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The Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry tree boughs along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Krista Rossow)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Photo Tips: How to Shoot the Cherry Blossoms

Photographers, charge your batteries and clear your memory cards! The cherry blossoms are nearing peak bloom along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., and we know you’re dying to get that perfect shot.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off on March 20, but due to a belated spring, the capital city’s famous trees are finally beginning to pop this week. Though the festivities will continue until the middle of April (the parade is on Saturday, April 11th), the delicate blossoms aren’t likely to last that long.

So, don’t rest on your laurels—check out our photo tips, and get yourself down to the Tidal Basin before they’re all gone.

  • Come early or stay late. The beauty of thousands of trees exploding with rice-paper-thin blossoms is no secret, so it’s best to stake out your shots before dawn or dusk in order to avoid crowds and get optimum lighting conditions. Weekdays are your best bet, as the Tidal Basin teems with people on the weekends.
  • Bring a tripod. Photographing on the fringes of the day makes for beautiful light, but requires slower shutter speeds. To reduce camera shake and allow for longer exposures, be sure to bring a tripod or a monopod.
  • Patience is a virtue. You’ll have to compete with other photographers vying for position and scads of tourists whose main focus will be on the blossoms, not on staying out of your shot or avoiding your tripod legs, so stay calm and carry on to snag a primo pic.

    The cherry blossoms aglow in the early-morning light. (Photograph by Krista Rossow)
    The cherry blossoms aglow in the early-morning light (Photograph by Krista Rossow)
  • Embrace the clouds. Overcast skies can make colors pop, so use the blown-out white sky to your advantage as you compose a shot, or cut it out completely and focus on the delicate details of the blossoms. But always keep an eye on the sky: if it becomes turbulent, the looming storm clouds can create a moody landscape (which can be good or bad, depending on what you’re going for).
  • Let it rain. Rain can be a special challenge for photographers. But as long as you can keep your equipment safe and dry, it can pay off, allowing you to make dramatic use of monument lights and streetlights reflected on wet pavement.
  • Get creative. Once you’ve gotten the standard blossom-framed shots of the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial out of the way, have some fun experimenting. Shoot low or high (try hoisting your camera in the air on your tripod and using the timer to trigger the shutter). Play with motion and blur from passing people or branches moving in the breeze. Or use your flash in a new way.
  • Pastel colors trick your camera’s meter. Shooting a scene full of pale cherry blossoms (especially in close-up shots) will throw off your camera’s light meter and cause your image to be underexposed. To offset this, set your camera’s exposure compensation dial to overexpose and then watch your histogram. Many point-and-shoots also have a setting for photographing in snow which should give you similar results.
  • Go beyond the basin. Explore the blossoms from other angles, even cross the Potomac River to photograph back towards the city. If you want to avoid the crowds, there are plenty of cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum and the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. You can even go to the National Cathedral, and use the weeping cherry tree in the gardens to frame great shots of the spires.

Krista Rossow is a freelance travel photographer and educator who recently served as a photo editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her story on Twitter @KristaRossow.

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