The Washington DC cherry blossom season is still a few months away, and my inbox is already full of cherry blossom engagement session inquiries. Delicate pink and white flowers bloom throughout the district every spring, but most iconically, they line the Tidal Basin, flooding the area with an airy pink hue. The shortlived flowers create the perfect romantic backdrop for an engagement session, making the Tidal Basin a very popular location for outdoor photo sessions during the peak bloom season. It was about time that I shared my top tips for planning your DC cherry blossom engagement session. Don't let the innocent look of the blooms fool you–holding your engagement session during the peak cherry blossom bloom requires extra time and attention, but it is so worth it!
Scheduling a cherry blossom session is slightly more complicated than your average engagement session because we are at the mercy of the bloom timing and weather. Ideally, you'll schedule your session during the peak bloom when the flowers are at their fullest and showing off. The peak bloom happens at a different time each year, and we use the Cherry Blossom Watch to estimate when that time will be for the coming season. To choose a session date, we must first wait for the predictions and then have the flexibility to select a session date during the peak bloom.
If things weren't already complicated enough, the weather could also impact the timing of a cherry blossom session. The cherry blossom trees that line the Tidal Basin are of a very delicate variety; rain, wind, and cold temperatures will destroy the flowers. On a good year, the blooms will last about 2 weeks, but the season can be drastically shortened if a storm comes through the DC area. A cherry blossom engagement session requires flexibility in almost every aspect, and I recommend considering backup locations just in case.
If you have your heart set on a cherry blossom engagement session, sign up for the Cherry Blossom Watch email list to get the latest updates on the bloom predictions. The Cherry Blossom Watch website is also a great location to find updates on road and parking lot closures that could impact your commute to the Tidal Basin.
I only hold cherry blossom Tidal Basin engagement sessions on weekdays starting around 6:30 am to 7 am during the peak bloom. The crowds that the Tidal Basin draws are so high in number that even at this early time on a weekday, there will still already be hundreds of tourists and amateur photographers. Don't get me started on how crowded the basin will be on the weekends and weekday evenings–it's just not worth it to attempt to hold your session when the basin is flooded with thousands of people. Early morning also offers beautiful soft light that perfectly compliments the romance of the pink and white blooms.
The DC Tidal Basin is home to over 3,700 cherry blossom trees, making it the most popular location for a cherry blossom session (see below for alternative session location options). Like many other popular DC locations, the Tidal Basin requires a professional photography permit. The permit is $140 and can be easily acquired through the National Parks Services website. The permit application process takes 3-4 days to process. Make sure to bring the permit with you to your session, just in case! If you decide to hold your engagement session at one of the alternative locations listed below, keep in mind that many of them also require photography permits. But don't worry; I will walk you through the permit acquisition process of your chosen location.
The cherry blossoms draw an estimated 1.5 million tourists to Washington DC annually. If you live in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia area), you already know how bad our traffic is on a daily basis; add 1.5 million more people to the equation, and you can see why I recommend giving yourself A LOT of extra time to get to the Tidal Basin. Have multiple parking options just in case the lots and streets fill up because, trust me, they will fill up faster than you think! Make a note of how long the walk to the basin will take you from your parking spot ahead of time so you arrive at your session on time. If you are considering Ubering (which I highly recommend), still give yourself extra time since there is likely to be heavy traffic. Below is my list of potential parking options that I use frequently when visiting the Tidal Basin and National Mall. Keep in mind that these locations fill up quickly, so you may want to look for additional options.
You will be astonished at the number of people already at the Tidal Basin at 6 am on a Tuesday during the peak bloom. Expect large crowds, to maneuver around other photo sessions, and to wait in lines for popular spots along the basin. If you start to feel overwhelmed at any point, my top tip is to block out your surroundings by focusing solely on your partner. Focus on the joy you feel with your partner and the immense love between you two–the rest will fall away into a blur of pink and white. Remember why you are getting up at 4 am to take photos in the first place: to celebrate the incredible love you have found and cultivated with your person. Ignore the rest!
The cherry blossoms provide a beautiful albeit busy backdrop for your engagement session. Because of the busyness of the background, I recommend that my couples choose a simple neutral or soft-toned color palette for their outfits. Think white, cream, tan, light pink, soft blue, and muted greens. The elegance of the Tidal Basin looks best with formal, chic, and romantic styles rather than casual outfits. Wear comfortable clothes that you can move around in easily and show off your unique personal style!
Remember that the cherry blossom bloom typically happens right at the start of spring, when the mornings are usually chilly and sometimes even close to freezing. Wear layers if possible! Consider wearing a pair of leggings under a dress or an undershirt beneath a button-up. We will occasionally take breaks throughout the session; bring a jacket and hand warmers to warm you up when possible.
The Tidal Basin is a large location requiring a lot of walking, so bring a comfy pair of shoes if your session shoes are uncomfortable. I recommend carrying only the essentials with you since the location is so large, and there are few places where you can easily set your bag(s) down safely.
Items you may want to have on hand include:
As I mentioned previously, the Tidal Basin is the most popular photo session location for capturing the DC Cherry Blossoms; that said, there are several alternative locations in the DMV where the trees can also be found. Keep in mind that some of the locations below require photography permits, are best during the morning weekday hours, and may be crowded, albeit slightly less crowded than the Tidal Basin.
DAR Constitution Hall is most known as a concert hall and gorgeous wedding venue, but what many don't know is that the multi-building space is also a lovely backdrop for a classic DC engagement session. The best part is that their courtyard has one cherry blossom tree! The DAR is a great location for those couples who prefer the ease of a private session location devoid of the crowds that most of the other cherry blossom locations draw. The property must be booked in advance, and only one session can occur at a time, so there will be no tourists battling you for the perfect spot under the cherry blossom tree. There may only be one cherry blossom tree on the property, but the DAR makes up for it with unobstructed views of the Washington Monument, beautiful iconic DC columns, and privacy.
The National Arboretum is another popular location to view the DC cherry blossom bloom. The National Arboretum hosts multiple varieties of cherry blossom trees on the park's vast grounds, all of which bloom at different times throughout the spring months. If you miss the initial bloom of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, or if you just want to avoid the crowds, the trees at the National Arboretum are a great choice! The expansive grounds offer various features like the National Capitol Columns, the National Herb Garden, and the Tropical Conservatory, among others. I recommend planning your National Arboretum session during the first few weeks of April when most of the variety of cherry blossom flowers bloom. A morning session is also recommended for this location to capture the most flattering light.
Other Cherry Blossom Session Location Options:
Are you a couple looking to schedule a Washington, DC, Cherry Blossom session? I'd love to chat with you! Reach out to start planning your dream Washington DC Cherry Blossom session!