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.
Photos of the Sunset Parade
2017 Marine Corps Sunset Parade Schedule
As its name suggests, the Sunset Parade starts in daylight and ends in twilight or, later in the season, in dark. If the clouds are aligned in the right way, part way through the ceremony the setting sun basks the statue in golden light just before disappearing below the horizon.
The parade takes place on Tuesday evenings through the late-spring and summer. I another post with more details about the 2017 sunset parade schedule.
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.
While 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.
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.