When you think DC, you don’t typically think “safari.” (Heck, with Tai Shan leaving us yesterday, now even the National Zoo seems far less exotic to explore.) But thanks to local photographer-entrepreneur E. David Luria, locals and visitors alike get the chance to go on a different type of hunt: the pursuit for the perfect photo.
I’ve been lucky enough to tag along on two of David’s tours with Washington Photo Safari. One was on a very sticky day that attracted a lot of map-wielding tourists to must-see spots like the White House, Vietnam Memorial and Lincoln Reflecting Pool. The second, on a morning so cold that a few wayward students kept disappearing inside for long coffee breaks, drew visitors and locals to the lively Adams Morgan zone. I enjoyed both safaris for the spontaneous chats with curious city newcomers as well as longtime residents who gladly shared their shutterbug expertise. I also appreciated David’s kind encouragement, grandfatherly jokes and the way in which he made every member of our slightly ragtag, eclectic photography team feel included.
But my favorite part? The license these tours gave me to screech to a snail’s pace for a few hours, studying the details of my city as if seeing it all for the first time. I pointed my lens at monuments, memorials, doorknobs, tattered murals, cracking sidewalks, shiny car hoods and intricate African weavings, finding beauty in places normally eclipsed by my rushed daily routine.
David founded Washington Photo Safari in 1999 to teach other amateur photographers how to better use their cameras and take better photos. The company has since expanded to a team of nine instructors and collectively they’ve trained more than 17,500 photographers on 2,400 safaris, typically running three to four safaris per week throughout the year. Check out the schedule here for upcoming events.
Like so many Washingtonians, David tells a fascinating and global back story. When in 1972 he snapped a photo of his eight-year-old daughter’s best friend that brought the friend’s father to tears, David realized he liked “taking pictures that make people cry for joy.” While he worked as a representative for CARE in Colombia and Panama, he took photos on the side that were used in brochures and annual reports. (He also served as “office photographer” throughout his thirty-year career with the organization.)
When he lost his job in 1995—his position with an international citizen exchange program eliminated—he decided to turn his photography hobby into a profession. Although this meant a ninety percent reduction in income and nearly eight years to rebuild his earnings to their former level, he soldiered on. Aspiring to be an architectural photographer, David studied in Paris with the Parsons School of Design under the tutelage of a colleague of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
David sold many of his DC images to local postcard companies, so you’ve probably seen a lot of his work without knowing it. Today you can find his name on about eighty postcards and guidebooks sold in gift shops around town. He’s contributed more than 1,200 photos to “The Washington Post’s Apartment Showcase Magazine” and is an official photographer of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
When asked his top photography tips, David offers four pieces of advice:
1) Be sure you know why you are taking the photo and who it is for.
2) Clean up the background and the edges of the photo.
3) Get in low, and get close to your subject.
4) Become so familiar with the camera that you use all its features to get the exact effect that you want.
David finds DC to be “one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world.” One reason it’s so photogenic, he says, is because “the buildings’ height restrictions allow the city to be flooded with light.” His favorite seasons to shoot are fall and spring with its explosion of cherry blossoms, tulips and azaleas. Among his preferred sites: the Korean War Memorial in the snow, the Lincoln statue at night, the north portico of the White House at twilight and the view of the DC skyline from the Netherlands Carillon at twilight and full moon.
Though David agrees that better cameras offer advantages like bigger apertures, longer or wider lenses, faster shutter speeds and higher resolution, he insists that a good photographer can take great photos using even the most basic camera. To illustrate his point, he gives this analogy:
How would you like it if you cooked a wonderful meal, and your guest said to you: “Corinne! That was delicious! What kind of oven do you have? What kinds of pots and pans did you use?”
It’s not the oven; it’s the cook.
So with those words of encouragement in mind, head on out on a snow safari this weekend. I challenge you to capture our city in all its winter wonderland glory.
*Since the last WLDC photowalk was such a hit, stay tuned for more of those as well in upcoming months!