It’s almost that time of year again! The metropolitan Washington, DC area goes a little crazy during cherry blossom season. Each year, over 3,700 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, East Potomac Park, and the Washington Monument grounds come into bloom sometime in late March to early April. At peak bloom, the path around the Tidal Basin looks like it is lined with puffy pink and white clouds. It really has to be seen to be believed. It is well worth the trip, and don’t forget your camera!
In our opinion, the best place for photography during peak bloom is around the Tidal Basin. But, that being said, it is worth exploring the area around this park, because there are many other great views! The most popular shot people try for is the Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry blossoms from across the Tidal Basin. We head down to the Tidal Basin every year to see the blossoms, and are always amazed at how many photographers and media personnel are there early in the morning.
If you’re planning on coming to DC to photograph the blossoms, we have a few tips that may help you get the photos you are hoping for:
Jefferson Memorial with Cherry Blossoms (c) 2002 William Lawrence
1. As with many landscape subjects, early morning or late evening tends to be the best time, because of the warm tone
and the low angle of the sunlight. Our photograph of the Jefferson Memorial framed by blossoms was taken right as the sun was rising. For the early birds, it is best to arrive before sunrise since there will be lots of other people trying to photograph the blossoms and Jefferson Memorial in the early morning light.
2. If you do want to take sunrise photos, you will want to bring a tripod for your camera. That way you can take longer exposures without having to worry about holding your camera perfectly still. So far, we’ve never had a problem using a tripod around the Tidal Basin.
3. If you want to park in the public lot adjacent to the Tidal basin near the Jefferson Memorial, coming before or shortly after sunrise is about the only time you have a reasonable chance of finding a parking space. After that, you take your chances during peak bloom. If you are planning on driving, check out the suggested parking for the Jefferson Memorial from the National Park Service for suggestions for other places to park.
4. The Tidal Basin area is a moderate walk from the Smithsonian Metro station, so this is a good option unless you want to be there before sunrise (Metro does not start running until 5:30 AM on weekdays, 8:00 AM on weekends). The Smithsonian Metro station is on the Orange and Blue lines.
5. Plan on taking lots of photos. This means bring plenty of film or storage media for your digital camera. Experiment with shots from different angles. Also, remember you are shooting white blossoms (and with the Jefferson Memorial, a near-white building) that can fool your light meter, so bracketing your exposures or using exposure compensation manually may help to ensure that you get the perfect shot.
(c) 2002 William Lawrence
6. Everyone has their own style of shooting, but we’ve found a wide angle lens and a moderate telephoto lens to be
helpful. Our Jefferson Memorial photo was taken with a zoom lens at a 35mm film equivalent of a 100mm lens.
7. Be prepared to see and be seen. Typically, by late morning the Tidal Basin area is packed. It’s also a great chance to see
what equipment other photographers are using. You’ll also see amazing picnic set ups, dogs of every breed, and the occasional formal tea ceremony.
8. Want to be there before sunrise, but don’t know when sunrise is? Download a copy of Heavenly Opportunity and it will let you know when you need to be at the Tidal Basin.
So if you get a chance, please come to DC to see the Cherry Blossoms blooming. And if you can’t make it this year -
there’s always next year!
For the most current information about the forecast for this year’s bloom and the Cherry Blossom Festival, visit the National Park Service’s National Cherry Blossom Page. As of March 8, the peak blossom bloom is forecast for March 27 through April 3. The bloom is expected to last for about 10 days. Of course – this all may change depending on the weather in the DC area over the next few weeks.
March 24 – PARKING UPDATE – The Park Service is closing the parking lot at the Tidal Basin from March 26 to April 15. More details on a temporary parking lot at Hains Point and a Shuttle Bus are in my blog post Parking for the 2008 Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC.