They left just as quickly as they arrived–This year’s peak bloom for the cherry blossoms in DC’s Tidal Basin was March 20th, with the total official blooming period lasting just over a week, much shorter than typical. Unfortunately I was away in California at the start of the bloom, and when I returned most of mornings were filled with heavy fog, ruling out any shots at sunrise. Relative to last year, the photos I took of the cherry blossoms were… different–The panoramic shot below gives you an idea of what there was to work with.
Gloomy weather and travel plans this year only served as a reminder that we all (anyone who picks up a camera) have to seize the opportunity to snap a photo when we have it, even if the moment feels all too fleeting or ill prepared. Though in street, sports, or event photography the moment can pass because of an ephemeral human expression or a quick moving action, sometimes there are other factors.
Landscape photography doesn’t (usually) have the element of people changing the scene, but the concept of acting fast still applies for one simple reason: Light. Light is the fundamental ingredient in all photography. That’s not to say that other considerations, like composition and editing, don’t go into a finished photo. But light is the only thing that our camera sensors (or film) see–It creates texture, shape, and color–Without light our sensors wouldn’t see anything. For that reason the quality of light has a lot to do with the quality of a photo; this may seem like a simple fact but it took me longer than you would think to figure it out.
So, unlike studio photography, when photographing landscapes there’s not a whole lot that you can do to change the lighting! That’s why one of the keys to landscape photography is to find the light that’s right and shoot before it changes.
Last year I spent two bitterly cold mornings at the Tidal Basin photographing the blooming cherry blossom trees. It was my first time doing this, and I didn’t really know what to expect. At that early in the morning I wanted to get my time and effort’s worth. What vision did I have in mind for a composed subject? Where would I shoot from when I arrived? I mean, they’re just a bunch of trees, right? Well, I learned another lesson last year that I didn’t realize until much later on: Dumb luck has a lot to do with it.
The first morning I ventured out at 5:30 am into the painful cold. I walked about two and a half miles with my gear (I could have cabbed), pulled out a camera and tripod, and started taking shots. By then there was plenty of ambient light showing up on long exposures, and I realized how amazing the sky would look at sunrise. Unfortunately I hadn’t planned a bit and wasn’t sure where to shoot from–so I started jogging down the path. I knew the sun would be up in a matter of minutes.
Thankfully there weren’t many photographers out, so I had my pick of the territory. I kept going until I found the perfect spot, a branch hanging over head with a view straight east toward sunrise. I setup the tripod, snapped a few shots, and made a few other compositions.
Then the sun began to rise (photo above). To this day I haven’t seen sunrise like the one I saw that cold morning in March. The blue sky mixed with the golden light in a way I hadn’t seen before, or since. And then it was over as quickly as it started. The whole apex of the sunrise probably lasted two or three minutes.
Poor planning, quick adaptation, and good luck resulted in a photo that I still cherish. There were other good photos of the cherry blossoms, but none that looked like the one above. If I had hesitated, even for a couple minutes, the moment would have passed and I’d still be waiting for the the above photo to come along. And this year’s gloomy weather would have been all the more disappointing if I hadn’t gotten the shot that I wanted last year.
Below are a few other cherry blossom photos I took last year. I’ll post a few more over the next few days.