After the chaos this weekend at the Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival, we can say officially that Roosevelt Island is no longer a hidden gem for finding beautiful trees in bloom. Indeed, cherry blossom season has turned into a huge national circus as everyone tries to take the perfect Instagram. Since the social media pressure is on, I thought I might share with you a few cherry blossom photo tips so you can get the best bang for your blossom.
Know the best time for blossoms in your area. Up here in New York City, our mouths are watering for cherry blossom season to begin in earnest as we take a look at the magnificent blooms down south in DC. Thanks to the internet, there are lots of people tracking the blooms across the nation. An excellent website to visit is the National Park Service website, but you should also check out the New York Botanical Garden tracker and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden tracker. In general, cherry blossom season in NYC is from mid-March to late April, though this can change due to rainfall and seasonal temperatures. Finding out when Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, the largest cherry blossom festival in the city, will be held is also always a good indicator of peak season. (The 2019 Sakura Matsuri Festival will be held April 27-28.)
Expect crowds, so pack your patience. As evidenced by the situation on Roosevelt Island, expect lots of people to have the same idea as you to take photos of the cherry blossoms. I recommend taking advantage of less popular times of the day – especially in the morning after sunrise – in order to avoid the crowds (and heat). I had a family portrait session in Central Park this weekend, and it was already apparent that the heat was causing the daffodils to wilt. Don’t let the crowds make you wilt as well and schedule your blossom photography at a time when you will have the park (mainly) to yourself.
Find the hidden trees in your area. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has probably the most well known collection of cherry trees in the area, but there are certainly other parks that offer lots of blooms as well. I wrote an article a while back called, ‘The Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in NYC,’ which lists where you can find cherry blossom trees in NYC. Yes, you may have to travel to Staten Island or Flushing to get some private time with the blooms, but it’s worth the commute.
Use different views of the blossoms: wide, medium, and detail close ups. You never want to bore your audience, so keep it interesting with a variety of perspectives. Wide shots should include the entire background and give visual context for where the trees are located. Medium-range shots will focus on the people in the photo and use the blossoms as visual decoration. Finally, a close up detail shot is a great way to get up close and personal with the blooms.
Play with focus. Having every photo composed of a person underneath a tree is boring. Why let branches get in your way? Get high or low; shoot between branches and let your subjects be one with the trees. In case you are curious, I always bring with me a small step stool that I use to get a little more height during my portrait sessions. No tree climbing was required for any of these images.
Use different types of blossoms. We are very lucky here in New York City to have a variety of trees in bloom at the beginning of spring. While everyone goes gaga over cherry blossoms, don’t forget about tulip trees, magnolias, and dogwood trees. Also, this is the season when daffodils and tulips will be blooming around the city.
Move quickly. Cherry blossom season is notoriously short. Once the blooms start, you realistically only have about a week for the trees to look their best. It only takes one rainstorm to end it all, so you have to move quickly and schedule your photo shoot during the early part of the peak season.
Prepare for allergy onslaught. Alas, April blooms bring allergies, so if you are afflicted then come prepared to your photo shoot. Tissues, eye drops, and concealer to cover up a red nose will make sure you don’t look like you are weeping with joy at the sight of the blossoms.
So get out there and get your best cherry blossom photos! The engagement photos accompanying this article are of Helen and Sam. These two wanted a photo session that truly told the story of their love. As such, we made sure to include a nod to Sam’s Irish heritage and Helen’s Peruvian roots (hence the flags and hats). And no portrait would be complete without including Ikhito, Helen and Sam’s precious little dog. Ikhito truly stole the show and is living proof that every photo is better with puppy.
Drop me a line if you would like to schedule your own cherry blossom engagement session. The blooms are popping now!
If you would like to see more images from my engagement photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com