Today’s Friday Chatter is LOOOOONG overdue! We’re diving into some of the questions that I get MOST often from both photographers (and clients too)! If you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, we’re going to be chatting about almost everything you need to know about having a session at one of Washington, DC’s monuments or memorials. A few years ago when I was brand new to the District, I found myself searching high and low on the Internet for all of these answers… How do you get a permit for an engagement session on the National Mall? When is the best time for a photo session at DC’s monuments? Is there a place for my clients to change their clothes? I quickly became intimidated and frustrated, which is why I am SO excited to share today’s post with you! I’m pooling all of my resources into ONE great big dictionary of a post in hopes that you don’t feel nearly as intimidated as I did!
Over the years, working with the rules and regulations on the Mall has become something that I’ve just gotten used to… it is just another part of my job, and to be honest, it truly feels so good to know that, by getting permits and by treating the property with respect, I and my clients are contributing to the long-term preservation of our parks for everyone to enjoy. The permits and logistics may feel confusing and scary at first, but I promise you… these locations? They’re beautiful and are SO worth visiting for a session. Even more than that though, it is SO worth working to ensure that you are doing what you can to preserve our memorials and parks for future generations. So? Do the right thing and follow the rules! I’m here to help you do so easily!
So… whether you are planning a session or a trip to DC or are just curious about what hoops we DC photographers have to jump through for iconic views, today’s post is for you! Just for clarity, I am not an expert, and you should definitely take the time to do your research. Your absolute BEST resource will be the applicable organizations themselves. NPS’s FAQ page and website are good go-to’s. When in doubt, take the time to make a call or send an email to with your questions.
Today, I’m sharing what I know at the time of publishing this blog post, and links and policies could have changed since posting. This is my encouragement to you: Do your research ahead of time!
Shall we dive in?!
We’re starting with the absolute basics! Wondering which monument/memorial is which? Below are the 4 locations that I am most often asked about, along with the location that you can put into your GPS to find them in real life!
2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024
This is one of my favorite monuments! I search the sky for any signs of Washington most days when I am out and about. With that being said, I’ve found that other monuments can be a little more picturesque than dear old Washington. The base is pretty much just stone and has been under construction for a bit of time as of recently. I love including views of Washington in the background of images when you can see the monument from the location but don’t often recommend having sessions here!
16 E Basin Dr SW, Washington, DC 20242
I think Jefferson might be my personal favorite! The views are gorgeous, I love that it is right on the water, and it seems to get far less foot traffic than Lincoln (during any season BUT Cherry Blossom season, that is!). The gorgeous white columns are my absolute favorite and the Washington Monument always seems to be in the perfect spot for subtle yet stunning DC views.
2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20037
This is probably THE memorial that most think of when they think of DC! It is the memorial that used to be on the back of the penny and the steps look directly down the mall at the Capitol. I’ll say, because of that and because it is so well known, it is typically a little more crowded than Jefferson. The white columns and Washington/Capitol views are absolutely spectacular though! The Lincoln also looks right out onto the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. I’ve had a few people ask me about where to find views of this pool… go to Lincoln… I promise that you won’t miss it!
First St SE, Washington, DC 20004
Don’t make fun of me for including this one on the list! I have heard many-a-tourist refer to this building as The White House… and vice versa! Just for clarity’s sake… this is the Capitol!! I love photographing at the Capitol for so many reasons, one of which is that it is far less crowded than the other monuments and memorials directly on the Mall. Capitol Grounds are treated slightly different from the memorials and monuments, as they are regulated by the US Capitol Police… just a heads up as you continue reading this post!
Monuments and memorials = National Parks Services or NPS and The Capitol = US Capitol Police or USCP
Other memorials and monuments:
There are SO many other beautiful locations, memorials and monuments on the mall! The ones listed above are simply the ones that I receive the MOST questions and inquiries about! Before deciding on a location, I want to encourage you to look up the historical significance of the monument/memorial before officially deciding upon it as your session location. As a best practices rule of thumb, I personally try to avoid most specific war memorials for sessions, to preserve the peace of the location for those visiting the memorials. These specific memorials include the WWII Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Unless there is a strong client connection (Military connection, family/relative, veteran themselves, etc.), I will typically not host a session at these specific memorials.
