This year, to celebrate this uniquely D.C. tradition, I thought I’d share some photography tips for capturing these fleeting works of nature. These tips are ideal for any photographer at any level, using any kind of camera.
Following the basic rules of photography can make your cherry blossom photos--or any photos--really stand out. When photographing cherry blossoms, make sure to:
2. Don't think you need full blossoms — partial blossoms are great, too!
The tricky thing about cherry blossoms is that no one knows exactly when they’re going to bloom. If you can’t make peak bloom, worry not. Blossoms are beautiful at all stages of life, and buds mixed with full blooms can add great visual interest to your photos!
If you're set on full-bloomed blossoms but can't make it during those select peak days, seek out and focus on individual branches that have full blooms.
3. Go for the low-hanging fruit.
To get crisp, clear, detailed shots of individual blossoms, you need two things: access and stability. Aim your camera at buds on low branches, near the trunk of the tree where they are both easily accessible and better protected from the wind.
As with any outdoor subject, the best times to photograph cherry blossoms are during dawn and dusk, when the light is soft and golden. But that requires waking up early or staying up late, and lugging around additional equipment like tripods, reflectors, and flash diffusers.
I say, visit the cherry blossoms when you can and, if you are looking to make beautiful photos, focus on flowers that are in shaded areas. By photographing flowers that are in the shade instead of bright, noon-day sun, you’ll avoid over-exposing the light-colored blossoms.
I know it sounds contradictory to what you just read, but trust me. Turn off your flash. Using direct flash at close range is going to over-expose the subject.
6. Look for framing opportunities.
Take your images to the next level by adding layering, depth, and framing. These elements create visual interest by leading the eye to a specific focal point. By using cherry blossoms as a frame for other objects, you'll be able to capture the details of the blossoms and the beauty of the surrounding area.
This is a mistake I’ve made plenty of times. I get so focused on the unique beauty of individual blossoms that I forget to take a step back and look at the entire scene. Detailed shots of blossoms are great — but don’t forget to look at the whole picture. Environmental shots of cherry blossoms can be just as beautiful!
On a similar note, don’t forget to look up, down, and all around! The beauty of cherry trees is that their beauty knows no bounds. I often find myself enamored by their twisted trunks, fallen pedals lay delicately on the ground, and the stark contrast of a pink bud against a bright, blue sky. To tell the full story of your cherry blossom outing, you'll need photos of these things, too.
8. Location. Location. Location.
If you’re like me, crowds aren't your cup of tea. Unfortunately, tidal basin cherry blossoms draw crowds to D.C. like moths to a flame. While the scenery down around the tidal basin is magnificent, don’t think you need those trees to get great cherry blossom photos. A number of other nearby areas offer blossoms that are just as beautiful!
Springtime in D.C. = weather roulette. If you plan on spending a day photographing the cherry blossoms, don’t forget to dress appropriately. For me, this means dressing in portable layers — ie: clothes I can shed and easily carry should temps warm up, or clothes I can pile on but move in comfortably, should I get chilly.
Appropriately dressing your hands is especially important, since cold fingers make it difficult to work a camera. I’m a huge fan of fingerless mittens, which give me the dexterity I need to change settings and lenses while keeping my hands toasty warm!
Anytime in D.C. is a busy time, but spring is especially popular with tourists. Prepare yourself now for people who will walk in front of your camera just as you're taking a photo, infringe on your artistic space or steal your shot all together. It's going to happen, and there are no avoidance techniques for rudeness.
When you feel your frustrations rise, make it a point to take a step back, breathe deeply, and take in the beauty by which you are surrounded. Remember: If cherry blossoms bloomed all day, every day, they wouldn't be so special.