1) Prepare: This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget to check whether your camera is fully charged and if you have extra memory cards. Most of us will be taking photos with our mobile devices, so be sure you have enough space (here’s a guide to making room on an iPhone) and that your battery life is good. Also, be sure you know how to focus your phone camera.
2) Choose your time carefully: Every year, the cherry blossoms attract more than 1.5 million visitors, so it isn’t necessarily a hidden gem. Weekdays are better than weekends and if possible, go in the early morning (sunrise is usually around 7am) or late afternoon (sunset will be around 7:30pm). Not only will the Tidal Basin be less crowded at those times, but the lighting is stunning. Remember that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west. So if you want to photograph the Jefferson Memorial at the crack of dawn, keep in mind the memorial and trees surrounding it might be in silhouette. Here’s a handy map provided by the National Park Services that shows where all the cherry blossoms will be. It’s helpful to know the layout so you can visualize what you’d like to photograph and where you need to be to get that shot.
3) Compose: Be mindful and decisive before you take a picture. Take a few seconds to look at what’s in the frame. Is everything where you want it to be? Is it visually what you want to show? Do you want people in the shot? What’s the main focus of the picture? Try framing the monuments with the cherry blossom branches, play with the curves of the tidal basin, capture detail shots of the blossoms. Be aware of what’s in the background, as that can distract from the image. For example, if you’re shooting your family and friends (or self), it’s not pretty when it looks like a light pole is going through your head.
4) Explore: The Tidal Basin has basically 360 degrees of good views. One of the best and probably most popular vantage points is from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. That’s where you’ll see a lot of photographers with their tripods. But don’t spend too much time here. Keep walking and stop to look around. Look up, look down. Photograph the Japanese Stone Lantern, walk down toward Hains Point, stop by the Washington Monument. If you’re feeling adventurous (and patient), get on a paddleboat. The views there will definitely be different than from land.
5) Relax: Yes, you want to take stunning pictures and be able to share it with your friends, family, (and possibly strangers) but don’t forget to stop and take in the scenery—and smell the blossoms.