Oh goodness… permits. I get asked about this a lot! First: if you are looking for helpful information on obtaining permits for common locations around the DMV, Kat Forder has an amazing resources that she updates from time to time. Click here to find it.
Second: Yes, if you are having a session on the National Mall, you absolutely need to have a permit. There are many schools of thought here: “What if we don’t get caught?” “Wow… that is expensive.” “Is it actually necessary?” My answers to these questions are simply this: These locations? They are beautiful and iconic and are absolutely stunning. Yes, the permit is an investment, but the money is poured into a resource that will help to work for the preservation and longevity of our country’s parks. Why would you want to risk being asked to leave after getting ready, traveling, and parking if you know that obtaining a permit is simply there to benefit everyone involved? That would be a huge bummer! You can only do GOOD by obtaining a permit. “Risking it” is truly not worth it to me.
After obtaining your permit, you will need to print and carry your permit with you at all times during your session/event. Please note: The following permit is for photography/video. If you would like to have your wedding on the Mall (YES!! This is possible!), there is a different permit for that!
NPS Property Permit Pricing for Still Photography ($90 nonrefundable application fee in addition to the following rates):
- 1-10 people $50/day per location
11-30 people $150/day per location
30 people or more $250/day per location
You DO have to have a different permit for each location (Example: If you or your client want photos at Jefferson and Lincoln, you need a permit for both Jefferson and Lincoln.). However, I am fairly certain that you can apply for two different locations for the same group under one application fee. I would give NPS a quick call to confirm!
USCP doesn’t currently have permit prices listed online, and I don’t believe that there is a fee associated with photographing on Capitol Grounds. However, you do need to obtain a permit to photograph here. I recommend contacting the number at the bottom of the application with additional questions and for details on whether or not permit pricing has changed.
If you or your client are local enough to DC to consider a ride share (Uber/Lyft/other), hands down, this is what I would recommend for your session. Parking nearby is definitely possible, but it can often be a little bit of a hike to the monument/memorial. I’ve found that Uber/Lyft saves me a lot of time and allows me to arrive to my session with peace of mind… no need to fight for a parking spot! Maybe I’m just an anxious parker though… I know I can’t be the only one!
Now, if you are looking for official parking details, here’s what you’ll want to know. All of this information came straight from NPS’s website. Access their parking FAQ’s here!
- Ohio Drive SW: Limited free, all day parking along the Potomac River between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Look for lots A, B and C south of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial!
- Metered Parking: There are approximately 1,200 metered parking spots throughout the National Mall… the cost of metered parking is $2 per hour for a maximum of 3 hours from 7AM-8PM, including weekends and holidays! You can pay via credit/debit cards at pay stations or via the mobile app Parkmobile (My favorite DC parking app! Be sure to download it before visiting DC in general! It is used throughout DC and NOVA and makes life a breeze!).
Bathroom and Outfit Changes
This is a tricky category to dive into, as most of my clients that opt for a session on the mall have only ever had one outfit. The opening and closing times of the bathrooms can be a little unpredictable too. In the morning, sometimes they’re open, and sometimes they’re not! There ARE restrooms at or near all of the major sites, but as a basic rule of thumb, I only rely on bathrooms being open during regular business hours (9:00AM-5:00PM)… though I do think they are open well later than that!
You may have to get a little creative for outfit changes!
Other Things to Consider
- There are certain parts of the memorials, NPS and USCP property where you can and cannot photograph. Along with your permit, you’ll also receive a map that details the restricted areas!
- I hope this is helpful: the sun rises over the Capitol and sets behind the Lincoln! There is nothing better than arriving to a session at the Lincoln a little early to watch the sun rise over the Capitol!
I only have sessions on the mall in the morning!
- The monuments and memorials may be beautiful… but with all that beauty also comes a pretty big tourist crowd! Because of that, I will only host sessions on the mall and at the major memorials at sunrise! It is SO worth getting there early to have a thinner crowd!
- I have found that the Capitol is typically quieter than the mall! I typically have sessions there in the evening, simply to take advantage of better light for the views!
Be prepared to walk
- Comfy shoes are your best friend! I can almost guarantee that you will be walking further than you realize. Do your toes a favor and opt for some comfy shoes! If you will be in front of the camera, bring two pairs of shoes… one for walking and one for your photos!
Do you have a tip for photographing on the National Mall that I missed? I would love to add it to the post! Feel free to leave a comment!
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