Spring to me
Is a bright yellow sun
Hazy white rays
filtering through budding tree branches
The light dancing in the breeze
With so many fragrant petals
Pink and falling
Riding the air
Like a gentle snow
The air warm with
the heady scent
of growing things
And the promise of freedom.
And, cherry blossom photoshoots! Because what’s spring without a cherry blossom photoshoot ;)
Spring, in general, is a wonderful time to take family photos. The weather is warm, but not brutally hot, mosquitoes are not yet out, and the light is usually mild and pretty for the camera. Add in a magical canopy of velvety pink cherry blossoms and you're taking things to a whole new level!
Here are some tips on how to get the best pictures during cherry blossom season.
1) WHERE TO LOOK:
The first step here is obviously to find a tree to photograph your family under. What most people don’t know, though, is that this can be the most fun part of the process!
Here are some tips on where to look.
Check your own backyard
Sometimes our own treasures are completely overlooked. If you’ve got a blossoming tree, good for you! And it doesn’t have to be specifically a cherry tree - apple blossoms, magnolias, and dogwood are super beautiful, too!
If you don’t have a blossoming tree on your own property, the best place to look is around your neighborhood. Trees on your block or in a friendly neighbor’s yard are much less likely to be surrounded by crowds of people jostling for a photo op, which is a very real scenario in most public parks! Take some slow walks with your kids, and see who can spot the prettiest blooms! I’ve got the best memories of slow strolls with my kids during previous seasons. It’s a great way to get out, get some sunshine, and enjoy each other's company.
Keep an eye out when you’re in the car and take note of different blossoming trees you see around town. It could be in the school yard, on a side street, or even in a commercial parking lot. All these are great spaces to find your perfect tree.
Parks, parks, parks!
Visit your favorite local parks and look out for blooming trees!There are some public parks that are known for rows and rows of stunning cherry blossoms. Those are usually the most crowded though, and may be closed during this season, so be prepared and call ahead!
2) WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Here’s how to choose the perfect tree for your photo-op:
1) Choose a tree with branches low to the ground, so that you’ll get more color behind the kids. This can be a young, short tree, a tree with low branches, or a weeping cherry tree that grows in an umbrella shape.
2) Alternatively, you can get someone to gently pull one of the longer, more flexible branches down to the ground on one side, so you get a nice arch to frame your subject. (of course, be gentle and avoid damaging the tree!)
3) Look for a spot where the space under the tree isn't raked, landscaped, or "cleaned up" too often. A little bit into the season, the petals begin to fall and create a magical carpet under the tree. That looks magnificent in photos, so take advantage!
4) Ideally, look for more than one tree in a row. This way, you can seat your subjects under one, and get that gorgeous pink petal carpet, and still have others pinking up the background.
5) If you get a day late in the season when the petals are constantly falling, your photos will be even more magical! But don't let it get too late or you run the risk of missing the blooms to a rain or late frost...
3) WHAT TO WEAR
Now that you've got your tree, it's time to plan the next step… wardrobe!
Clothes make a huge difference to any photoshoot, but when it comes to cherry blossom shoots they can actually add a whole lot to the overall aesthetic. Here are some general pointers I like to share with my clients:
1) Keep it timeless. Think of your photoshoot as commissioning a painting. What clothing would fit? Which styles would add to the look and feel you want to achieve, and which fads or colors would distract from it? As a rule of thumb, I personally like to use clothing that could have been worn 50 years ago… and will still be beautiful in 50 years from now.
2) Look for textures that add flow and will catch light and movement. For example: a thin, starched cotton dress will poof up and show movement better than a polo fabric. Tulle or lace will catch light better than a jersey knit.
3) Comfort is Key. Make sure the clothing is appropriate for the weather and that the kids aren't too cold or hot. Uncomfortable kids = recipe for disaster, so pay attention to the weather. For example, thin summer fabrics or short sleeves can work wonderfully if you layer up with cute little cardigans or knit blankets when the evening chill sets in.
