Vietnam Veterans Memorial | Featured Image of the Week
Recently I watched the brilliant 10 part documentary about Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and, like every documentary I watch from them, I had a completely different feeling about a memorial I’ve been visiting for almost a decade. The documentary was difficult at times but it was definitely worth the effort. I’ll truly never look at the marble wall of names the same way again.
While the war in Vietnam is certainly a questionable time for our country there’s no denying the power of the memorial to the veterans of the war. Seeing all those names puts a real human cost to war and it makes visiting this special place on the National Mall is a requirement when traveling to Washington, DC. In this Featured Image of the Week article I’ll share a few more images and some tips and tricks I use when I photograph the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In the center of the US Capital is the historic National Mall. It stretches from the steps of the US Capitol Building on the east all the way to the Potomac River on the west. It’s probably best known for being the large grassy area between the Washington Monument and the US Capitol Building where we watch presidential inaugurations every four years but it’s considerably more than that.
Along the scenic mall area between the US Capitol Building and the Washington Monument you’ll find all the popular (and free to visit) Smithsonian Museums where you can see some several exhibits that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. Continue west of the Washington Monument and you’ll find the World War II Memorial, the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.
To the south of the Reflecting Pool you’ll find the Korean War Veterans Memorial and to the north is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
the Three Parts of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has distinct areas to memorialize the veterans of the conflict including the The Vietnam Women’s Memorial:
the “Three Servicemen” (also known as the “three Soldiers”):
And the most prominent portion of the memorial, “the Memorial Wall” is located just south of Constitution Avenue:
The Memorial Wall is an extremely popular stop for visitors to Washington, DC and on some holidays (like Memorial Day) it can be unbelievably crowded so be sure to plan accordingly.
Photographing the Memorial Wall
I believe there are lots of incredible photography opportunities on the National Mall and the the Memorial Wall is no different. I’ve always loved arriving early in the morning (well before sunrise) to get shots with fewer people in them and I love the color of the sky when the sun rises. The two pictures I see taken the most are ones like I’m featuring in this article (standing at the center of the wall and looking towards the Washington Monument) and ones where you face in the other direction and capture an image of the Washington Monument reflected in the names engraved in the marble of the wall.
In addition to daytime photographs the Vietnam Veterans Memorial looks great at night. The lighting on the wall is dim so long exposure shots work especially well.
If you’re planning to visit at night be sure to bring a tripod. I’ll have some gear recommendations later in this article.
Getting daytime shots
For daytime shooting I’m usually working handheld so I try to keep my shutter speed pretty high. I’ll set my camera to Aperture Priority mode and select an ISO depending on how bright of a day it is (ISO100-200 for sunny days and ISO 400-800 on cloudy overcast days). To get the sharpest images possible I’ll use either f8, f6.3 or f5.6 for my aputure setting and I let the camera decide the best shutter speed.
I like to use a metering mode that looks at the entire image (called “multi” on Sony cameras) unless I’m trying to get a special shot that needs a special exposure setting. For example, if you’re photographing a dark statue and you don’t want to have it completely underexposed it’s a good idea to change your metering to spot and center your subject in the shot to get it exposed correctly. If it looks too bright in your EVF you can add in a little exposure compensation until you’re happy with how the shot looks.
Getting night shots
For night time shots be sure to use a tripod to keep your camera steady. I also like to use a remote shutter release to make sure the camera doesn’t move when I hit the shutter release button.
Because you’re using a tripod you’ll need to be aware of your surroundings, especially around the Memorial Wall where the walkway isn’t very wide. Once you’ve got your equipment set up you may have to wait for other visitors to clear out of your shot (this will require some serious patience because there are almost always people visiting the memorials). Remember, you don’t need zero people in the shot but it’s best to wait until they’re not super close to your camera before you capture your image.
The Gear I Use
When I’m on a photowalk around the National Mall I like to travel light. That means I’m leaving the big professional sized camera at home and using a small mirrorless camera instead. My personal favorite is the awesome Sony A6000 with a Sony 16mm f2.8 lens. If you’re looking for super wide shots I highly recommend the awesome Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS lens (a bit heavier but it’s super awesome to get extra wide shots in Washington, DC). If I want to get some up close shots I love the sharpness of the incredible 35mm f1.8 OSS lens.
I like to carry my camera on a Black Rapid curve strap because it’s extremely comfortable to have my camera over one shoulder instead of around my neck. I use the Think Tank Pro belt system to carry accessories because I prefer to have equipment easy to get to and have the weight on my hips instead of carrying a super heavy shoulder bag or backpack full of gear.
If I’m out at night I bring my travel sized tripod and a wired remote. Additionally I might bring a few ND filters to stretch out my exposure time even longer while keeping my aperture where it’s sharpest (usually that’s f8). Finally, I’ll always have plenty of SD memory cards and extra batteries to make sure nothing stops me from shooting when I’m out on a photo walk.
I’m super lucky to live so close to Washington, DC because I can return often to take new pictures. If you’re planning a once in a lifetime visit to the US Capital then it’s a good idea to make a plan and bring gear that won’t be cumbersome to carry all day.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of my favorite memorials on the National Mall and if you want to experience maximum appreciation it’s a great idea to watch the Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on PBS (especially Episode 10 which includes plenty of information about the history of the Memorial).
Links to the My Recommended Gear
- the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera at B&H Photo
- the Sony 16mm f2.8 lens at B&H Photo
- the Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS lens at B&H
- the Sony 35mm f1.8 OSS lens at B&H Photo
- the Sony RM-VPR1wired remote at B&H Photo
- Black Rapid Curve strap at B&H Photo
- Think Tank Pro Speed Belt V2.0 at B&H Photo
- Think Tank Lens Changer 25 V2.0 at B&H Photo
- Think Tank Stuff It V2.0 at B&H
- Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB SD Card at B&H Photo
- the MeFoto Road Trip tripod at B&H Photo
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