Karen Ramsey – D.C. photographer and a great deal more

We were delighted that the judges chose one of Karen Ramsey’s photos as the winner of our recent Festival Project contest. We have long admired the way that Karen captures cultures and communities, both in D.C. and during her extensive time working overseas.

Birds flying in formation over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. @Karen Ramsey, 2018
Riders playing kokpar (also called buzkashi), a polo game with a goat carcass at Song Kul lake in Kyrgyz Republic, a summer pasture area for nomadic herders. @Karen Ramsey, 2007

Here’s some information Karen shared about her photography:

I love that The Uncommon District moves beyond the tourist facade and looks at DC where we live, work and play. Thank you, Victoria and Michael, for sharing this part of DC with us. And thank you as well for the Festival Contest. I was so thrilled to have a winning entry with photographers whose work I admire.

It seems like those of us with a camera in hand get asked similar questions about our journey with photography so here some basics or where I start from in looking at capturing our uncommon city landscape. 

When did you start shooting?

It feels like I have always had some connection to photography but there is no set time I can point to as the time that I started taking photos. I have always loved them since pouring through family photo albums at my grandparents’ homes and photography has long been a hobby. Aside from picking up the family camera as often as film constraints allowed, I took my first photography class in 8th grade, building my own pinhole camera and learning to develop film. That was fun but I did not get my first SLR until I was 30; having always had point and shoots. I still consider myself as a hobbyist or enthusiast when it comes to photography but not a Photographer.

  1. Women stringing beads for trinkets at the tourists market in Pretoria, South Africa. @Karen Ramsey, 2008
  2. Motorcycle in Siem Reap, Cambodia. @Karen Ramsey, 2007
  3. Chicken and Tchoukoutou, a fermented sorghum beverage commonly called tchouk, at the market in Pagala, Togo. @Karen Ramsey, 2005
  4. A yam farmer and his son in Binadjoube, Togo. This photo was used on the welcome manual for new Peace Corps Volunteers to Togo for several years. @Karen Ramsey, 2006

What do you shoot?

I had settled into mostly taking photos when hiking, traveling or living overseas. Eventually I started going on photowalks in DC to practice taking more people photos and to force myself to start carrying the camera around. Now I would say I primarily take environment/nature, street, or DC event photographs. 

What do you shoot with?

When I was moving from SLR to DSLR about 8 years ago, I kept in the Nikon family. I was using a N80 and liked it. When I found the D7000 on sale with a lens that was that. Now I would do more research for the “perfect” camera kit that is smaller and lighter but I’m good for now. 

  1. Chair swing ride at Grona Land in Stockholm, Sweden. @Karen Ramsey, 2008
  2. May Day celebrations in Taldy Korgan, Kazakhstan. @Karen Ramsey, 2008

What is your style?

While I get asked this question a lot, I don’t think that I have a Style per se. I take photos of what catches my eye but do not have, from looking at my Instagram feed, a uniform appearance or set style to my photos. My work has been called snapshot photography but I’m not sure that counts as “style”! 

  1. The Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali was built in 1327 by the Musa I of the Malian empire. @Karen Ramsey, 2002
  2. Father and son in Krong Kampong Cham, Cambodia, @Karen Ramsey, 2008.
  3. Snow covered boat in Serbia. @Karen Ramsey, 2003

What is your relationship with biking and photography?

Bike is my main form of transportation in DC. I decided to live in a city without a car (there’s that climate crisis thing…) so I bike or walk most places I go to locally. Aside from worries about rain, I love the flexibility and ability to get around fairly easily. Biking gives me a sense of a freedom, as it has had since my first bike as a kid, and allows me to do what I love — city and nature photography. The Kenilworth Aquatic Garden is less than a half hour ride and it is just lovely in every season; the Arboretum is even closer. The downside is the big backpack for the camera but I would rather the camera on my back than bouncing around in panniers. To me biking and photography go hand in hand. I just wish I could take photos while biking but I guess a mounted GoPro would solve that issue!

Bike in Hue, Vietnam in a park. @Karen Ramsey, 2003
Bike ride on the Capital Crescent Trail. @Karen Ramsey, 2015

What projects are you working on now?

Recently I have been looking at archives of photos to see how my photos have changed, what technical skills I should focus on, and what themes I have in my collection. Linking biking to photography, I have found bike photos of most places, near or far, that I have traveled to or lived in. Some archives I have added as IG stories as a way for me to see progression. I have also been working on more intuitive manual settings. Falling back on auto when moving through the city helped with trying to capture scenes that would pass quickly and in shifting light. The composition would be what I wanted but the images were not always what I wanted with exposure, tone, etc. I have pushed to keep the camera on all manual or a priority setting while walking around. Getting settings correct for what I want the first (or second) try, especially when seeing those fleeting moments pass, is rather rewarding.

Horses in Naryn Province, Kyrgyz Republic along the silk road. @Karen Ramsey, 2007
Those horses climbed the precarious scree covered Tien-Shan Mountain range. Naryn Province, Kyrgyz Republic. @Karen Ramsey, 2007
  1. Sailor at the May 9 Victory Day celebration in Panfilov Park, Almaty, Kazakhstan. @Karen Ramsey, 2007
  2. Transport to the market  in Kazakhstan. @Karen Ramsey, 2008
  3. Youth with a toy gun pushing a baby carriage converted to a drinks cooler at a festival in Taldy Korgan, Kazakhstan. @Karen Ramsey, 2008

You can see more of Karen’s work on her Instagram account @kareneramsey.

Thanks, Karen!

Join the Conversation


  1. Fabulous and amazing photos from someone who clearly has a keen eye and an excellent sense of composition and impact of the subject. I just loved all of them, and in particular, the birds in formation above the MLK statue, the young farmer on his bike with his son in Togo, and the eerie, dramatic bridge in DC. So glad to have a chance to see this wonderful photographer’s outstanding work.

  2. Lovely to see such a wonderful grouping of her photographs…… what an eye. Impressive!

  3. great article and fantastic photographer! karen has such a keen eye and her heart shows through her shots.

  4. Karen,

    How great to see your work given the attention it deserves. I’ve been taking an online course on the High Holies of photography, (like the Rule of Thirds) and can see your deliberate/instinctive use of the Holies in your images.

    Do you print your own stuff ?

    You’ve got an amazing international photography archive to draw from….

    I’m still obsessed by painterly abstraction-(a reliable way to use unfocused and unplanned shots). The online photography community I belong to is generous in sharing their custom filters and pro technologies. They seem to know all the Adobe tricks and are willing to talk others through their processes.

    Living in the redwoods, I’m pretty much stuck with static subjects. Or deer and big trees – sunsets get old after a while….


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