Cherry blossom trees are beautiful when they bloom in the spring here in Virginia. Despite that, I had decided to avoid cherry blossom sessions.
- It is hard to predict when they will bloom, and therefore hard to schedule session dates.
- The Tidal Basin area is always filled with crowds during cherry blossom time and permits are required to photograph there (plus I'm not a fan of the traffic when driving to DC).
- I didn't know where other cherry blossom spots were.
But when a neighbor reached out in the winter requesting to book a cherry blossom family session I said yes... (because they are really beautiful and we won't be in Virginia forever)
Scheduling and Finding a Location
Initially, it was predicted that the cherry blossoms would bloom mid March. But Northern Virginia decided to stay cold (and snow) in March which kept pushing out the peak bloom date. I was out of town the last week of March, and my client was going out of town the second week of April so we had a very narrow window of time to work with. Since I was already doing one cherry blossom session I figured why not add one more. A lot of communication, flexibility, and patience was required by everyone.
I was reading through local Facebook groups to find other possible spots. I checked out behind a Lowes and along the side of a busy road. I'm no expert on these trees. I couldn't go check out spots until they were actually starting to bloom because I wouldn't know what to look for. And I don't know how long they stay bloomed. I know there are other places outside of DC, but I didn't have time to drive all over finding these beautiful locations. And even though there are websites tracking the blooms close to DC, other areas bloom at different times.
Needless to say, I was stressed. Then I remembered a friend posted a picture of this beautiful tree on Facebook.
Side note - Check out her blog Chaos and Cammies. It is so fun to read and she knows all of the mom hacks!
I texted her asking where it was and if she and her daughters would come model for me the next morning (my client's family session was going to be that evening - talk about cutting it close). I always like to share edited examples with clients when picking a location so that they can see my vision.
I knew that if the family didn't feel comfortable or I didn't feel comfortable it wouldn't matter how beautiful the background was. After sharing a few sample images I took of my friend with both clients they were both excited about the spot. And I was feeling calm plus excited.
Tips and Tricks for Photographing and Editing
One of my favorite things about photography is that each time I pick up my camera it is a new challenge and there are always so many factors to think about. I have gotten very comfortable with my "go-to" locations that offer a lot of variety. Producing a complete gallery full of variety with only two trees was a whole new challenge.
Angles + Composition
This hidden gem of a spot was only two trees! On each side were houses (and also a porta potty). Therefore, I had to pay attention to my angles and composition. Here are various ways I achieved my desired look.
1. I loved the contrast of of the darker tree in front of the lighter tree and it had a beautiful arch I placed my subjects under. I got low to the ground and angled my lens up slightly to get more of the trees.
2. I also chose to shoot standing higher than the family and angling my lens down to get the petals that had fallen.
3. Before my session, I broke off some branches from other cherry blossom trees and taped them to longer sticks. (As I was gathering more sticks a neighborhood kid picked up one and banged it on the ground causing the blooms to fall off. I Was not pleased about that.) I had my assistants (the parents) hold them around the kids and I stood on a step stool. I switched my camera to live mode so that I could see what I was shooting on the LCD screen, and held the camera out over the kids.
4. I love shooting through branches, grass, and anything else I can find. It adds depth and is a great way to frame subjects. My "props" (blossom branches) got a lot of use. I would hold them out with my other hand or have whoever wasn't being photographed help hold them. It gave the illusion that there were a lot more trees.
5. I also liked bringing my subjects further out in front, away from the trees. By doing this, the trees would fill the background more instead of just having the branches above them. It also would allow my subjects to really pop and stand out from the background.
6. Lastly, I placed my subjects in the middle of the tree branches in order to get varying levels of focus of the branches.
I have two lenses I like to use when photographing outdoor family sessions, a 35 mm and a 85 mm. During these sessions I used a lot more of my 85 mm. The longer focal length creates more bokeh (the creamy blur) which looks dreamy with these trees.
I like to deliver large galleries and realistic images. Therefore, I have had no need to learn advanced editing skills. But I did have fun enhancing the blooms in the images.
I am grateful for patient and trusting clients, a chance to push my creativity, and for beautiful trees. Fun fact - neither of the trees I used were cherry blossoms!!! But the branches I broke off were.