Planning Your DC Cherry Blossom Engagement Session

Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms are legendary. Three thousand trees, gracefully arching their ancient, fluffy-pink bows toward the Tidal Basin. Some may say that they’re overrated, but every time I get to see them, I’m absolutely in awe of them. For a few short days they make the world seem more kind, more thoughtful, like something from a dream (or from the latest Rebel Wilson movie).

So it’s absolutely no surprise that, starting in mid-January, I begin receiving emails from engaged couples asking to schedule Cherry Blossom Engagement sessions. And hey— the cherry blossoms make for an amazing backdrop, so I totally understand. If you’re planning (or hope to plan) a Cherry Blossom Engagement Session, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Keep an open mind… and an open calendar.

For all the advancements we’ve made as a society in technology, security, information, etc, we still have a fairly shaky grasp on the weather. Forecasts are only a dependable prediction about 36 hours out (and even then sometimes our weatherpeople miss the mark entirely). And unfortunately, the Cherry Blossoms do not bloom on command. Timing for blooms depends on weather… and blooms only last between four and seven days after the peak bloom, so there’s a fairly tight window in which to get good photos with the blossoms.

My advice is to “pencil in” a date on the calendar sometime in February, and maintain frequent communication with your team (photographer, hair & makeup artists, stylist, etc) regarding availability and timing as we get closer to peak season. Cherry Blossom Watch is my favorite tool for keeping an eye on peak blooms, but the National Park Service is the official “bloom predictor.” Cherry Blossom generally peak the last two weeks of March or first week of April, but it truly is a moving target, so flexibility is key.

2. Be willing to start EARLY.

DC’s Cherry Blossoms draw an estimated 1.5 million people each year! In order to avoid hordes of tourists in the backgrounds of your photographs, I suggest starting at sunrise on a weekday. In general, I’ve found that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the quietest mornings. That would mean starting a session around 6:30am. Most of my full engagement sessions last just under two hours, so that gives time to grab coffee on the way into the office after the session.

I always suggest that my brides get professional hair & makeup done before their engagement session. A sunrise Cherry Blossom session is quite early, so it’s helpful to find a hair & makeup team willing to come to you, and to come early! Feel free to email me if you need artist recommendations!

3. Bring comfortable shoes.

loooooove when my brides show their style with stunning heels, and I’ll never ever say no to a formal engagement session (black tie has my heart!!). However, the area around the Tidal Basin is often quite muddy, and it’s a fairly substantial walk on uneven ground to get to the best Cherry Blossom spots. Definitely bring your Wellies or Bean Boots for walking, and then plan to change into your dress shoes once at your portrait “location.”

4. Focus on each other.

The best engagement sessions happen when you focus first and foremost on each other. If the Cherry Blossoms are perfect, HOORAY!! You have gorgeous photographs. If we get a freak deep frost that turns all the blooms brown, or if it rains every. single. day. during peak season, or if the only available session time is on the busiest day of the entire season and you have tourists in the background of every image, then HOORAY!! You will still have gorgeous photos… because they’re photos of YOU. Plan for Cherry Blossoms, but be most excited about each other, and you will have the best engagement portraits possible.

A note about the blooms…

Did you know there are two kinds of Cherry Blossoms that bloom in and around Washington DC in the Spring?

The Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin are Yoshino cherry blossoms, and are mostly white and creamy with just a faint tinge of blush. If you’re interested in pink blooms, plan on a session the first couple of weeks of April when the Kwanzan cherry blossoms are out! These are planted near the Capitol (among other places around DC), and look like bright pink carnations. The Kwanzan trees bloom a couple of weeks after the Yoshino trees, and are easier to schedules as the blooms last longer. Additionally, there are Japanese Magnolias all around DC (some near the Tidal Basin, and many near the Capitol) that also have bright pink blossoms. These start to bloom around the time as the Yoshino trees and last through the Kwanzan blooms.

It is worth noting… the Yoshino Cherry Blossoms don’t show up pink in photos, rather a creamy white with pink undertones. The Japanese Magnolias show more pink, but are still creamy, whereas the Kwanzan trees show bright pink. Keep that in mind when planning your session— how much color do you want? See below for examples!

Yoshino Cherry Blossoms

Japanese Magnolias

Kwanzan Cherry Blossom

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Hello, I'm Sarah Bradshaw! Classic-obsessed, coffee-loving D.C. wedding photographer. I’ photograph because I believe that all of life is beautiful and every person has a story worth telling. I'd love to tell yours.

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