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Photographic Opportunity – The Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication

August 19, 2011

UPDATE 4 (12 September 2011): It was announced today that the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King Memorial has been rescheduled for Sunday, October 16th at 11 a.m.  So here we go again, I’ll keep you updated as the time approaches.  This should be a perfect time to be on the Tidal Basin, as the weather will be in the 60’s as opposed to the 90’s for the original date.  Also, Fall leaves should be appearing in full force by then.

UPDATE 3 (28 August 2011): I may not have gotten to go to a dedication ceremony but I did get to the Memorial to take some pictures and gather some information to pass along to you. Read my blog post on Photographing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

UPDATE 2 (25 August 2011): The Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication has been postponed indefinitely.  I just saw the announcement.  Things change quickly.  The track of Hurricane Irene shifted to the west today and now things look a lot more bleak for Sunday.  The word now is that the dedication ceremony will be held in September or October.  In the meantime the Memorial will be open.  I’m not sure if they’ll allow visitors 24 hours a day now, as is the case with most of the Monuments and Memorials around DC.  If I hear anything I’ll let you know.  I’m planning on heading down there sometime soon and I’ll post what I find out.

UPDATE 1 (24 August 2011): Wow, how things have changed in the 5 days since I wrote this article.  I thought I would give you an update on some of the information I wrote about. I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong.

1. It turns out the preview day was less special than I thought.  The Memorial had it’s “soft” opening on Monday at 8 a.m.  It has been open the last two days and will be open tomorrow (Thursday, August 25th) before closing Friday and Saturday so preparations can be made for the big event Sunday. If you’re planning on going over the next couple days don’t plan on going outside of the regular hours (jump to 3:51).

2. I’ve been seeing some great photos trickle in to Flickr, but nothing I’d call epic or amazing yet.  Here are a few examples: from kevikev, from LaTur, and from navinsarma.  Keep them coming. These are just my contacts on Flickr.  If you are on 500px, or post your pictures on your blog, put your URL in the comments.

3. The dedication ceremony is still scheduled for 11 o’clock on Sunday though right now there’s some uncertainty about the weather.  Depending on the track of Hurricane Irene the ceremony might be postponed, though it sounds like that is highly unlikely.  Keep an eye on the Washington Post’s all things MLK page for more information.  Whether we see a direct hit or not from Irene it seems unavoidable that we’ll receive rain.  Don’t plan on running for shelter if things get bad.  The nearest public building is, I think, the Holocaust Museum and that’s more than half a mile away. So bring your umbrella.

4. The Washington Post published a great map of the area outlining what places will be off limits to non-ticket holders and how to get to the Memorial.

5. I proposed checking out the crowd from the top of the Washington Monument.  It doesn’t look like that’s going to be possible.  The Monument has been shut down indefinitely while the Park Service inspects the structure after Tuesday’s earthquake.

I’m still in for heading to the Mall on Sunday, rain or shine.  I will likely head down very early (shortly after 5 when the Metro opens) just to see what’s going on.  My plans remain flexible but I’m leaning toward bringing a long lens (70-300mm) and seeing if I can take some good pictures across the Tidal Basin from near the Jefferson Memorial.  I hope to see yours too.


Original Article


Since moving to Washington, DC, I’ve become a fan of photographing the monuments and memorials but, let’s face it, it’s hard to take a picture of the Lincoln Memorial that hasn’t been done before.  But this week there’s a chance to be the first, or at least among the first, to post high-quality snaps of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial all over the web.

There are actually two great photographic opportunities coming up in the next week surrounding the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  The first is a, sort of, open house for the Memorial which will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. next Tuesday, August 23rd.  This was originally supposed to be open to DC residents only but the National Park Service nixed that idea and now it’s open to all.  Unfortunately, I can’t make it that day.  It’s a rare day where I have 0 flexibility at work.  If I could go (and this is my suggestion for you) I would get there at 7:30 with my camera prepared and some snaps already in mind.  If you want to gameplan your pictures you can check out the Memorial’s website which has a fairly sophisticated webcam.  My guess is that thousands will show up later, but you might have an hour or so of only dozens of people standing in your pictures if you get there early.

