A wasted sunrise this past memorial day weekend was a reminder of two things to think about when trying to do any sort of travel photography: Plan ahead and adapt.
Whenever I’m in Washington D.C., I always try to find a good spot for a sunrise, and this weekend was no different. It’s not always ideal to wake up at 3:30 a.m. just for a photo, but it’s really the best time. There’s nobody around to bother you or get in the photos, and the “golden hour” is called that for a reason: You’ll get the most gorgeous skies in that time.
I trekked out to the Capitol Building (and by trekked, I mean used Lyft). My plan was to get a photo at the reflecting pool in front of the building and then maybe get in a little closer to the structure itself. However, in what was admittedly a bone-headed move, I neglected to think about what the day’s events would bring. There was a memorial day concert in the front of the building the night before, and at sunrise the crews were still there, breaking down the stage, which was still partially up and lit. There was detritus from the crowd over the entire area. My original idea wasn’t going to work, as you can see from a shot of the scene here:
A simple Google Search would have revealed information about the events from the day before that would impact my photography. Undeterred, I thought I still had time to get to the White House and maybe give that a try. I tried to get another Lyft, but after 15 minutes of waiting for a ride that was supposed to arrive in 4 and watching the driver teleport all over the DC area on the map (not quite sure how that happened), I decided to just walk down the National Mall and maybe try for a shot at the Lincoln Memorial. I was glad that my travel kit involved a lighter travel-tripod (a Manfrotto BeFree) and a smaller Micro Four Thirds camera (an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II).
Sometimes though, the best shot is the one behind you, and that’s what ended up being the case this time around. While walking across the National Mall, I turned around and noticed that the curvature of the lawn was just high enough to cover the remnants of the stage at the capitol building. A quick setup of my tripod and a few minutes later, I was able to get this shot where brightly lit, empty stage was obscured, but the Capitol was still recognizable against the purple-hued sky.
It’s not the shot I was hoping for, but any day you don’t go home empty-handed in photography is a good day. With the sunrise on the way and the golden hour quickly being reduced to a few golden minutes, I had to figure out something to make the early wake-up call worthwhile.
The lessons to take away from my bungling: Always Google before you go, and don’t throw in the towel right away if things aren’t working out photographically.
Do you have any stories of photographic setbacks you pushed through? Share them in the comments below!