DC Cherry Blossoms: Photographing the Tidal Basin at Dawn

washington dc cherry blossom tidal basin washington monument sunrise

This Instagram caption said it well: “After today, I’m convinced that the Tidal Basin is actually a portal to an alternate universe where thousands of people come together at sunrise to shed their miserable morning demeanor.”  ─ @rayhayhurst

Amazing photos of cherry blossoms at dawn or sunrise motivated me to get up early. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. was really early for me, but it was worth it.

On April 9, a day before the peak bloom, I brought my camera to the Tidal Basin at dawn for the first time. Morning people were serious about their commute. For the red line trains to Glenmont, doors open on the left at Farragut North and on the right at the following stop, Metro Center. As the train approaching Farragut North and doors about to open on the left, about ten people left their seats and lined up at the door on the right hand side, just to make sure they could rush out of the door and beat everyone to the blue/orange platform and catch their transfer. I assumed they knew what they were doing, so I rushed for the lower platform. They were good. I hopped on a blue line train just in time. Thanks to these serious morning commute people, by the time I stepped out of the Smithsonian Station, it was only 5:38 a.m.

Prior to the peak bloom, shooting at dawn was a pleasant experience. I made it to the MLK Memorial at about 6 a.m. Not too many runners and photographers were there. Most of the tripod people were pleasant and greeted each other good morning. Navy Seals warmed up at the National Mall and did their morning run around the Tidal Basin. All the Seals ran behind tripods and nicely greeted morning photographers. Dozens of tripod spread out along the bank of the Tidal Basin. I was able to move from one spot to another the entire time.


四月九號,櫻花盛開的前一天,我第一次一大早帶著相機到潮汐湖。一大早通勤的人們真的很認真要早到,地鐵紅線往Glemont方向,在Farragut North是左側開門,下一站Metro Center是右側開門,列車到了Farragut North的時候,車上大概十個人迅速站起來,明明左側開門,這群人在右邊的門口排好隊,就為了到Metro Center的時候可以衝下車,真的是很積極,想必是有一班藍線或橘線列車正好到站又快要開走。我決定相信這些早起人,快速往樓下月台走,果然有一班藍線準備關門,我剛好跳上車。託早起通勤族的福,我走出Smithsonian站的時候才五點三十八分。

在櫻花盛開之前,早上去拍日出很輕鬆愉快。我大概六點就到馬丁路德金恩博士紀念碑附近,潮汐湖沒有太多慢跑或拍照的人,帶腳架來拍照的人會互道早安,美國海軍海豹部隊的人們在the Mall暖身然後沿著潮汐湖跑,大家都會繞過腳架跑在後面還會跟你說早安。整區大概就幾十隻腳架,早上這一個小時,我換了好多位置,可以直接抓起腳架就走,慢慢物色角度慢慢拍。

Not many people showed up to shoot the sunrise at the Tidal Basin on April 9, a day before the peak bloom.

Not many people showed up to shoot the sunrise at the Tidal Basin on April 9, a day before the peak bloom.

The National Park Service people trimming cherry tree branches early in the morning.

The National Park Service people trimming cherry tree branches early in the morning.

washington dc cherry blossom tidal basin

Another advantage about going early on in the cherry blossom season is that you might get a good shot of pretty birds with cherry blossoms as a background. I saw a blue jay in pale pink cherry blossoms! But of course I had the wrong lens on again and I was too far.


The blue jay was long gone by the time I swapped lenses and jumped across some bushes and a short wall.

The blue jay was long gone by the time I swapped lenses and jumped across some bushes and a short wall.

After that, the Tidal Basin kept getting more crowded than the day before. I went to shoot at around the same time on the following day, April 10, the peak of 2014 as announced by the National Park Service. The Tidal Basin was quite busy in the morning, crowded with runners, visitors and photographers. But at this point, people were still very civil and pleasant. Tripod people maintained their professional etiquette, paying attention to their surrounding and scooping around so that they did not block someone else’s shot.

I made it to the MLK Memorial at around 6 a.m.  Many people already secured their shots but it was still easy enough to find a spot. (Sunrise at the time in early April was at about 6:38 a.m. The sun would be blocked by buildings until about 6:50 a.m.)

在那之後,潮汐湖人一天比一天多。我隔天一樣早早去報到,四月十號,2014年櫻花盛開的這天。一早慢跑的人、拍照的人和純觀光客都很多,但這時候大家還是很有禮貌,腳架人們都會注意不要擋到別人。我一樣大概早上六點到,很多人已經卡好位了。 (那時候四月初,日出大概是6:38,太陽會被房子擋住,大概6:50才會看到曙光。)

On the day of the peak bloom, the Tidal Basin was very busy early in the morning.

On the day of the peak bloom, the Tidal Basin was very busy early in the morning.

