What I Learned from my First D.C. Cherry Blossom Session

I have been dreaming of shooting under the cherry blossoms, ever since I found out I was going to be calling D.C. home after graduation {and maybe even before that}! When I had one of my sweet couples ask if we could shoot their engagement session near the tidal basin during the cherry blossom festival, my heart was singing songs of excitement {but was also panicking just a bit…I’ve heard crazy things about the crowds here this time of year and was hoping I could do justice to their vision of an iconic DC portrait session!}

It’s hard being the new kid on the block. I have so much to learn about photographing in this beautiful city, but I truly learned so much from just this one session! So, partly because I don’t want to forget these tips and tricks for next time…and partly because I was searching high and low for a blog post just like this myself a few weeks ago, I wanted to share with you what I learned from shooting my very first session amongst the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin.

The cherry blossom watch was so scary this year {thank you, crazy March weather!}! I drive by the Jefferson Memorial every morning on my way into work, and every morning last week, I was rubbernecking, trying to get a good look at what was going on with this year’s blooms! The freeze really took a lot out of them, but wow…I was still so impressed with how stunning the blossoms are! To see so many flowers in one place at one time is absolutely breathtaking….no wonder they draw such huge crowds!

So, when planning your next cherry blossom session, I invite you to learn from my triumphs and failures! Below are some of my biggest takeaways from my very first cherry blossom session:

Get there early.

  • I learned this the hard way a few months ago. The National Mall gets super crowded in the evening! Though there will still be crowds {there were people at the memorial before sunrise–crazy!}, they will be much thinner in the morning, so try to get there right at sunrise. The early wakeup call is worth it every time–I promise!

Prep your clients for the crowds.

  • In a perfect world, I would be able to section off the most beautiful parts of the mall just for my sessions, but that just isn’t possible {a girl can dream, right?}. During this time of year, crowds are out in full force…morning, noon & night. Prep your clients beforehand. If they’re local to D.C., odds are, they are aware of the crowds at the cherry blossoms, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them. Additionally, if you working with a camera-shy couple {luckily, I was working with a super bubbly and outgoing couple!}, finding another group of cherry blossoms in the city may be a great idea…which brings me to my next point!

Some of the best blooms may not be right around the tidal basin! 

  • As I Uber-ed home from my session, I passed so many pretty blooms with…guess what? No crowds! {or at least significantly smaller crowds!} I was absolutely mind blown. There are so many places downtown and in the surrounding area with pretty blossoms that don’t draw nearly as large of a crowd. Upon a quick Google search when I got home, it turns out that there are also super beautiful blooms at Upper Senate Park & the Japanese American Memorial, just to name a few amongst so many other locations around town {I’m still trying to remember where the pretty stretch I saw way!}. The only trade-off is that you lose just how iconic the Tidal Basin is–not only do you get the Cherry Blossoms, but you get the Jefferson Memorial and views of the Washington Monument. The trade-up? Far less crowds and a less stressful session for all parties involved!

Pack your patience! 

  • I love seeing tourists experience D.C. for the very first time, trust me! It is so special to experience the city through someone’s fresh eyes, but when you’re on a mission to get a job done all while making your clients look and feel their best, it is easy to get frustrated with all of the cameras and sightseers. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they are out enjoying and experiencing D.C., but being patient and understanding above all is SO key! What I learned during this session is that almost everyone wanted photos of the same tree {with the prettiest blossoms, drooping just perfectly across the water, of course!}…which also happened to be the same tree where we wanted to stop for a few photos! We waited it out for a bit but ultimately decided to move on to find another, less crowded, area where we could all be our silly selves selves, rather than feel pressured by a crowd of people waiting for the same location. {Spoiler alert…the blossoms were just as pretty!} Which brings me to my next point that…

Some of the best blooms are off the beaten path! 

  • Walk, explore, and get off the beaten path {or at least the path right along the tidal basin!}. So many of the blossoms died this year, due to March’s freeze, and some of the prettiest blooms we found during our session were just off the beaten trail. Added bonus? Far thinner crowds!

With that being said, give your couple a heads up to bring a pair of comfy walking shoes! 

  • Trooping over uneven concrete and through grassy {and potentially muddy} patches is no fun in a pair of wedges or cute heels! Make sure your couple knows to bring along a pair of comfy shoes, if the ones they are planning on wearing are uncomfortable!

My biggest piece of advice though…check out the blossoms before you go! 

  • I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to scope out the blossoms the afternoon before my session! With the recent freeze and the craziness about so many of them being dead, I really wanted to get a feel for where the best blooms were. It helped so much when dealing with the morning crowds and really limited the amount of walking that we had to do because I already had an idea of where the prettiest trees were! If you have the opportunity to go check out the blossoms before your session, do it. Not only does it make your session a million and one times easier, but you’ll have the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the sites just for you!

Shoot quick, have fun, and know that, like every engagement session, not every image will be picture perfect {and plenty will have selfie stick toting tourists in the background…and that’s okay.} Embrace it, and try your best to shoot around the crowds!

I’m always looking to learn! Do you have any favorite tips for getting the most out of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms? If so, let me know in a comment below!

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