Saturday, March 24, 2012

Photograph Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in spring is a visit to Washington DC to experience and photograph the cherry blossoms in bloom.  This post presents some tips for achieving better photographs of this beautiful event.

Juxtaposition of the blossoms against a backdrop of the surrounding monuments is one way to relate the blossoms to their setting.  Where you place the main focus and the aperture you choose are important.  Here the focus is on the foreground blossoms.  A lens aperture of f/8 with a 60mm focal length kept sufficient focus on the Jefferson Memorial to see its identifying details.
Equipment: What you need

It is best to have a full complement of focal lengths, from very wide angle to telephoto, and macro.   In addition, a polarizing filter is a must.  Not only will it saturate the blues in the sky, it will also bring out the color in the blossoms by eliminating specular reflections.  You should also pack along a flash to fill  in the darker flowers that are in shadow.  A tripod is probably  not necessary, since you will be photographing primarily in bright weather conditions.

Where to go:

The cherry blossoms are concentrated around the Tidal Basin that sits in front of the Jefferson Memorial.  The best way to experience the view is to walk around the basin.  Begin your visit at the Jefferson Memorial and head south along the path that surrounds the basin.  Look for signs to the Roosevelt and Martin Luther King memorials and follow them. 

You will want to hit the flowering blossoms as close to their peek of this two week event as possible. You can easily find a calendar updating the progress of the bloom by searching the internet.  Expect it to happen sometime from mid-March to the beginning of April.

Early afternoon is a good time to begin, as it will put the sun behind you as you photograph and you will be primarily facing into the bluest part of the sky.  Continue around the Tidal Basin until you come to the main road.  Here you will find some of the fullest examples of blossoming trees.

This public map of the area shows the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial above it.  Begin there and take the path to the right around the water towards the other memorials.
Keep an eye out for trees and branches that can be used to frame the background scene.  This integrates the blossoms into their environment and tells the travel story of where you were.  Here the Washington Monument is frame by the dramatic shape of the tree.  An extreme wide angle lens allowed the inclusion of the top of the tree which contained the greatest concentration of blossoms.  The wide angle also kept the background monument small and subdued in the frame, giving greater importance to the blossoming tree.
Using a wide open aperture resulted in throwing the background more out of focus and kept the concentration on the delicate foreground flowers.

Using a flash for filling in the shadows:

Often you will be working with blossoms that are in the shadow of the tree.  Exposing for the blossoms will result in over-exposing the background, while exposing for the background will darken the blossoms.  A solution to this is to use an on-camera flash to add some fill light to the shadow areas.  For the most part a built-in camera flash will do the job, although you can use an auxiliary flash instead.  The main thing to keep in mind is not to add so much light to the shadows that it over powers their exposure and looks "false" relative to the integrated background.

The two photos below show the effect of using a flash.   In the top image the blossoms are in shadow and much of their bright color is lost.  Since the blossoms are the main subject here, we want to bring out the color as best we can.  In the bottom photo and on-camera fill flash in TTL mode was used to brighten the shadowed flower sufficiently to integrate their exposure with the background and enhance the colors in the flowers.

Vary the focal length to add interest:

This is a location where you can use every lens in your camera bag.  The extreme wide angle lenses are useful for integrating large areas of the foreground scene with the background.  Using a wide angle lens in close on the flowers will make them loom large in the frame, and keep the background scene subservient. 

These two images illustrate the difference between using a wide angle lens (on left) and telephoto (on right) to photograph the same subject.

A macro lens will allow you to come in close for detailed views of the flowers.

Instead of a macro, a wide angle lens used very close to the flowers resulted in a dramatic interpretation of the scene by contrasting the delicate blossoms with the craggy tree.
And of course don't forget to take photos of the blossoms by themselves.  In this image the sun is peeking out from behind a branch.  In a situation like this the camera exposure meter will tend to over compensate and darken the scene.  It is usually best to switch to manual model and over-expose by as much as a full f/stop.

Look for other opportunities to combine with the blossoms.  Here the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. is framed by the soft pastels of blue and pink of the sky and flowers.

No comments:

Post a Comment