Photographing Cherry Blossoms in Vancouver (Field Log)

One of my favorite times of year in Vancouver is the three-week period between mid-March and early April when the 40,000+ cherry blossom trees throughout the city are in full bloom. They are literally on every street and it’s a really amazing sight if you ever get the chance to go there.

As I understand it, the majority of these trees were gifted to Canada by Japan after WWII. Be sure to check out this great interactive map provided by the city that shows all of the cherry blossom tree locations, whether they are in bloom or not, and highlights the favorite locations.

I took the opportunity on March 16 to head out and take some really great shots at one of my favorite locations.

My favorite location for viewing cherry blossoms is actually a small park in Burnaby. It’s located just west of the intersection of  Buchanan St. and Rosser Ave., behind the Save-on Foods. The park has two paths, each lined on both sides by mature trees. When in full bloom, the cherry blossoms form a canopy over the path.

March 16, 2016 - Nikon D750 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/10, f/8

March 16, 2016 – Nikon D750 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/10, f/8

I grabbed my Nikon D750 camera, 50mm f/1.8 prime lensManfrotto 190X3 tripod and headed out in the early morning. The sunrise was going to be at 7:22 AM and I was there by 6:00 AM. It was a bit chilly at only 3°C but the air was fresh and no sign of rain (for a change!).

The lane is lined by street lamps which created a really interesting array of colors and lighting on the trees. I decided to set up right away and take some long exposure shots to try to capture the effect. I wanted to use a low ISO to minimize noise, and decided on 200. I wanted the entire scene to be in focus, so I set the camera in Aperture priority mode and chose a setting of f/9. At this aperture and dim lighting, the camera chose a shutter speed of 5 seconds. I made sure everything was lined up and took the shot.

Vancouver Cherry Blossoms

March 16, 2016 – Nikon D750 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 5s, f/9

I really like the effect of the light on the trees. It brought out some interesting colors. The small aperture gave the street lamps a starburst effect as well. In retrospect I probably should have chosen a higher ISO to get the shutter speed down to a second or less. If you zoom in you can see that the cherry blossoms are not sharply in focus because of some of the movement over the 5 second exposure.

By 7:00 AM the sky was a deep blue in anticipation of the impending sunrise. I took the opportunity in the diffused light to take some closeup shots of the cherry blossoms at a large aperture to isolate them from the background and produce a nice bokeh.

MORE: How to produce a blurry background effect in your photos

With the morning light now quite a bit brighter I was able to hand-hold the camera instead of using the tripod. I set the camera to the maximum aperture allowed by my lens of f/1.8 to ensure the background was out of focus, and took a few shots. This one below was my favorite.

Cherry blossom with blurry background effect

Nikon D750 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/400. f/1.8

I like how even some of the cherry blossoms in behind came out blurred as well, really serving to isolate the ones I focused on. I tried to make sure the building took up the entire background instead of having the sky included, to avoid exposure issues from the high brightness.

About 30 minutes later, the sun began to peek its way above the horizon. It cast warm, golden rays across the row of cherry blossom trees, and I set up to take a shot perpendicular to the sun. I wanted everything to be in focus, so set an aperture of f/8 and the camera selected a shutter speed of 1/60 s. I took a few shots at varying angles but the one below was my favorite of the lot.

Vancouver Cherry Blossoms in morning light

Nikon D750 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/8

I love how warm the photo came out because of the sunlight. You’d never know that it was close to freezing that morning!

All in all I think it was a pretty successful trip and I was pleased with the results of my photos. Next time I’ll risk a bit more noise and use higher ISO settings to reduce shutter speed, which should help to keep everything in focus.

Have you been to Vancouver before to see the cherry blossoms in bloom? What’s your favorite location? Let me know in the comments!


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