Cherry Blossom Festival

Storm Over Washington - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Storm over Washington

Changing weather can create amazing photographic opportunities, if you’re in the right place at the right time and have your gear ready. Sometimes you can plan for the opportunities, watching the weather, knowing there may be gaps in a storm, or arriving just before or after a storm breaks up, hoping opportunities will emerge. Other times you may get lucky and happen into a situation when you’re able to take advantage of it. My Storm over Washington photo benefited from a little of both. My brother and I were in Washington, D.C., hiking around the Tidal Basin photographing the cherry blossoms. We knew there was a chance of rain but decided to make the trip anyway, knowing the weather might just work out.

We started near the Washington Monument and hiked in the direction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The weather held for most of the hike, until we were close to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Facing the Jefferson the sky was nice and clear with a few puffy clouds here and there. But looking back to the left, where we’d come from, was a long string of storm clouds moving in quickly. It looked fantastic. I brought up my camera and started shooting, knowing it wouldn’t be long before the storm reached us. I kept looking to the right to judge how long it would take to reach the shelter of the Jefferson, then back to the left to judge how long until the rain reached us. We exchanged glances, somewhat wide eyed.   We could tell from the clouds it was really pouring, but we were both willing to take the chance.

After I felt I had some nice shots we started quickly walking towards the Jefferson, trying to pack our cameras into our bags as we walked. Lots of other people were doing the same thing, and the Jefferson already looked full of people. As luck would have it, we didn’t quite make it before the rain started pummeling us. By the time we reached the Jefferson we were soaked, but laughing about it. I felt confident I had captured some images that would be worth the soaking.

Thankfully, I was not disappointed. When I got home and looked through the images I felt compelled to try a black and white treatment on the photo, thinking this would bring out the drama in the sky and the sun light illuminating the Washington Monument. I spent a little time dodging and burning different areas, trying to keep the cherry blossoms from going too dark, and adding a bit of a vignette to keep the eye in the frame. I like how the line of clouds and the cherry blossom shoreline leads the eye to the Washington Monument. Creating this image was a great ending to a fantastic day.

Storm Over Washington is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.

Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms - 2016 by Todd Henson

Cherry trees along the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.

The Washington, D.C. tidal basin and surrounding areas are home to thousands of cherry trees that bloom each spring. During this time D.C. hosts the Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, Blossom Kite Festival, and many other events with ties to Japanese culture. This time also draws large crowds of people to the tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. It really is a beautiful sight and well worth the trip. For smaller crowds I prefer to visit on a week day, but sometimes the timing doesn’t work out and it has to be on a weekend. This year my brother and I visited on a Saturday very close to peak bloom, and as expected there were large crowds all around the tidal basin.

Swan boat in the tidal basin, Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms in the background

From a photographic perspective, I find myself most inspired when alone or in smaller groups. I have a more difficult time making images around large crowds of people, so this trip was a challenge for me. One thing I often don’t do much of, but would like to try more in the future, is incorporating the crowds of people into more photos. I most often look for quieter scenes, waiting for a clearing in the people, but sometimes the people can really add to the shot.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial from a distance, surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Kayaker, and photographer, in Potomac River just outside tidal basin, cherry tree in the background.

One of the newer additions to the tidal basin is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. In previous years I had tried to capture the main portion of the memorial by itself, but this year I tried to incorporate other elements, such as the cherry blossoms. While walking around the memorial I noticed you can line it up with the Washington Monument, which was nice. I would like to try this again with different weather. The day we were there the sun was very bright and the sky cloudless. This creates very high contrast scenes, which can sometimes be nice, but I’d also like to try making some images in softer light.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Black and white photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Washington Monument.

Further along the tidal basin is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which is full of statues, murals, waterfalls, and carvings. There’s a lot to see in this memorial. It’s well laid out, with various sections separated by walls with walkways between them. It can feel like walking through a museum of memorials.

Black and white photo of statue in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Black and white photo of statue of Eleanor Roosevelt in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Black and white photo of statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his dog in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

It’s not uncommon to stumble across photo shoots of various sorts, from portraits to weddings, and sometimes people dressed in more traditional Japanese fashion. Some of the photo shoots can be bigger productions with multiple people, light stands and reflectors, whereas others are just a single photographer and a single model.

Woman posing for a photo shoot at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Woman posing for a photo beside the Japanese Pagoda.

People also love to pose in front of the various monuments, memorials and statues. It’s fun to stand back and watch as one person after another poses in the same spot.

Black and white photo of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Another very popular spot along the tidal basin is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It’s a beautiful building that stands right along the tidal basin, with steps leading up to the memorial. People gather on the steps in large numbers. Sometimes tents are set up for events along the water, but not this day. I’ve always enjoyed making images of the statue of Jefferson in silhouette. Sometimes I can get just the statue, other times it’s full of people.

And, of course, there are the cherry blossoms, themselves. Japan gifted thousands of cherry trees to D.C. in 1912, which eventually led to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and all the other fascinating events surrounding it. Over the years I’ve enjoyed traveling to D.C. to see the cherry trees. Some years we’re early and see mostly buds, other years we’re late and see mostly falling petals. This year we visited very close to peak bloom. I look forward to seeing what next year brings.

Cherry blossoms along the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.