Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial at night (David Coleman)

Spring and fall can have exceptionally clear blue skies, but through the height of summer there's more often a hazy sky. This shot taken in the spring was with a wide-angle (10mm on an APC-sized sensor) lens.

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the grandest and most distinctive of Washington’s monuments. Anchoring the western end of the National Mall and framed by the Reflecting Pool, it’s an outsized tribute to an American president who played an outsized role in America’s history: Abraham Lincoln. Its classical columns frame a large statue of a seated Lincoln gazing out towards the Capitol Building at the opposite end of the Mall.

The purpose of the impressive structure is to house a 175-ton statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American president, as he gazes eastward over the Reflecting Pool, past the Washington Monument, to the US Capitol Building.

Photographer Friendliness Rating

With the exception of a restrictions on tripods within the building and on the steps, the Lincoln Memorial is very photographer friendly. There’s no problem using flash.

The Lincoln Memorial gets a lot of tourist traffic (check out the video below to see what I what mean), so count on there being a lot of people there unless you’re going very early or very late. It’s a popular post-dinner stop for the many school groups that visit Washington, so it can be busy quite late into the evening. If you’re looking to minimize the number of people in your shots, the best time to go is before dawn.

Scaffolding Alert! The Lincoln Memorial has recently had renovations to the plaza in front. That construction is now complete, and the beautifully paved area is a marked improvement over what was there before. The Reflecting Pool, however, is currently undergoing major renovations scheduled for completion in spring 2012. More info.


The Lincoln Memorial is open around the clock, so you never really have to worry about it being closed. No tickets or reservations are required. The interior of the memorial isn’t especially bright, so a good off-camera flash is useful at night. The exterior lights illuminate the building all night and provide plenty of dramatic lighting for night shots.

You can use tripods in the areas surrounding the main structure, but security guards will descend on you quickly if you try to use them inside or on the steps. And truth be told, it’s an entirely sensible safety precaution–the memorial is often crowded, and someone tripping on a tripod leg could be serious with the combination of hard marble and high stairs.


Wide-angle of the exterior of Lincoln Memorial on with a deep blue sky and copyspace (David Coleman)

Wide-angle shot of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln on the interior of the Lincoln Memorial (David Coleman)

This wide-angle shot of the state of Abraham Lincoln was taken with a very wide-angle lens (10mm on an APC sensor).

Night shot of the Lincoln Memorial reflected on a still Reflecting Pool. (David Coleman)

Because it's so shallow, the Reflecting Pool becomes like glass on a still night. This shot was taken from the World War Two Memorial at the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool with a long telephoto (200mm).

Night shot of the Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial (David Coleman)

Because tripods are not allowed inside the building, any shots at night have to be handheld.

Lincoln Memorial at night (David Coleman)

Lincoln Memorial interior (David Coleman)

Lincoln Memorial in the distance, with a quote from President Harry S Truman etched in stone in the foreground at the National World War II Memorial (David Coleman)

This shot, using a telephoto lens and a fairly small aperture, was taken from within the World War Two Memorial. The Truman quote at right is part of the World War Two Memorial.

Night shot of the fountains of the National World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. (David Coleman)

These fountains are part of the World War Two Memorial, with the Lincoln Memorial in the distances.

A snow-covered Lincoln Memoral on a snowy winter's morning (David Coleman)

A snow-covered Lincoln Memoral on a snowy winter's day.

Conservative television commentator Glenn Beck's "Restore Honor" conservative rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, held on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" civil rights speach of 1963. Speakers from the stage erected on the lower steps of the Lincoln Memorial included Beck himself along with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. (David Coleman)

Every now and then, the Lincoln Memorial is the stage of major rallies on the Washington Mall like this one from Glenn Beck's Tea Party rally in August 2010.

A scoutmaster and scout are dwarfed by the massive columns when they visit the Lincoln Memorial on the western end of the National Mall in Washington DC (David Coleman)

Interior of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC. High resolution panorama. Statue of Abraham Lincoln (by Daniel Chester French) at left and Gettysburg address in the wall at right. The mural above the Gettysburg Address is by Jules Guerin and depicts the freeing of a slave. (David Coleman)

This panoramic shot from the southwest corner shows, at right, the Gettysburg Address etched into the wall.

Wide-angle shot of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln on the interior of the Lincoln Memorial (David Coleman)

Using a very wide-angle lens (10mm on an APC-sized sensor to create a 15mm in 35mm equivalent.)

Tourists visiting the Lincoln Memorial at night, with the Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument, and US Capitol Dome in the distance. (David Coleman)

This shot was taken just after heavy rain was clearing off but while the low-hanging cloud remained, adding a brown glow to the entire area from the monument lights.

Lincoln Memorial interior (David Coleman)

Typically, this vantage point would lead to a shot with many tourists in it. I got this shot by being the first back to the top of the stairs after the all-clear had been sounded after the memorial had been evacuated when a suspicious package was found. (Something I'd definitely not recommend trying to replicate, of course!)

Motion blur of exterior of Lincoln Memorial with movement of tourists blurred. (David Coleman)

By adding a dark neutral density filter and a tripod, I dragged the shutter on this to a second or so in order to blur the tourists walking on the stairs while keeping the building sharp.

Lincoln Memorial tilt-shift. NB: This is using tilt-shift photographic technique and has a very narrow field of focus. (David Coleman)

This shot was taken with a tilt-shift lens to create the miniature-faking effect. More information here.

You can find many more example photos of the Lincoln Memorial here.

Timelapse Video

[vimeo width=”600″ height=”338″][/vimeo]

Getting to the Lincoln Memorial & Parking

The best way to get to the Lincoln Memorial is by Metro. The closest stops are Foggy Bottom (0.8 miles) (Orange and Blue lines), Smithsonian (1.1. miles) (Orange line), Arlington National Cemetery (0.9 miles) (Blue line), or Federal Triangle (1.4 miles) (Orange line). Metro has a handy Trip Planner and here’s a map of the Metro lines.

There isn’t any parking immediately next to the Lincoln Memorial (except for tourist buses). Depending on time of day and how busy it is, it might be possible to find parking along Constitution Avenue, but make careful note of the signs to make sure you don’t get towed. There’s often free parking along Hains Point, but that’s first-come-first-served, and you might end up with a long walk back to your car during the busy tourist season. And be warned that the roads around the Lincoln Memorial can be confusing; it’s very easy to end up across the river in Arlington before you know it. If you’re coming from the Arlington side, another good option is to park at Arlington National Cemetery (check hours and parking fees) and walk across Memorial Bridge.

There are no entrance fees, reservations, or tickets and no lines except very rarely for the small exhibit under the building (which is mostly because that’s where the restrooms are).


Official Website


  1. says

    Is it possible to get a permit to use a tripod? I’d like to do some HDR and time lapse work. I’d be there early on a Sunday morning close to sunrise when tourists should be at a minimum.

  2. michiko yurko says

    We are having a family reunion of about 25 people on May 17th. We’d like to take a group photo at the Lincoln Memorial on the front steps. Can anyone tell me what time of day would the sun be in a good position for this?

    • says

      If the sun is out, morning is best since the Memorial faces directly east. By afternoon, the sun is behind the Memorial.

      Avoiding the crowds isn’t easy, but it’s far easier early in the morning.

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