07.05.20: Capitol and traffic

The U.S. Capitol Building is lit by the late day sun above rush hour traffic, Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol Building is lit by the late day sun above rush hour traffic, Washington, D.C.

A visual surprise above a rush-hour jam

The capitol building is an excellent subject for photography, but I avoided photos of the capitol between early 2014 and early 2017 when the dome was surrounded by scaffolding. It hindered photography.

I have a large collection of photographs of interesting or historical sites in Washington, D.C. Many were taken during the minimal amount of free time I had on business trips to the city, which meant I had to plan the shoot in advance to fit the time available.

If I knew I would be close to the U.S. Capitol Building when I had free time I’d plan to shoot that. If I was going to be close to the Washington Monument I’d plan to shoot that. I had to make the most efficient use of the available time.

This photo could be categorized as an exception to the “planned shot” rule.

I had attended an event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (three blocks from the White House) and was cutting across Pennsylvania Avenue to get to the Old Ebbitt Grill to meet friends for drinks before dinner. As I walked across Freedom Plaza, which stands in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th Street NW and 14th Street NW, I glanced down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol. It was about a half hour before sunset and the capitol building was brightly illuminated above rush-hour traffic. 

I pulled the camera out of my bag and grabbed a quick shot, then headed on to the restaurant.

When I saw the photo on my computer after returning home I liked how the brightly lit capitol building was framed by trees and buildings and backed by a clear blue sky above the tangle of vehicles. It was different from other shots of the capitol in my collection. The building was the focal point of the photograph, but it also was part of a broader, interesting scene.

The capitol building is an excellent subject for photography, but I avoided photos of the capitol between early 2014 and early 2017 when the dome was surrounded by scaffolding. It hindered photography, but the scaffolding was part of a necessary — and long overdue — refurbishing of the capitol dome and rotunda.

The $60 million project was the first restoration of the dome since 1960. The dome was built more than 150 years ago, using 9 million pounds of cast iron. Over the years, Washington weather and other factors caused more than 1,000 cracks in the cast iron, creating leaks that threatened the artwork in the capitol rotunda and weakening the dome infrastructure to the point where falling objects could endanger visitors in the rotunda.

Restoration work began in 2014 and was completed before the inauguration in January 2017.

If I had been a documentary photographer, photos of the capitol during the refurbishing would have been important additions to my collection. But I prefer more traditional, timeless shots for my travel photography. A photo of the capitol with scaffolding would date the scene to sometime in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

It’s odd, though, that a number of TV shows used scenes with the capitol dome in the background surrounded by scaffolding. When the shows first aired in 2014, 2015 or 2016, those scenes may have felt timely. But it definitely dates the program when seen in reruns today.


Tech specs

  • Date/time: March 3, 2008, 5:38 p.m.
  • Location: 38°53'44.5319" N 77°1'48.708" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 40D
  • Lens: Canon EF 28-135 (135mm)
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter: 1/125th second
  • ISO: 120