Walking around DC at any time of year, you will find no lack of cameras, tripods, and smartphones all vying to capture the experience of the nation’s capitol through a lens. Whether you’re a professional photographer or social shutterbug, everyone is looking for that one great picture, the perfect light in the perfect location, that unique moment captured in time, that will sell or, at the very least, improve your Instagram feed. But with DC being so vast and offering a photo opp around practically every curve, how do you find that perfect shot?
National Geographic photographer, Jeff Mauritzen, a local to the DC area who regularly leads photo expeditions around the globe for National Geographic Expeditions, knows a thing or two about making the most of his surroundings and helping others do the same.
Here, he offers some insights into his favorite places in the area to land with a camera, best ways to take great shots, and the gear you need to do it well.
You are based just outside of DC and know the area well. What are some of you favorite locations in the city to photograph?
The Potomac River and the C&O Canal are rich with wildlife and natural beauty, and the reflections on the water are stunning. The Georgetown canal area has some of the most photogenic architecture in the city. It may be cliché, but the Tidal Basin and the National Mall are both very picturesque and can always be shot in a new way or a new light or in a different season. I never tire of capturing new images of the statues at the Library of Congress, and the National Cathedral has beautiful stained glass, filtered light, and architecture as well. You may be seeing a theme here—DC architecture is awesome. I’m also drawn to the movement and energy of the city.
You have some great images of the DC metro. Can you provide a few tips for shooting underground?
Thanks for noticing! You can’t use a tripod in the metro stations so shooting long exposures can be difficult. The other hassle is Capitol security after 9/11/01—they tend to think that if you’re taking photos in a public place, then you’re probably up to no good!
This is my metro setup and some setting recommendations:
1. Set camera to a low ISO
2. Use a wide-angle lens
3. Position camera in a spot with a nice angle on top of a camera bag
4. Use a self-timer
5. Experiment with different shutter speeds until you get the effect you like. I tend to like 2-10 seconds.
As long as we’re talking tips, can you share some info about the photo gear you take with you when you go on a photo walk in the city?
1. Two cameras (Nikon D750 & D800)
2. Three lenses (16-35 f/4, 24-70 f/2.8 & 70-200 f/2.8)
3. Gitze carbon fiber tripod with Acratech ballhead
4. Tiffen filters (circular polarizer, 0.6 graduated ND filter, Apex 10 stop ND filter)
What is your favorite photography road trip within a two-hour drive of the city?
I like to get lost and drive the scenic rural roads of Loudoun and Fauquier County. When they’re snow covered or in the fall when the leaves are popping, I get some really great one-of-a-kind shots. I also love a full-moon hike up Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park.
Where are some of your favorite spots to capture the sunrise? Sunset?
The Tidal Basin, Lincoln Memorial, and Manassas Battlefield are all beautiful places to shoot both the sunrise and sunset. Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia is my favorite place to catch the sunrise.
What upcoming project are you most looking forward to?
I have a few lined up but one that I am very excited about it is 3-day fall foliage photography workshop in Virginia’s wine and horse country. Autumn in DC and Virginia is one of my favorite times of year behind the lens. The workshop is designed for beginner to intermediate photographers who are interested in vastly improving their digital photography and photo editing skills, and to teach skills such as how to creatively control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create images that go beyond the typical “postcard” shot.
How has leading NatGeo photo trips helped you grow as a photographer?
Hmm, good question. As a Photography Expert for National Geographic Expeditions, I have to be able to effectively communicate photography skills both in the field and with oral presentations. Preparing for these trips and working with our guests has allowed me to better understand the process that goes on in my head prior to pressing the shutter. It essentially allows me to be a better teacher and photographer.
Jeff Mauritzen is a Washington, DC commercial & editorial photographer, specializing in editorial portraiture, lifestyle, travel and wildlife photography. In addition to assignment work, Jeff is also a seasoned and popular photography expert, guiding and lecturing on natural history-focused trips around the world for National Geographic Expeditions. To join him on an upcoming trip check out his bio on National Geographic. Jeff lives in northern Virginia with his wife, daughter, and rescue greyhound. He is available for assignment worldwide. Check out his official website and follow him on his popular Instagram feed.