photojournalism,” Mathew Brady, established a studio in 1849 right on Pennsylvania Avenue, halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

Most famous for his images of President Lincoln and Civil War battlefields, Brady had to haul around cumbersome glass plates, an appalling notion compared to the ease of today’s instant digital capture. Now everyone points and shoots.

Yet, memorable images still require content that stirs the imagination. Luckily, the city offers inspiration at every turn. From the National Mall’s iconic monuments and memorials to the bustling city streets—often bathed in light thanks to restrictions on building height—D.C. is a photographer’s paradise. Here are some ways to get inspired, get the equipment and get the shot.

Morning

On Pennsylvania Avenue near the site of Brady’s studio, the Newseum celebrates journalism with 250,000 square feet of galleries, theaters and exhibits, including the world’s largest collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. 

Newseum's Pulitzer photo gallery
The Newseum’s exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos (Maria Bryk, Courtesy Newseum)

They adorn the walls and appear on interactive touch screens along with videotaped interviews of the award winners. Don’t miss Joe Rosenthal’s “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” the only photo to win a Pulitzer the year it was published and the design inspiration for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Admission: $22.95, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202.292.6100, newseum.org

Afternoon

Whether you need supplies or just want to browse, the Leica store, just a few blocks northwest in Penn Quarter, is a shutterbug’s haven. It’s the first North American outpost of the legendary German brand that was launched in 1925 and a favorite of famed photogs Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Bruce Davidson.

Leica X2
Leica’s X2, a point-and-shoot model (©Leica Camera AG)

Find old-school film cameras in addition to digital SLRs and point-and-shoots, plus all the essential accessories. The store also exhibits photos in its on-site gallery and holds artist talks and workshops.

977 F St. NW, 202.787.5900, leicastoredc.com

Evening

Photographers rave about the “golden hour,” that brief time at the end of the day when light takes on a magical quality. As the sun sets, D.C.’s most majestic sites become even more awe-inspiring. But capturing that awesomeness on camera can be tricky. Thankfully, Washington Photo Safari's E. David Luria and his team of pros lead the hunt for postcard (or Instagram)-worthy shots of the monuments in the golden hour and into the night.

Lincoln Memorial
Daniel Chester French’s statue of Lincoln inside his grand memorial (courtesy Destination DC)

Safari-goers discover the most photogenic angles on the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. Stumped on which white-balance setting to use or how get the proper exposure without a flash? Luria reveals the techniques specific to nighttime photography. (Yes, you'll need a tripod, but any camera—even a cell phone—will do.)

WPS’s 150-plus itineraries also include a full day photographing the capital’s key sites, such as the White House, National Mall and Union Station, plus half days focusing on zoo critters or historic neighborhoods. You can even cross the Potomac to create your own image of the image-inspired U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. Bonus: The travel photo tips learned here come in handy anywhere in the world.

202.669.8468, 877.512.5969, washingtonphotosafari.com