How-to Guide: Close-up Macro of Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms

There are a million ways to take a beautiful photo of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms. Here’s how to create something similar to this close-up macro shot.

DC Cherry Blossom Watch Update - April 4, 2018
Last Updated:
Filed Under: How-to Guides
Topics: Tidal Basin

There are a million ways to take a beautiful photo of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms. They’re truly spectacular, and it’s pretty much a case of point your camera, close your eyes, and click.

But in case you’re interested in shooting something similar, here’s a quick how-to guide for how I took this photo.


Washington DC’s cherry blossoms are a famous springtime attraction, and the most famous ones are around the Tidal Basin area. If you head to the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, or MLK Memorial you’ll be right in the thick of them. You can find more detailed information here.

Washington DC


You need the flowers in bloom. That’s quite fleeting, and the hardest part of taking photos of the cherry blossoms is timing your visit just right. I have some separate information on the best times to see the cherry blossoms here.

And even if you see them in bloom, when you look at the flowers up close you can see differences as the bloom progresses. This particular shot is early in the bloom. Not all the buds in this specific cluster out, and the petals in the ones that look fresh and full.


Macro photography like this is easiest with a tripod, but that’s not always convenient or possible. This shot was handheld, and the flowers were moving slightly in the slight breeze. To compensate for the risky focusing, I was, firstly, using a camera with a good focusing system (Nikon D810) and, secondly, taking several shots. I also kept a relatively high shutter speed to minimize the risk of motion blur.

The focus is deliberately on the central flower, and I’d positioned myself so that there was somewhat a flat focal plane along the flower and the pink buds.

The blurry negative space is natural–just the flowers and a little blue sky in the background. The blur is the result of a large aperture (ƒ/4.5). That large aperture (small number) dramatically increases the focusing risks, which is another reason for taking several shots.

If you’re shooting for an editorial client, that area is ideal for copy space. But I’m also quite partial to using negative space compositions for purely aesthetic reasons. I much prefer this to a version of the same flower centered in the frame. I could also see that it was going to bring in a hint of blue (from the blue sky in the background) that provides a nice balance to the pinks, whites, and yellow.

There’s no real post-processing on this–it’s basically straight out of the camera. It was shot in RAW, so it does need some interpretation, but there’s no extra boosting of saturation or anything like cloning.


This shot was taken with a Nikon D810 and a Sigma 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens. To get up close, your best bet is with a macro lens. I quite like the 105mm focal length macro for shots of small flowers like this, but you can be able to get good results from any macro lens.

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