02.14.16: Capitol at night

U.S. Capitol building at night, Washington, D.C. 


Technical information

Nov. 16, 2004,
8:46 p.m.

38°53’22” N,
77°0'51" W
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Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2



8 seconds


I remember just about everything from the November 2004 night when I shot this photo of the U.S. Capitol. 

Maybe it’s because of the encounter I had with the U.S. Capitol Police (more on that later). But it’s probably because this was the first travel photo I shot with my new, entry-level digital camera after an almost two-decade break from photography.

I began doing photography in the pre-digital, pre-autofocus, pre-Internet 1970s. I had a color darkroom in the basement of our house in our hometown, Ashland, Ky., and on occasion would shoot for the newspaper where I worked first as a sports writer, then as city editor. But I put the camera away in the 1980s after burning out from too many of those “hey can you” photo jobs — “hey can you shoot my son’s Little League team,” or "hey can you shoot my daughter's wedding." I reached the point where I dreaded picking up the camera.

After taking a vacation from photography for more than 20 years, I was using my daughter’s point-and-shoot digital camera to get some photos of her first college tennis match in fall 2004 (she played four years at the University of Akron) and realized how much I missed photography.

So I decided to buy a camera for myself.

I didn’t want to spend a lot on a high-end camera because I wasn’t sure how much photography I would do, but I knew I needed more functionality than a point-and-shoot camera would provide. So I looked at online reviews and decided to buy the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2. Some reviews referred to it as a “bridge” or “prosumer” digital camera, one with more features and capabilities than the point-and-shoot models available in 2004 but lacking functionality found in higher-end, more expensive digital single lens reflex cameras. The biggest upside: the camera had enough features to allow me to do some of the creative photography I enjoyed at a price that wouldn’t punish me if my return to photography was short. The biggest downside: no interchangeable lenses. The camera came with a built-in zoom lens; nice, but not optimal for a wide range of photography.

The camera helped me reignite my love for photography.

I took this photo on a business trip I made a few days after buying the camera. I threw the camera and a cheap, wobbly tripod into my suitcase in hopes of getting a reflection shot of the Capitol after a business dinner I was attending.

When the dinner ended I retrieved the camera and tripod from my hotel room and walked the couple of blocks to the Capitol. I placed the camera on the wobbly tripod beside the reflecting pool on the west side of the Capitol and began taking long-exposure shots. That’s when I noticed a rather stern looking U.S. Capitol Police officer walking my way. I assumed I had violated some post-9/11 government building anti-photography law and was ready to be lectured before being forced to leave.

But I was surprised. 

The officer told me he was required to investigate anyone using equipment on a tripod close to the Capitol Building, but it turned out he was a photography hobbyist. He checked out the camera, asked about the features and made some recommendations for cameras if I decided to upgrade to a digital SLR. And he strongly recommended that I get a better tripod.

A few weeks later I ordered my first digital SLR and, a few weeks after that, a sturdy tripod. I’ve been taking photographs a few days each week ever since.

But I don’t do “hey can you” photos. I’ve learned my lesson. I just shoot what I want to shoot.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.