Some iced tea I had that afternoon delayed my bedtime. Watching the clock hitting one in the morning, I gave up and canceled my 4:30 alarm for my fourth day in DC. Instead of early morning, I went in the afternoon. One of my most favorite parts about this season is the cherry blossom pedal rain. White petals flying in the air with blue sky as a background make a beautiful scene. On the first two days of my early morning adventure, all I did was getting the safe, signature shots. So this afternoon I picked out some options for framing a different shot the next morning.


washington dc cherry blossoms tidal basin

Then on Saturday, I thought I would get up early again since it was my last chance to shoot at dawn before I left DC. Without Metro, I’d have to leave before 4 a.m. to catch the bus and walk a long way. I decided to pay Uber in exchange of some extra sleep. I arrived the Tidal Basin just as early as the previous days. As I walked by the Japanese lantern, some guy with a huge camera bag and tripod passed me, running and panting. Um, shit, I thought, how bad was it going to be!?

All the spots I picked out the day before were taken. In fact all the good spots were taken. That included the area where you can see a curve/arch of the bank/cherry trees and where there are low hanging cherry blossom branches to frame a shot. Out of curiosity, I asked a guy on the ground right next to the fence in front of the MLK Memorial how early he got there to secure that spot. He said he was there 20 minutes ago.  I finally found a spot that was not ideal. Then this very nice guy said to me: Here. I’m leaving. Take my spot!

I gave up on fighting for a spot out there and settled with that spot.

隔天,星期六,是離開華府之前的最後一個早起機會,週末地鐵七點才開,靠公車的話,不到四點就要出門,又要走很遠,於是決定要付錢給Uber來換多一點點睡眠。和前幾天差不多時間到潮汐湖,才剛走到日本燈籠附近,有個扛大腳架的男人一邊跑一邊喘地超過我,我想說,是會有多慘!? 結果所有我前一天相中的點都已經被佔走了,路上好奇問了佔到MLK紀念碑前面柵欄邊邊地上坐著的男人,他說他二十分鐘前就到了。這時候,可以拍到華盛頓紀念碑或傑佛遜紀念堂和潮汐湖畔一個弧的櫻花的地方都排滿腳架,有漂亮低垂櫻花樹的地方也都有人卡位,我走了大半圈終於找到一個勉強可以用的點,沒想到旁邊有人人很好地說,我差不多要走了,這位子給你!


washington dc Tidal Basin at dawn

This is the day when miserable morning demeanor peaked. Whether you are dealing with an iPhone runner, cheap point-and-shoot tourists, or expensive DSLR owners, half of them did not have any sort of the polite etiquette that on previous days every morning photographer─pro or not─ at the Tidal Basin possessed. These people did not give a damn about the fact that you had been up for three hours by now and standing or squatting at that spot for 50 minutes. People would stop right in front of your camera, pointing at the pretty low hanging branches that frame the Tidal Basin well and gasped in very high pitch: awwwwww this is beeautifullll! (Um, I know. That’s why I had to get here 50 minutes ago to secure this spot.) Then they sat right in front of you and asked their friend to take several pictures, not just one or two, because they wanted to change their poses and smile in different ways. And this series of touristy shots had to happen during the most colorful moments right before the sun was about to rise above the buildings on the horizon.

The touristy shots were fine. The Tidal Basin wasn’t my backyard and everyone deserved to take the pretty shots, right? But then there came the fancy DSLR guy that wanted to take a close-up of the very specific blossoms that were right in front of my camera. As the colorful moments slipping away while the gentleman could not nail his close-ups in the seemingly forever one minute and nine seconds that he had been blocking my shot, I lost my patience and decided to be a bitch and rescue the remaining very little time I had with the colors and light.

So really, if you want to shoot at dawn and you only want to do it once, don’t make it the weekend after the peak bloom. The crowd would not be a problem for a pro, but for people like me that need trial and error behind the viewfinder, an over the top busy Tidal Basin is just too frustrating.

這是開頭那個宇宙任意門早起卑劣態度達到顛峰的一天,不管是帶iPhone跑步的人、拿便宜消費型相機的遊客、或拿高檔單眼的人,有一半都很失禮,前幾天大家互相又有禮貌的世界不見了,這些人完全不管你三個小時之前就起床然後在潮汐湖蹲了五十分鐘了,大家會大方走到離你相機很近的正前方,指著低垂到水面的櫻花,高八度說:喔喔喔喔這好美喔! 忍不住想說廢話不然我幹嘛早起又五十分鐘前就來這邊蹲著卡位!? 然後大家就直接在我相機正前方坐下開始拍到此一遊照,還不是拍一張馬上走,要換姿勢又要換表情,然後偏偏要挑在快要日出這個短短一段顏色最多變化又最美的時間拍。




DC Cherry Blossoms: Best Spots and Best Time to Shoot 華府櫻花攝影不負責攻略


washington dc cherry blossoms tidal basin



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