The next opportunity will be the dedication ceremony which takes place on Sunday, August 28th (the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) around 11 o’clock and will feature some big name speakers like President Obama, Jamie Foxx, and Robert De Niro.  Your chances of getting close to the Memorial on this day are pretty slim.  Crowds are expected to top 200,000 and the area around the Memorial is not made for crowds that size.  If you do want in close you’ll have to get there very early.  Metro is opening up at 5 a.m. that day so you can head down there early but I don’t know if that’ll do you much good.  The area closest to the Memorial is likely to be blocked off for security reasons and to ensure VIPs and dignitaries get a good spot.

Why is this a good photographic opportunity, you ask?  Well, first, you don’t often get a chance to be part of history or document it in photographs; the last Memorial to open up on the Mall was the World War II Memorial which opened in April, 2004.  Secondly, while I am not a big fan of crowds, seeing 200,000 people together is still amazing to me.  I’m from North Dakota, so 200,000 people is 1/3 of the state!

So I’ll be out that day.  I’m planning on traveling light, bringing only my 18-200mm lens and a small shoulder bag.  Backpacks can be annoying in a crowd that size.  One thing I wished I’d had when I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity last November was a monopod.  Not to steady my camera so much as to elevate it up above the crowd to get good pictures of the masses of people.  Just holding your camera over your head doesn’t get you high enough (at least not if you’re of average height like me).  One idea, that it may already be too late for, is to get tickets for the Washington Monument around the time of the dedication.  You can reserve tickets online at the National Park Service website or try to get to the Monument early enough for walk-in tickets (the ticket office opens at 8:30).

Three, non-photography-related, suggestions: First, bring water with you.  There’ll be plenty of vendors but they’ll charge outrageous prices and the crowds may be big enough that you have to wait in long lines.  Second, buy your Metro tickets early or the longest line you’ll wait in all day will be the one behind people trying to figure out how to buy tickets from the stupid Metro machines.  Finally, plan for no cell phone use.  That means stick together with your group and print out whatever maps or other information you need.  When there are massive crowds on the Mall cell phone signals are spotty at best.

Here’s a quick video that provides some info about directions and the general layout of the area around the MLK Memorial.  The video actually talks about the Lincoln Memorial but you’ll get the idea.

Good luck and I look forward to seeing everyone’s pictures.  Feel free to post links to your pictures in the comments.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 8:25 am

    Very informative post. If I would be in the country that day I would go to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. That would be an amazing chance to be a part of history!

    I’m sure you and others will take some great shots though so I will have to just look at those online. Thanks for sharing.

  2. August 20, 2011 9:32 am

    I’m going to shoot for a night / twilight shot I think on the 23rd. The long exposure will make for fun blurred crowds.

    • August 20, 2011 11:36 am

      That’s a great suggestion Eric. I never thought of that. Depending on when I get out of work I might have to try the evening since the morning isn’t going to work. I’m curious to see how it’s lit. I guess I should tune into the webcam at night. I look forward to seeing your pics.

  3. August 21, 2011 4:11 pm

    Thank you for all the information. I’m not a photographer, just a photography enthusiast. 🙂 I’m glad to have found your blog, and I’m especially excited for the Dedication. Can’t wait to see the first photos of the memorial.

    For those going to the Dedication, there is more information here:

    • August 21, 2011 4:26 pm

      Thank you for the information Mariel. I found it helpful. I’d imagine there’ll be a lot of screening at the Memorial itself since the President is speaking, but I probably won’t get that close. You must be planning to attend? Are you from DC? I couldn’t tell from your blog.

      • August 21, 2011 6:36 pm

        I’m from New Jersey, but I visit DC frequently and plan on making it down there again for the dedication of the memorial.

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