Nothing says springtime like the pink perfection of a zillion cherry blossoms. You say you’d like photos of your kids romping on a grassy knoll as petals drift down from the trees? Yeah, so would everyone else in Seattle.
The University of Washington’s Quad is a popular destination for a reason. It’s the most iconic place in town to peep those cherry blossoms. (Follow
@uwcherryblossom on Twitter for an up-to-date bloom report.) When those 30 Yoshino cherry trees are in bloom, that patch of grass is covered with people slinging their kids and cameras.
Now, I’m not against crowds. I actually love going to the Quad when the trees are at peak bloom; it’s like a giant party, and everyone is happy to be there. It’s just that a bunch of strangers in the background is a surefire way to ruin your photo op. To make your family cherry-blossom pictures stand out, you need to know a few tricks.
Get low and shoot up
Get the crowd out of the background of your shot by crouching down on the ground and aiming the camera up. That way, all you see behind your subjects are beautiful blossoms. You’d never know it from most of these photos, but the Quad was jam-packed the day I took them.
Get high and shoot down
Short photo subjects? Use that to your advantage. The ground is strewn with pretty blossoms, which makes it almost as photogenic as the trees.
Can you get a detail of your kids with some flowers? Or maybe focus in on just part of a tree? The idea is to narrow your frame so you crop out as much of the busy background as possible. Look for the enormous blooms on the magnolia trees at the north end of the Quad. They are even more striking than the cherry blossoms, and they don’t get nearly as much attention.
Manage your expectations
No matter how many beautiful pictures you tagged on Pinterest, your photos will only be as good as your window of opportunity before a toddler tantrum hits. Accept that kids have their limits.
More ideas for crowd avoidance
Go on a weekday. Go really early in the morning (the Quad is a zoo by the afternoon). Go earlier in the season, before peak bloom.
While you’re there
Once your family is cherry-blossomed out, make a stop at Suzzallo Library and visit its reading room, a.k.a. the Harry Potter room. Just make sure you turn your voices off before going in — the librarians are serious about the silence thing. On the Ave, browse the University Book Store’s children’s section in the loft. Or stop in at the Henry Art Gallery to see some wonderful contemporary art. Admission is free every Sunday or with a Seattle Public Library museum pass. Pssst! Parking in all campus garages and lots is also free on Sundays.
Go somewhere else
Along Azalea Way in the Washington Park Arboretum, there’s a whole row of flowering trees that are far less photographed than the ones in the Quad. As a bonus, the branches on these trees are lower to the ground, which makes it a lot easier to capture the kids surrounded by blossoms. Bring your bikes and scooters — the kids will love the 2-mile loop trail that opened just last year.
Take a walk around your neighborhood
They don’t call Seattle the Emerald City for nothing. I have the sweetest memories of walking home from school with my kids during that brief period in spring when the sidewalk is carpeted with blossoms. Take the long, leisurely way home and enjoy the scenery. We’ve learned to wait for the row of trees outside the community pool to bloom. Every year, it’s even more gorgeous than we remembered.
Let’s talk about equipment
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “What kind of lens is that?” I wouldn’t be hustling for extra income, that’s for sure. (It’s always a guy who wants to know.)
For the record, I use a Nikon DSLR, though it’s the version at the “serious hobbyist” price point. But the most important thing to keep in mind isn’t how you capture your image, it’s what you capture in your image. A smartphone is a great photographic tool for two reasons: It’s always on you, and the photo file sizes are big enough that you can make nice prints. In 99.9 percent of my pictures, the only thing I’ll adjust are the levels for brightness and contrast — no Photoshop magic, no funky filters, nothing else added.
You don’t need a super-duper, expensive camera to take great pictures. You don’t need to be a Photoshop genius. You do need to pay attention to what’s in your frame and what’s in your background. Fill the frame with pretty blossoms and minimize the distracting hordes of flower admirers. It doesn’t hurt to have a cute photo subject, either!