As the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. is the perfect place to do a photo shoot no matter what type of shoot it is. There are a lot of fantastic places with iconic backgrounds like the pastel homes in Georgetown or the extravagant arches and columns of Union Station. You can find whatever you need for the perfect outdoor photo shoot locations in Washington, D.C.
The type of photo shoot matters
So, what kind of shoot are you doing? If you are planning a family photo shoot or any other type of casual shots, you can probably be pretty flexible with the locations, but you should always have a backup plan. And maybe a few more backup plans for your backup plan.
Check the weather forecast
One thing about Washington, D.C. is that the weather can be an issue unless you want to take shots in the rain because the city can get more than 10 inches of rain in the summer months from May through August. The best times to shoot would probably be from September through January if you do not want to have to bring raincoats and umbrellas.
Photography permits and fees
You will probably need a permit if you are doing a professional photo shoot and since most of the outdoor areas in Washington, D.C. are owned by the National Park Service, that is who you have to get the permit from. There is typically a small fee but not in all cases and it usually depends on the number of people and the equipment you are using as well as:
- If your photos are intended for sale
- If they involve any kind of models, props, or a set
- If your session has the potential to disrupt normal visitor use
- To shoot in areas that are not open to the public
- Shooting before or after normal hours
The National Park Service
Whether you need a permit or not also depends on if you are in one of the national parks in the city. There are many but not all of them require permits. Some of the ones that do include:
- Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
- Rock Creek Park
- Prince William Forest Park
- Presidents Park (White House and Ellipse)
- National Mall and Memorial Parks
- National Capital Parks-East
- Manassas National Battlefield Park
- George Washington Memorial Parkway
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Applying for a permit is not difficult but since you may have to wait for your application to be processed it is best to apply several weeks in advance.
Photo shooting in public
Of course, you may be able to find some places that are not owned by the National Park Service you can shoot at, but you will have to check with the city to make sure you do not need a permit from them. Also, it is a good idea to talk to any businesses and residents that may be impacted by your photo shoot. If you are just doing a small family photo shoot, it is not a big deal, but if you are shooting a huge wedding party with props and lots of equipment, it is best to talk to anyone who is nearby.
Shooting your subjects
Having a good photo shoot is about more than just gathering up the subjects and posing them for shots. There are other things you have to think about first, after the weather and the permits. Some of these include:
- Choosing the right time of day: Once you think you have the perfect spot, it is essential that you do some practice shots. But do not just do one and then be done. Go at certain times of day to see how the lighting is going to affect your shots.
- Picking the right equipment: Even if you have been taking photos since you were a child, you can always learn new things. For portrait photos, use a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with plenty of filters and tripods. Wedding party shoots will need wide angle lenses and macro lenses for the special shots.
- Creating a good theme or concept: If you want to do a fun session with silly props and costumes, that is great but make sure your models are on board with this. You may want to use a theme like emulating a favorite movie or styling your subjects as characters in a TV show.
Some fun spots in Washington, D.C.
While many of the outdoor places may be owned by the parks department, you still need to make sure you are allowed to shoot there. Some places in the city are off-limits like the Jefferson Memorial columns, above the top of the Lincoln Memorial steps, and in the circle of flags at the Washington Monument. Here are some fun spots you can shoot at:
- The Watermelon House on Q Street
- Saxby’s Wave Wall
- The U.S. Botanic Garden
- Old Town Alexandria
- The Wharf
- Crystal City
- Enid A. Haupt Garden Smithsonian castle
One final note
No matter where you shoot, always bring extra water, towels, trash bags, raincoats, umbrellas, photography equipment, and shoes. Also, make sure you plan for breaks if your photo session is going to be longer than an hour. And add some silly props to your photo shoots just for fun.