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.