07.03.16: Capitol in sun

The U.S. Capitol is bathed by the afternoon sun in Washington, D.C. 


Technical information

Sept. 27, 2006,
4:53 p.m.

38°53’27” N,
77°0'39" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 (28mm) 


1/200th second


There are specific scenes that are essential In any collection of Washington, D.C., photos. The Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial top the list.

But visitors to Washington during the last 18 months with hopes of including a nice photo of the Capitol in their travel shots have been disappointed.  The Capitol has been surrounded by construction cranes and the dome has been enclosed in more than a million pounds of scaffolding, including more than two miles of decking held by more than 52 miles of scaffold pipe. 

It’s not a scene that leads to a “timeless” photo of the Capitol.

But the scaffolding is part of a necessary — and long overdue — refurbishing of the Capitol dome and rotunda.

The $60 million project is 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 is nearly completed. Much of the scaffolding has been removed in the last two months. The plan is to have the remaining work completed and all scaffolding and equipment removed in time for the inauguration in January 2017.

I captured this photo of the Capitol in 2006 when the view wasn’t obscured by construction equipment.

I was in Washington on business and decided to do some photography during a break between meetings and dinner. The sky was great — deep blue with puffy white clouds — so I wanted a scene that would include the sky. Even though I have dozens of photos of the Capitol in my files, it was still the obvious choice (plus the fact that it was only a couple of blocks from my hotel made it an easy choice). I knew the late afternoon sun would serve as a directional modeling light, creating highlights and shadows to accentuate the dome’s detail.

For this photo, I selected a spot on the northwest side of the Capitol near a tree that would help frame the dome and provide a sense of depth to the photo. It was late September, so the grass and most of the trees were still green — although a few of the smaller trees were beginning to change for fall.

This is one of a number of photos of the Capitol that afternoon. It would have been a shame to waste a great sky.

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.