By Steve Polston
How to photograph historic monuments was on my mind Saturday because the challenges facing photographers all seem to come out in such a place.
Whether it’s here at home in Indianapolis — or in Washington, D.C., where I was this weekend — photography is enjoyable in spite of the challenges.
This was a successful journey, or successful enough to use the photos as good examples. (Well … at least these are teachable examples.)
Challenge No. 1: no monument you want to photograph is going to sit in splendid isolation, though you may wish to enhance the significance of the monument in your photo and isolate distracting elements in your composition.
At the Jefferson Memorial in the Washington, D.C. Tidal Basin, a very large crane was parked out front, adding strength to the foundation. Long views and close-ups all were mired by the crane poking its neck out. Aaarrrrgh!
Challenge No. 2: the weather will do what it will do, no matter how much time you can devote.
Inside the Jefferson Memorial, the vast marble interior was soaked because rain was blowing in. The floor was slick and hazardous.
Challenge No. 3: since time immemorial, photographers have been pressed for time.
With a scant 45 minutes before my traveling companion and I were to head back to Baltimore, we had to park, walk a hundred yards, do some photography and walk back to the car.
To meet challenge No. 1, I used a long lens to isolate the memorial from its surroundings; interior shots were accomplished with a very wide angle lens (12mm) to show the vast interior. I ducked behind pillars to eliminate the crane from the photo and accentuate the reflections on the floor. Wide angle views also were handy to accentuate the lines.
To meet challenge No. 2, I decided that I was going to get wet no matter what I thought was the ideal situation. With wind blowing rain inside the open memorial, I lay on the floor on my back and used the wide angle lens to shoot above. My rear was soaked.
To meet challenge No. 3, I walked fast. Even when confronted with fences barring flooded sidewalks, I did what came naturally … I hurdled the chains and walked across the not-so-puddled grass. We first stopped in the road and I shot some images from the pavement, knowing that a police officer would come soon to shoo me away; she was very nice and said that the parking lots actually were open no matter what the sign said. After parking, our jaunt and jog began.
The greatest thing about shooting outside on a gray day always is that there is an even quality to the light and you can shoot to the sky without a sense of having hot highlights blow out the exposure.
So while many challenges were in my way, the sky at least didn’t open up while I was carrying a 16-pound bag of gear, and a girl posed for me so I could shoot an image of her photographing herself with Tom Jefferson on a pedestal in the background. It was my favorite shot of the day.
You can see more of my work here and here.