USMC Silent Drill Team at the Marine Corps Sunset Parade

Iwo Jima Memorial / Arlington / Virginia


Most Tuesday evenings in the summer, Marine Barracks Washington puts on a superb, free public event at the Iwo Jima Memorial next to Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a colorful and impressive spectacle against the backdrop of one of the area’s great monuments.

The U.S. Marine Corps sunset parades at the Iwo Jima Memorial have become an annual summer tradition. The parade starts before sunset and continues until after the sun is down.

It consists of two parts. The first is a musical presentation the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps, also known as the Commandant’s Own. The second part consists of a demonstration by the USMC Silent Drill Team, which involves formation marching while precision work with bayonet-tipped M1 rifles–all without any audible cues.

I have more information on the Sunset Parade and USMC Silent Drill Team here.

Logistics

Photography is permitted for the duration of the parade. The light is very low by the end of the ceremony, particularly in August, so it can be hard to get sharp photos towards the end. I’d recommend taking a longish telephoto (200mm+) if possible, since much of the action happens across a field (not such a bad thing with all that sharp steel flying around!). A monopod or tripod will help get sharp images with the combination of fading light and a long telephoto lens.

While flash is technically possible, especially with the modern zoom flashes that can project an incredibly long way, it’s probably not recommended for the portion of the show for which it would be most useful—the USMC Silent Drill Team—since it would pose a potentially dangerous distraction to the Marines who are throwing heavy guns and bayonets around in precision drills. And be aware that many in the audience are veterans and families of servicemen and servicewomen—and the midst of several hundred Marines is not the best place to cause a commotion in an effort to get just the right shot—so please be considerate of others if you have to move around to get a different angle.

Photographer Friendliness Rating

USMC Silent Drill Team at the Marine Corps Sunset ParadeWhile there aren’t many restrictions on what you’re allowed to do, as such, there are some factors that make it a challenging event to shoot. By mid-way through the parade, the light is typically fading. It’s hard to move around to a new vantage point without disturbing others. And much of the parade occurs quite a distance away in the middle of a field.

2014 Marine Corps Sunset Parade Schedule

The 2014 sunset parade schedule is:

May 27 (7pm)
June 3 (7pm)
June 10 (7pm)
June 17 (7pm)
June 24 (7pm)
July 1 (7pm)
July 8 (7pm)
July 15 (7pm)
July 22 (7pm)
July 29 (7pm)
August 5 (6:30pm)
August 12 (6:30 pm)

If Tuesday evenings don’t work for you, there’s also a Friday night parade at the Marine Corps Barracks Washington at 8th and I . You can find more information here.

Getting to the Marine Corps Sunset Parade

The parking spots within the grounds of the memorial itself are off-limits to the public on ceremony evenings, although there is often some parking on the street in the neighborhood around the Iwo Jima Memorial if you get there early enough. A more reliable option is to park at the Arlington National Cemetery (for a small fee) and ride the free shuttle bus from the Visitors’ Center to the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The nearest Metro stations are either the Rosslyn stop on the Blue/Orange line or Arlington National Cemetery stop on the Blue line. It’s about 10 minute walk from both. The walk from and through Arlington National Cemetery is more scenic (and you can ride the shuttle bus back). The Washington Metro Trip Planner is very handy for working out how to get from A to B on Washington’s public transport.

There are some seats directly opposite the memorial, but they’re reserved invited guests of the parade reviewing officials. And it’s hard to take photos from there without disturbing those seated around you anyway, so a much better bet is to take a picnic blanket (and picnic) or lawn chairs and choose a spot on the grass–there’s plenty of room. There’s not much in the way of cover for rain or the evening thunderstorms that are quite common during the summer, although a grove of trees offers a little protection against light rain showers. The performance lasts about an hour.

Map

Official Website

Marine Corps Barracks Washington DC

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Comments

  1. Cori says

    Our school just took a week long tour from Florida to DC and I have to say this was my favorite part. The Marines were so precise and a pleasure to watch. On top of the awesome review, before the ceremony begins there are Marines standing all around the area to answer questions and pose for pictures. I met quite a few who helped our group understand more about the Marine Corps and its history. Well worth the time to see this. Hope anyone going doesn’t just pencil it in their schedule….they ink it in!

  2. Richard says

    Is there a better angle to the Memorial to have for shooting? And have you found more advantageous settings for the most consistent shots? I was also told there is an additional ceremony that happens somewhere else on Friday nights..? is this true and what can you inform me about it? I am looking to create some images to send to friends who are deployed.
    Very respectfully,
    Richard

    • says

      Hi Richard,

      There’s a small section of seats directly opposite the memorial itself that’s reserved for guests of the reviewing party. On either side of that will give you good options for including the monument itself in the shot. The Drum & Bugle Corps and the Silent Drill Team both make good use of the space and move around, but they still tend to focus on the reviewing stand, so positioning yourself as close to directly in front is a good option.

      And yes, on Friday nights the Marine Barracks Washington hosts the Evening Parade, which is held at the Barracks not far from the US Capitol, not at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Information on the Evening Parade is at: http://www.marines.mil/unit/barracks/Pages/eveningparade.aspx. It starts much later–at 8:45pm–so it’s much harder to get good shots in the dark.

      As for settings, at this time of year you should have fairly good light for much of the Sunset Parade. It becomes more of an issue in August when it starts getting darker a bit earlier, in which case I’ll usually start bumping it up to 400 ISO, using an aperture somewhere around f/4 or f/5.6 and shutter speed not much less than 1/125 (with a monopod) to keep things sharp with the telephoto (faster is better, if you can). Even then, though, the twirling rifles can start to blur–they’re going fast.

      If you’re heading down tomorrow, it should be a great weather for it, although they’re forecasting a slight chance of brief showers.

      Hope you get some great shots!