05.07.17: Mirror image

A small plot of green space occupies the middle of a courtyard between
reflecting glass buildings at 400 and 444 N. Capitol St. NW in Washington, DC.


Technical information

July 7, 2011,
8:58 a.m.

38°53’44” N,
77°0'33" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (14mm) 


1/60th second


There are times when I encounter an interesting scene, lift the camera to my eye and immediately capture just the shot I visualized. I’ve posted many of those photos on my site.

Then there’s this scene that took about a dozen tries over five or six years to get the shot I wanted.

But it was worth the wait.

The scene shows a courtyard between buildings at 400 and 444 N. Capitol St. NW in Washington, DC. It’s about a block from the hotel where I would usually stay in DC and I passed this courtyard multiple times each day: on morning runs, when walking to the U.S. Capitol complex for meetings, when walking to the office or heading to dinner.

The symmetry of the scene caught my eye: the identical, reflective buildings on each side of the courtyard; the geometric shapes of the tile in the courtyard; the matching street lamps on each side of the green-space focal point in the middle. It was a scene just begging to be photographed.

But I just couldn’t get it right.

I tried shooting it in the early morning, but the angle of the morning sun was too low to achieve the contrast I needed. I tried shooting it in the afternoon or early evening, but I’m facing west to view the scene so the sun was creeping behind the buildings, creating unwanted shadows. And a number of poor attempts came on overcast days, when the sky and the building blended in an unattractive, low-contrast mass of gray.

My many unsuccessful attempts taught me two things: one, the best lighting on this scene was in midmorning; and two, I needed a day with a nice, blue sky.

Everything came together on a July 2011 trip to DC. I noticed on my morning run that there were very few clouds in the sky. Perfect! And my first appointment wasn’t until 10 a.m., so I had plenty of time to visit this scene with my camera before starting my work day.

I felt a sense of relief when I lifted the camera and checked the scene through the viewfinder. It was just what I had visualized: blue sky and adjacent windows reflecting in the glass buildings; the geometric tile providing a visual contrast to the lines of the buildings; and the two street lamps standing sentry beside the trees and flowers in the middle of the courtyard. I shot several frames at different exposures, just to be safe, then headed on to my appointment.

After years of frustration, I knew I finally had my shot.

By the way, a number of national and international news organizations — Fox News Washington bureau, MSNBC, C-SPAN, Sky News, Telemundo, Univision, Independent Television Network (ITN) and several others — have offices in these buildings because of the proximity to the U.S. Capitol building.

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.