Planning Your DC Cherry Blossom Portraits

January 15, 2023

dc cherry blossom engagement portraits at the tidal basin


It’s the beginning of a new year, and that means it’s time to start planning those DC cherry blossom portraits! As a seasoned Washington DC wedding and portrait photographer, I receive countless inquiries and questions about these sessions every year. I’ve compiled all of my very best tips into this blog post to help you plan.

dc cherry blossom engagement portraits at the tidal basin

The first thing to understand: cherry blossom portraits require patience and flexibility. These blooms are incredibly fragile: even a late winter frost can totally wipe them out. The peak bloom timeframe is just 7-10 days sometime in mid-March to mid-April, and the National Park Service doesn’t release the forecast until February. Additionally, DC will be flooded with tourists while the blooms are here – so be prepared to have an audience for your session.

The uncertainty and flexibility required are the reason I don’t offer DC cherry blossom mini sessions, instead choosing to only offer full portrait sessions to my clients during this timeframe. The forecast and/or crowds may require us to change locations with little notice, and it’s important to me that my clients have the best experience possible, never feeling rushed or stressed. Offering a full session experience also allows us to pair our “blooms” portraits with a second location, such as the monuments, maximizing the variety in your final gallery.

Types of Trees (And Where to Find Them)

magnolia blossoms in dc
Magnolia blooms near the DC Smithsonian.

It’s important to understand that there are many varieties of blossoming trees in DC that bloom at different times in early spring. The first to bloom are the magnolias, pictured to the left.

Often mistaken for cherry blossoms, these are much larger and more vibrant blooms. They typically reach peak bloom 1-2 weeks prior to the cherry blossoms, meaning you can generally count on these in the third or fourth week of March.

Magnolias can be found in the Smithsonian’s Haupt Garden, Rawlins Park, and in several hidden gem locations throughout DC and Baltimore. We’ll discuss exactly where you’d like to shoot during your planning consultation.

The Yoshino cherry blossoms are the most iconic variety in DC. These blossoms are usually a much softer blush pink, almost white color, though that can fluctuate each season. Peak bloom typically lasts a week and occurs the first week of April, though this can vary drastically.

The Tidal Basin is the most popular location for DC cherry blossom portraits. Parking is extremely limited – I recommend ridesharing if possible. If you do drive in, plan to park in one of the three small lots on Ohio Drive. Bring comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking at least a mile!

Because this location is so crowded, I like to pair it with a second option to add variety. The Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the War Memorial are all within a 5-10 minute walk of the Tidal Basin, albeit in different directions.

dc cherry blossoms
Yoshino cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in DC.
Magnolia blooms in Baltimore, MD.

Session Planning Tips

Don’t let the springtime vibes fool you – it will most likely be COLD during your session! Average temperatures will likely be in the 40s, and it’s usually fairly windy at the Tidal Basin. Be sure to bring a jacket and comfortable shoes for walking. The area around the Tidal Basin is almost always muddy, so keep that in mind when selecting wardrobe!

Speaking of what to wear, I love to see my clients dressing up a bit for their DC cherry blossom portraits. Suits or slacks and a blazer for men and a great dress with lots of flow and texture for women is always a perfect fit. Neutral tones such as whites, creams, greys, blues, and blush pinks will accent your surroundings perfectly and help your skin tone pop in the photos. Avoid black and harsh, bold colors, as they will clash with the blooms and distract from what’s most important – you!

A $140 permit is required for many locations in DC, such as the monuments and the Tidal Basin. We’ll discuss this during your planning consultation. I’ll invoice you for the permit as needed and coordinate obtaining it with the proper authorities. I understand that permits can feel like an unnecessary expense, but it’s crucial that we do our part to abide by the rules so that we can continue to utilize these beautiful backdrops for years to come.

Booking Your DC Cherry Blossom Portraits

This is one of the most requested timeframes for portraits, and the calendar fills quickly. I begin booking cherry blossom portraits six months in advance, with most bookings happening in January and February.

One thing is certain: there is never last-minute availability due to the coordination required for permits. I like to say that if you look outside and see blooms on the trees, it’s already too late to book for this season!

During your planning consultation, we’ll soft-book a date based on historic peak bloom timeframes, then adjust if needed as the date approaches. Sessions take place on weekdays from sunrise to early afternoon, depending on your specific goals for the portraits.

Ready to book your DC cherry blossom portraits? Contact me today for full pricing details and to schedule your planning consultation!

dc cherry blossom engagement portraits at the tidal basin

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At home near the sea. Ever-focused on beauty and the thrilling art of creation; found in the moments that matter most.

Amanda is fueled by a desire to preserve the best humanity has to offer: our love for one another. She draws her inspiration from classic literature, sprawling wildflower fields, thoughtful design and architecture, and her travels across the world, particularly Europe. 

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