4) Color is everything! For cherry blossom shoots in particular, I like to keep the clothing to pastels, pale neutrals, and whites. This helps keep the overall look light, airy, and whimsical. Another favorite thing of mine - for cherry blossom sessions - is to include some pink in the wardrobe. It helps bring the color through and plays up the blooms. This also gives the illusion of more blossoms, which is super helpful in a case where you might have only one tree to work with and not so much pink in the background.
5) Include the blossoms in your wardrobe. Create a wreath, tuck some flowers into a hairdo, or have your subject hold a dainty sprig. It's a cool, classy, and natural way to bring it all together.
4) WHEN TO SHOOT
Timing is Everything.
Get it done! Cherry blossoms bloom for a very short amount of time each year, so you really have to catch them before they're gone. It can get a little tricky: too early and it's just brown, too late and everything's green again. The time of year for that perfect sweet spot varies according to the weather, so keep peeking at your tree every day, and be prepared to get ready as soon as the trees are!
Time of day matters, too!
The number one secret to any successful photo is light, light light. You can find the most beautiful backdrop and do the most creative poses and angles, but if your light is off, it takes the whole photo with it.
Here's a little trick about light:
The lower the sun is, the more shade there is, and the softer the light. That means that the best times to get even, magical light is early in the morning, before the sun gets very high up in the sky, and late in the afternoon, an hour or two before sunset (the golden hour). Late mornings and early afternoons can also be ok in open shade, but you definitely want to avoid noontime when the sun is high in the sky, because the harsh shadows will draw lines on your subjects’ faces.
How do you know if the light is soft enough?
Here's a trick: place your subject in a shady area. (If there's harsh sunlight glaring directly on them, they'll look overexposed (too bright) in the pictures, so avoid that.) Now look at they're faces. Do you see lines or shapes on their face drawn by light and shadow? If you can, the light is too harsh.
Soft light creates soft, graduated areas between light and shadow, which is exactly what you want in most portraits.
5) WHICH WAY TO FACE:
Deciding which way to set up your shoot depends in two factors, in order of importance:
As mentioned earlier, light is the most important factor in any composition. Here's how to check which way the light is best:
1) Place your subject under the tree, and slowly move in a circle around them.
2) Keep looking at the catchlights in their eyes. When they're facing the direction that throws the most light at them, the catchlights (in this case, the sky / light mirrored in their eyes) will be bigger and brighter than all other directions.
3) Check that the skin looks smooth and well lit, with no blotchy sun-spots or harsh lines on it.
Now you know which way to set everyone up!
(The trick above is for finding great frontal light. If you're more advanced with lighting portraits, you can try backlighting your subjects and using a reflector to throw some more light in the faces, that looks awesome and light in spring photoshoots.)
If the light is equally good in two directions, choose based on whatever has a more appealing background.
But, what to do if the background isn't everything you hoped for? Here are some tips for getting the most if the blossoms - and the least possible of other distracting elements:
1) Move it! Move whatever clutter you're able to physically take away. Garbage cans, plastic chairs, bikes? Move them over.
2) Blur it away: Most newer cameras (and all SLR's) have the option of lowering the aperture and blurring out the background. Remember this rule: the lower the f-stop, the longer the lens, and the closer you are to the subject; the less of the background will be in focus. You can get just your subjects and some blossoms in focus, and the rest will just be smooth splotches of color. Go for it!
3) Get smart about your camera angles:
Get low and shoot up
Get the distractions out of the background of your shot by sitting down low on the ground and aiming the camera up. That way, all you see behind your subjects are beautiful blossoms and smiling skies.
Get high and shoot down
Short photo subjects? Use that to your advantage. Remember that magical petal blanket? It photographs so beautifully! If the tree has low branches as well, go up higher and shoot down through them. The end result is fantastic!