Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum

One of the many places in the Washington D.C. area that I have never visited in the decades that I have lived in the area is the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington D.C.  I don’t really have a reason why I have never set foot on this place.  I enjoy leisurely walks.  I enjoy taking pictures of flowers and gardens.  I enjoy taking pictures of birds.  Apparently, the Arboretum has no shortage of the things that make for a great day outdoors but somehow, I never stepped inside its grounds.  That oversight was corrected, somewhat, by a short trip to the National Arboretum in mid February.

Yes, it was winter.  There were few birds flying about.  The flowers are still weeks from coming out.  The gardens were in a state of hiatus.  Still, the landmark that many people come to see in the Arboretum are the Capitol Columns.  These columns used to be part of the Capitol Building.  When the Capitol was renovated, the columns were replaced by new, improved, more ornate cylindrical blocks.  What to do with the old columns?  Well, why not put them in a garden?  And so, eventually, the columns made their way to the National Arboretum.

It was a relatively mild winter afternoon.  The recent rains filled the reflecting pool with water and made for even more interesting photographs.  People were enjoying themselves in the warmth of the February sun.  A beautiful afternoon that surely will not be the last spent visiting this wonderful place.

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The Familiar, Redefined

You want to take a picture of some landmark or scenery that everyone else has taken a picture of.  That’s okay.  Each picture is indeed different, to some degree or another.  The thing is, you can make something a little bit more interesting by taking the picture at different times of the day, different seasons, a slightly different perspective.  You can make something familiar just a little bit different so that it becomes something that you own, so to speak.  Here are four pictures of something that everyone has seen before – the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, from the vantage point of somewhere in the Lincoln Memorial.

In the morning, after sunrise.  Don’t over saturate the colors to make it look unnatural. Some clouds to make it more interesting.  A silhouette works fairly well.

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In the middle of a cloudy day, go low, go for contrast, accentuate the clouds.  Black and white works well for this kind of picture.

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In the blue hour, add an interesting element to the composition (people having their picture taken).  With the lights on, the monument stands out against the bluish background. (The scaffolding makes it more interesting as well).

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In the evening, the Washington Monument, with the Capitol in the background, really stands out.  Make sure the lights in the walkway can be seen to add interest to the scene.  Try black and white for the night photograph.

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Four pictures of the same thing, from the same place.  Are these pictures unique?  Not really.  If you really must have that picture of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool in the mid day sun, have at it.  A little variation, however, can make the familiar a little more interesting.

I’ve lived in the Washington D.C. area for decades.  I have been looking at the pictures I have taken in Washington D.C. in the last decade or so.  Surprisingly, I haven’t really taken that many pictures of the familiar landmarks in isolation.  Sure, I have taken a lot of pictures of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol.  More often than not, these landmarks are not the focal points of the photograph.

I have taken the beautiful things around me for granted.  How many people travel halfway around the world to see the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial?  I have taken countless pictures of countless people with these iconic monuments in the background.  I show my friends and relatives the sites that I know are beautiful, all the while not really seeing the beauty before me.  Wonder is transformed to banality.

As a matter of course, I always read Lincoln’s words when I visit the Lincoln Memorial (several times a year).  The words never lose their meaning.  It’s time to look at the familiar in the same way.  Beauty is not only in what we see, but also in what we think.  The thought for the day.  Familiarity is not an impediment to creativity.  Complacency is.