cherry trees

Cherry Blossom Crowds 2019 - Washington, DC by Todd Henson

Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Crowds along the Tidal Basin

Early each spring large crowds of people travel into Washington, DC hoping to see the cherry blossoms framing the Tidal Basin and scattered in many other areas around the capital. Some years and certain days of the week or times of day are more crowded than others, but if it’s cherry blossom season it’s a good bet there will be crowds of some size anytime you visit.

This year (2019) my brother and I visited DC on Saturday, March 30th, with peak bloom predicted to be April 1st. We took the first Metro into town, which arrived sometime around 8 am. This isn’t early from many a photographer’s perspective, but it is early as far as most folks are concerned. You will still find crowds at that time, but they will be smaller than those around noontime.

Washington Monument Cherry Blossom Crowds

The photos in this post give an example of how the crowds might look at different locations around the Tidal Basin. It was a clear day with no rain forecast, so there was nothing to keep people away, except perhaps for the Kite Festival on the Mall. I heard the crowds on the following weekend (April 6-7) were larger than those we saw.

This year there were several sections of grass that were fenced in, keeping people to the paved path around the Tidal Basin. I assume this was to let the grass regrow in these areas, as it can get rather trampled with all the foot traffic. Other areas were open, letting people wander under the trees.

Some of the monuments, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, have large open areas where people can gather. The FDR Memorial doesn’t have as many large open spaces but has lots of small to medium spaces.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Cherry Blossom Crowds

Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge Cherry Blossom Crowds

It was nearing noon when we made it to the Jefferson Memorial, a favorite of the crowds. Its large extended steps are perfect places to sit and rest for a bit, watching the paddle boats out on the Tidal Basin. But the inside also draws large crowds. I’m not one for crowds, but these places are well worth visiting if you never have.

Cherry Blossom Crowds on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial

Cherry Blossom Crowds inside the Jefferson Memorial

Looking out at the Cherry Blossom crowds from the Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial Cherry Blossom Crowds

When leaving town just after noon it takes far more time to walk from the Tidal Basin back to a Metro stop than it does to walk from the stop to the Tidal Basin earlier in the morning. You’re stuck walking the speed of the general crowds, which always bunch up around crosswalks. I really feel for those crossing guards, having to manage so many people and vehicles all vying for the same space.

Cherry Blossom crowds while leaving Washington, DC

I hope this post has given you a realistic look at the crowds you might expect if heading into Washington, DC on a cherry blossom weekend. It may be more or less crowded when you arrive, but you should certainly expect some crowds. So give yourself time, bring along some water and a snack, and have patience. You’ll run into people of all sorts, but overall I’ve always found the majority of the crowds to be pleasant and polite. They’re typically there for the same reasons you are. So head into DC and enjoy your stay.


Cherry Blossoms 2019 - Washington DC by Todd Henson

Soft Cherry Blossoms. Washington, DC. March 30, 2019.

One of the early highlights of the spring season in the Washington DC area are the thousands of cherry trees that burst into bloom. There are many locations to see cherry blossoms in the area, but the most popular has to be along the Tidal Basin where you can view the cherry trees with the many monuments and memorials along the way.

Cherry Blossoms. Washington, DC. March 30, 2019.

This year I went into town with a goal of creating photographs of smaller, more intimate arrangements of blossoms. I was looking for details, trying to showcase the beauty of the cherry blossoms, excluding most of the background and throwing elements out of focus. I brought along my Lensbaby Velvet 56, a soft focus lens, to help create a more ethereal look to some of the images, to give them that soft, dream-like quality I had in mind.

We took the first train into town which arrived sometime around 8 am. By the time we walked from the station to the Tidal Basin the sun was up and, unfortunately, the clouds had departed. This type of situation usually results in strong contrast, harsh sunlight and deep shadows, which is fine for some types of photography, but not well suited to creating that softer, dream-like look. To work around this issue I looked for blossoms in shade, giving me a soft diffused light similar to what clouds would’ve provided.

After creating a couple of the very soft focus photographs of the fully open cherry blossoms, I began looking for the smaller, unopened buds. Many trees have these growing directly off the main trunk, something I always find fascinating. So I focused on a couple of these, in one case showing the unopened pink buds against the dark craggy bark of the tree trunk, and in another focusing on a smaller cluster of buds beginning to open.

Cherry Tree Buds. Washington, DC. March 30, 2019.

Bud to Bloom. Washington, DC. March 30, 2019.

At the end of the day I was very happy with the photographs I created. And, as so often happens, even if none of the photographs had turned out I still had a fantastic day walking the Tidal Basin with my brother.


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Cherry Blossom Trail - Washington, D.C. by Todd Henson

Cherry Blossom Trail - A path leading from the FDR Memorial towards the Tidal Basin.

It’s almost that time of year again, when the cherry blossoms bloom along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Above is a photograph I created from a previous year. As you can see, it was on the tail end of peak bloom when the petals start falling, covering the ground, the trail, and the water of the Tidal Basin.

In this image we see a couple of National Park Service rangers walking down the trail from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial towards the trail along the Tidal Basin. I loved the placement of the rangers on the curved trail, both smiling, one looking towards the other, having a pleasant conversation as they walk. I loved all the scattered pink petals on the ground and on the two benches.

I created a number of frames, but this was my favorite. I do wish the orange construction cones hadn’t been placed along the pavement in the back of the image, but I could probably remove those in Photoshop if I chose to. It was a very overcast day, so there were no harsh hot spots or shadows.

Technical Details

Because it was overcast and I was hand holding and experimenting, I wanted a shutter speed fast enough to minimize the risk of blur caused by camera movement. So I set my ISO to 1600, giving me a shutter speed of 1/100 sec at an aperture of f/8. I used f/8 because I wanted a reasonable depth of field, and at 16 mm this worked very well. I love using my Nikon 16-35 mm lens when walking around town photographing these wider angle scenes.

To add a little punch and warmth to the color I often use a warming polarizer in scenes like this, with leaves or flowers as a major focus. The specific polarizer I like is my Singh-Ray LB “Lighter, Brighter” Warming Polarizer. Being a polarizer, it reduces any glare on the leaves and petals, which helps naturally add a bit of saturation to the color. And the warming aspect of this particular filter adds just a touch of warmth, something you could do in post-processing, but I enjoy being behind the camera more than the computer so I try to handle as much as I can in the field. That being said, I do still usually tweak various settings in post.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.