My Washington: Photographer E. David Luria

The founder of Washington Photo Safari chats about traveling light and getting postcard (or Instagram)-worthy shots

Raised in New York City, Luria has lived in D.C. for 40 years. The beauty of his adopted hometown inspired this one-time nonprofit exec to trade an office for walking shoes. In 1999 he founded Washington Photo Safari, which has led more than 30,400 shutterbugs on the hunt for images of capital sites iconic and unfamiliar. His own photos have appeared in coffee-table books, magazines like Travel and Leisure and, of course, Where.

E. David Luria

What makes D.C. so photogenic?

It’s majestic. It looks like a capital city. And the building height restrictions allow light into the streets and parks. The city also offers variety to people interested in travel photography: churches of every denomination, waterfalls, parks, historic structures, statuary, gardens, an arboretum and free museums that allow cameras in their permanent collections.

Can you offer one key tip for amateur photographers?

Get low and close to your subject. This makes pictures much more interesting, especially shots of small children. A telephoto zoom lens comes in handy here.

Is it possible to take a great photo with a smartphone?

Absolutely. Composition is what matters—having a foreground element to give a 3-D quality, following the rule of thirds [the visual plane as nine-part grid], framing your scene with tree branches, arches or doorways. These techniques work with any camera. Imagine if we gave Ansel Adams a disposable camera and asked him to document D.C. He would come back with beautiful images, because he had a great eye for composition.

Any particularly memorable moments on a photo safari?

Once at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, a client discovered her own father’s face among the thousands of soldiers whose images appear on the black granite reflecting wall. Another time we were moved by the sight of a man crying and gently touching one of the bronze nurses at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. After speaking to him, we learned that an American nurse in Vietnam had saved his life.

On safari at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

What’s been a surprise here?

The cherry blossom trees are as pretty in the fall, with their brilliant deep reds and browns, as they are in the spring. I have the pictures to prove it! Also, there are so many lesser-known gems like the Franciscan Monastery east of the National Shrine, the Titanic Memorial on the southwest waterfront and the U.S. Institute of Peace on Constitution Avenue. The last (illuminated at twilight) has a roof shaped like the wings of a dove.

What’s your favorite D.C. vista?

A full moon rising over “the big three”—the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol—seen from the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia.

Moonrise over the Mall

Where do you go to see exceptional professional images?

The Natural History Museum for nature shots, the National Geographic Museum for travel photography and the Newseum for 60 years of Pulitzer Prize winners.

What makes a good souvenir?

A Washington photo, taken by you, that’s so good it fills you with pride.

When you travel, what camera gear do you take?

I travel light, so just an SLR body, an 18-250mm all-purpose lens, a fish-eye lens and an external flash unit.

If you could wake up tomorrow anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Paris. It’s impossible to take a bad picture there, because every street and park is photogenic. We run a safari here called “Paris on the Potomac.” The locations have Parisian counterparts like the National Cathedral (Notre Dame), the Capitol (modeled on the Pantheon) and Memorial Bridge (Pont Neuf) plus the National Gallery’s sculpture garden basin (Luxembourg Gardens) and courtyard glass pyramids (the Louvre’s, also by I.M. Pei). We end the trek at Paul, an authentic French bakery.

Paul bakery

Read about David’s perfect day in Washington.