10.08.17: Ben and friends

Ben Franklin has a prominent position in an alcove, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. 


Technical information

Sept. 3, 2016,
12:10 p.m.

38°53’52” N,
77°1'23" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L  (16mm) 


1/25th second


I’m not sure what it is about this photo that grabs my attention. It just a shot of a lady looking at paintings in a museum, but the lines, the content, the positioning and the coordinated colors all work for me.

We were walking through the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., when I saw a painting of Benjamin Franklin at the end of an alcove. I liked how it seemed isolated in a position of prominence, centered alone on the wall. I decided to grab a shot, knowing that I’d probably never use it.

Just as I raised the camera, a lady stepped into the alcove to look at the self-portrait of American painter, soldier, scientist, inventor, politician and naturalist Charles Willson Peale on the right. It struck me that her gray hair and sharp features looked as if she had stepped out of one of the portraits. She worked well with the entire scene, providing a living counterpart to the art, so I stepped back to include her in the shot.

Others may look at this shot and think “nah, that’s not very good.” Me? I see a nice moment-in-time scene of a woman looking at portraits of people who seem to be looking back at her.

By the way, the Ben Franklin portrait is by Joseph Siffred Duplessis and was painted in 1785.

The National Portrait Gallery is a great place to visit during a trip to D.C. It shares the historic Old Patent Office Building at the corner of F Street and 7th Street NW with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The building is huge, taking up all the land between 7th, 9th, F, and G Streets. Note that the location is several blocks from the National Mall, which is surrounded by many of the other Smithsonian museums. 

My wife and I spent the better part of two days on separate trips wandering the three floors and mezzanines of the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum and still didn’t see everything. We’ll likely go back.

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.