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How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Tips from a photographer

Evan Ortiz


 /  Mon, April 10, 2017  /  01:59 pm
How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Tips from a photographer

Here, picnickers enjoy cherry trees in blossom at Shinjyuku Gyoen in Tokyo on April 4, 2017. (Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Right now, millions of Japanese citizens and visiting tourists are enjoying the cherry blossoms that turn the country into an explosion of picnicking and pink. Since this is one of the world's great annual draws for amateur photographers, we sent lenswoman Shiho Fukada—who specializes in social-documentary photography—to capture the moment and to share 10 key pieces of advice for those taking on such a daunting project.

Shiho Fukada uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a popular digital SLR camera that doesn’t require any particular special training. You can buy one for about $2,000 on “For lenses, I like prime lenses like 35mm F1.4 and 50mm F1.2,” she explains. “I use 35mm because I think it is close to how I see the world.”

For detail shots among the trees, Fukada used an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. For a wider variety of shots, she used a EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. This lens has an adjustable focus distance, allowing a photographer the versatility of a tighter or wider frame.

(Here, picnickers enjoy cherry trees in blossom at Shinjyuku Gyoen in Tokyo on April 4, 2017.)

Read also: Revisiting photographers' bible 'The Decisive Moment'

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Do your research in advance.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Do Your Research in Advance

"I usually read as much as I can about the subject matter," Fukada advises. "For example, if I’m going to shoot a portrait, I read about that person and what he or she does. This helps me shoot this person in appropriate context, background, and setup.

"For the cherry blossom shoot, I knew the trees were usually in season from the end of March to mid-April, but it depends on weather. I checked out the park’s website for a daily report on the progress of blooming. It turned out that they were not in bloom the day I was supposed to shoot, due to chilly weather, so I postponed my plans."

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Think about color in the frame.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Think About Color in the Frame

In this situation, you’re going to be looking at a lot of pink. Capitalize on that by thinking about contrasting colors and what exposure will showcase the blossoms best. “It was sunny day, so the light brought up the color of cherry trees a little bit,” says Fukada. "Blue sky also gave nice contrast to the light pink.”

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Be prepared to change your plans.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Be Prepared to Change Your Plans

“I didn't think there would be this many people,” laughs Fukada. “It was a zoo! It was so hard to walk around in the crowd and get a spot to shoot. It was almost impossible to isolate any subject. There were just way too many people in the background to get a clean shot. EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM comes in handy in this type of situation, because it has some isolating effect.” This is a telephoto lens that zooms in on objects far distant. It compresses what's in the frame and blurs what’s not in focus.

Read also: The precocious lens of rookie photographers

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Time for the perfect light.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Time for the Perfect Light

“Light condition (weather, time of day) is a key to outdoor photography,” says Fukada. “Previsualize what kind of images you are looking for, and think about what time of the day and weather you need to shoot to get the right result.” 

She particularly favors the hours of “sweet light:” sunrise and sunset. At cherry blossom time, bright midday light can wash out the frame and the colors of the flowers.

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Plot out your shots in advance(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Plot Out Your Shots in Advance

“I was looking for beauty shots of cherry blossoms, as well as people’s interactions with cherry trees in wide, medium, and tight frames,” explains Fukada. “I also went to three different locations to give a taste of different scenes, as well as different times of the day—from bright daylight to evening. With a variety, I was trying to tell a story of what it is like to experience cherry blossoms in Japan."

This three-pronged attack can help you catch the right human moments, too. “I wanted to make most of daylight to capture the beauty of the flowers at my first location, where there are a lot of trees,” she says. “I wanted to be at the second location around sunset, where it is famous for drinking under cherry trees for the mood. And I wanted to be at the third location after sunset, so that I could capture cherry trees being lit up—and also capture pink lanterns around them.”

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Wait for your moment.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Wait for Your Moment

This can take more time than you think. “I walked around a lot to find a place or people I wanted to photograph, and I waited for unique moments,” says Fukada, who spent a whole day at Shinjuku Gyoen (with 1100 trees), Ueno Park (800 trees), and Meguro River, poised for great shots.

“This is my favorite picture from this photo shoot. I mentioned that there were just so many people there, and the majority of them were taking pictures. I was looking to show that people were having quieter moments with a tree, too, without taking photos,” says Fukada. “This woman in the picture was having her picture taken, but there were these very quick seconds she just looked at the flowers. All I wanted was her eyes and cherry flowers in tight frame. Fortunately, nobody and nothing cluttered the background.”

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Shoot for variety; You will surprise yourself.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Shoot for Variety; You Will Surprise Yourself

“I wanted to take flowers reflected on water to get a Monet-like picture, but the color green overwhelmed the pink, and it didn’t work. It was bright daylight, so I tried shooting the cherry blossoms backlit. The light coming through was subtle and thin, so the whitish-pink petals looked gorgeous."

Read also: Viewing Yves Saint Laurent through Pierre Boulat’s lens

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Be mindful of how you position yourself.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Be Mindful of How You Position Yourself

Sometimes, to capture the best frame, you may need to duck low to the ground or climb to a higher height. Being mindful that your positioning will help you find the best frame and clear any obstructions, too.

How to shoot the cherry blossoms: Don’t forget to appreciate what you are looking at.(Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

Don’t Forget to Appreciate What You Are Looking At

“I felt it was hard to enjoy cherry blooms in such a huge crowd," says Fukada. "I was also surprised to see that people spent so much time taking pictures, rather than just looking at flowers."

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