Every Spring, Vancouver is filled with beautiful pink and white cherry blossoms. Tens of thousands of these photogenic sakura trees bloom throughout the city to create a wondrous sight. While these blossoms make for great photos with people, it’s hard to know when and where to shoot because there are upwards of fifty different tree species — and they all bloom at different times!
The hardest part of shooting sakura in Vancouver is knowing when and where they bloom. I first started by routinely driving through various neighbourhoods to see what was blooming and where, but soon learned a better approach. It helped me shoot part of a wedding with cherry blossoms as well spring portraits (pictured here). With lessons learned, I put together some tips to help anyone wanting to do some fun cherry blossom photoshoots in Vancouver.
Know When and Where to Shoot
The best resource I found to determine where and when to shoot is this map of Vancouver listing locations where specific trees are expected to bloom and how long they last. An amazing bonus is that there are photos of each area that are uploaded by site contributors. You can basically get a sense of each location without even visiting! These snaps help pinpoint your ideal spot depending on what you’d like to capture, though I’d still recommend scouting your chosen locations since the snaps don’t reveal everything.
I found that a good time to shoot was when the trees started blooming until about the middle of the blossoms’ lifecycle. At that point, some blossoms have fallen to the ground which creates interesting patterns to shoot. If you wait too late, you may find that some of the trees have finished blossoming while others have not, creating visual distractions in your backgrounds.
Note that some locations like Van Dusen Gardens, while amazing to shoot at, have an admission fee. Also note that if you’re shooting for commercial purposes you will want to pick up a permit from the city.
Shooting Miss Teenage BC with cherry blossoms in Vancouver. Model Ariel Cao
Scout the Sakura at the Right Time
Before any photoshoot, it’s helpful to scout the area of the shoot. Ideally, you would visit the location in advance at around the same hour of the shoot (with hopefully similar weather forecast). This lets you know where the natural light falls and gives you an idea of what you can use as backdrops. Since cherry blossoms bloom for only a couple weeks or so, it is vital that scouting is done in a timely manner. Too early and you won’t know what the location will look like with blossoms; too late and you’ll miss them completely!
Find Alternative Spots
Tourism Vancouver lists some of the city’s top places with cherry blossoms. As many spots with cherry blossoms are public spaces, if you arrive to your shoot and others are using the tree you want, you can shoot at nearby alternatives until the tree becomes available. This is where early scouting of various locations pays off.
Use Low Branches and Freshly Fallen Blossoms
For some fun ideas, it can be great to shoot with low hanging branches or freshly fallen blossoms as they can add interesting elements to a photo. Take care when handling branches so that the blossoms last longer and continue to bring enjoyment to others afterwards.
Use a Mini Step Ladder
It’s completely optional, but I found that a mini step ladder helped in a variety of ways. For example, I was able to include some blossoms in the foreground by shooting from a higher vantage point near the branches of a tree. As well, sometimes I put my model on the first step so they could be just a bit closer to the blossoms. It’s important that the ladder is stable and on even ground, so I would recommend having someone help stabilize the ladder while another is on it. You may also want to crop the ladder out of the photo so the end results look most natural 🙂
In case you’re interested in knowing which one I used, I found a simple foldable two-step ladder at Rona.
Blowing the sakura blossoms. Model Chloe Ha
And there you go! Hopefully some of these tips will help you plan your next cherry blossom or springtime photos in Vancouver. Have fun and I’m looking forward to seeing your photos!
If you’re interested in my presets for Lightroom and Photoshop, have a look here.
Models: Sylvie Wong, Chloe Ha, Joanne Zhou, Ariel Cao, Jocelyn Tse, Yuki Lu, Wince Leung, Yuri Takase, Leanne Lam, Sally Ji, and Elaine Chen. Makeup/Hair: Isobel Hsu (for Joanne Zhou), Madison Pan (for Yuki Lu). Photos: Mike Wu.