ERIN THOMPSON

A Family Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC Cherry Blossom Photos

DC Sessions, Education

June 1, 2023

When I found out we were moving to Washington DC, cherry blossoms were high on my list of reasons to be excited. I’d seen pictures and heard stories from friends who were previously stationed here, and couldn’t wait to capture them myself. Additionally, as a military family photographer, I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to serve the families I enjoy working with most. There’s no better way to capture an assignment in DC than with cherry blossom family photos. I was ready to get started!

Now that my first season is behind me and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’ve put together some valuable tips that I’m excited to share with you. Keep reading to learn more about the blooms and how to pull of a stunning family session during the Washington DC cherry blossom season.

General Washington DC Cherry Blossom Knowledge

  1. Beyond the Yoshino Charm
    When we hear the phrase “peak bloom,” we often envision Yoshino cherry trees at the Tidal Basin. This stage of the process is declared when 70% of the blossoms are open and usually lasts for a few days. However, don’t limit yourself to this one variety of cherry tree or this short time period! Washington DC boasts numerous types of cherry trees, each with its own unique beauty. With all the different types of trees, we saw blooms for many weeks surrounding the “peak bloom” days. (Read: Don’t panic if you aren’t in town the exact dates of peak bloom. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss all of them.)

  1. Casey Trees’ Cherry Blossom Map
    Speaking of other types of trees, for an indispensable resource, turn to the Casey Trees’ DC Cherry Blossom Map. This tool was instrumental in helping me find the best locations around town, especially some that were off the beaten path.

  1. Handy Websites and Instagram Accounts
    In addition to the Casey Trees resource, there were a few other resources that I found super helpful. Stay up to date with the whole cherry blossom extravaganza by bookmarking cherryblossomwatch.com. And for real-time updates and stunning photos, follow accounts like @cherryblossomwatch, @washingtonianmag, and @nationalmallnps on Instagram. They all provide so much info!

  1. Magnolia Magic
    While cherry blossoms steal the limelight, don’t overlook the magnificent magnolias. These typically bloom a couple weeks before the cherry trees. Their captivating blooms offer a different kind of charm and truth be told, I think they’re prettier!

  1. Dust Off That Camera
    While cell phone photos are great for capturing moments, a nice camera will take your DC cherry blossom photos to the next level. Now is the time to dig your fancy camera out of your closet and put it to use. Just look at the difference!


Washington DC Cherry Blossom Family Photos

  1. Embrace the Art of Flexibility
    When it comes to photographing cherry blossoms, flexibility is of the utmost importance. Mother Nature doesn’t adhere to our schedules, so we have to plan for contingencies and be prepared to adapt. If you schedule a session with me, I’ll keep you updated every step of the way, but ultimately, you have to book without knowing the exact date and time of your session. My goal is to ensure that my families receive stunning images regardless of the unpredictable bloom schedule and I will do everything in my control to make that happen. (This year, that meant eating the cost of a last-minute location change to make sure we had pretty trees!)

  1. Rise and Shine
    Setting an early alarm may seem daunting, but trust me, the rewards are worth it. Adjusting your sleep schedule is a small sacrifice for achieving stunning, crowd-free images. We’ve all seen pictures of people packed around the Tidal Basin on a beautiful day. Let’s be honest, you don’t want all those people in the background of your photos!

  1. Make Sure You’re Legit
    A permit is required for all professional photography sessions on the National Mall, which includes the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial. If you’re planning on a shoot downtown, you’ll want to keep the additional cost in mind.

  1. Traffic Troubles and Metro Marvels
    If you think normal DC traffic is bad, just wait. Cherry blossom traffic is absolute bonkers. I heard stories this year of people parking on the interstate and walking to the Tidal Basin. Some photographer friends had parts of families miss sessions because they couldn’t find parking. Brace yourself for traffic chaos, take the Metro if you can, and seriously, schedule a shoot at sunrise!

  1. Arrive Early and Relax
    Once you’re past the stress of getting everyone out the door, navigating traffic, dealing with parking, and finding your photographer potentially in a sea of people, the hard part is over. Might a kid melt down? Sure. Could your baby decide he’s hungry? Absolutely. But once you’re there, I’d encourage you to do nothing but love on your kids, goof around with them, and smile through the chaos. This is life right now and you don’t want to miss it.


Recap

As I reflect on my experience this year, I can say with 100% certainty that the hours and hours of preparation and anticipation were worth it. The blooms were even more beautiful than I imagined and it was such an honor to capture this season for more than a dozen families. I can’t wait to do it all again next year, this time with a few tips and tricks up my sleeve. Whether you’re a family looking for photos or a fellow photographer, I hope these help make your next DC cherry blossom photos a little easier too!

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