Cheat-sheet to stress free cherry blossom photos


March 31, 2022

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Everything you need to know before booking cherry blossom photos in Washington DC!
The DC area truly comes alive during cherry blossom season – especially for sunrise at the Tidal Basin! As soon as the predictions for peak blooms were released, local Facebook groups were buzzing with the rumors that this 2022 season was predicted to be even more packed than usual due to strict COVID restrictions last year.
Below, you’ll find the cheat sheet I sent out to my clients to guide them through stress free cherry blossom photos cherry blossom photos in Washington DC during one of the busiest seasons yet!
cherry blossom photos in Washington DC

Cherry Blossom Photos at the Tidal Basin

This is a hot topic in the photography community but the general understanding amongst professional photographers and the National Park Service is that photo permits are required for any photo session involving any of the iconic monuments in DC.
Luckily, the process is simple! You fill out this form (which will open as a PDF) and pay two fees. The first is an application fee of $90, and the second is a location fee that fluctuates depending on the chosen photo location and number of people involved. For an engagement session at the Tidal Basin, you’d be looking at the 1-10 people fee of $50 which means the entire permit process should cost you $140.
You can submit the application in person, or choose to fax or mail the application in to the National Mall and Memorial Parks Division of Permits Management. Once you’ve secured the permit from the NPS, be sure to save it to your smart phone!

I highly recommend locking in a permit as soon as the peak blossom prediction is released as permits are in high demand and mailing the application can take up to two weeks to process.

cherry blossom photos in Washington DC, DC wedding photographer

How to prepare for your cherry blossom photos in Washington DC

If we stick to the Tidal Basin, I would strongly recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before sunrise. We may not be able to take very many photos without the sun, but it will give us plenty of time to park and find a quieter space to begin your session so that we can roll right into taking photos as the sun slips over the horizon for that really glowy soft light.

I’ve heard that it’s best to park behind the MLK Jr Monument and walk, as it has 3 hour metered parking and a 24 hour bathroom in case you two want to change outfits but during my last trip to DC I noticed that parking garage was closed for construction so be sure to have a back up parking location in mind!


Cherry Blossom Photo Locations:

If you’re feeling a little wary about the permit turnaround timing or the Tidal Basin drawing big crowds, you may want to consider another location. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for cherry blossom photos in Washington DC!

Hains Point Trail

Not a lot of information online regarding permits, but as a National Park I would assume that it follows the same guidelines as the monuments. Parking and admission are free, but no information about public restrooms was available on their website. The trail itself is almost 4.5 miles long and has a variety of cherry trees as well as water front views. (From my IG research, the trail appears to be across the water from several monuments, but Google Maps is giving me mixed answers!)

The National Arboretum

Rumor has it that the cherry blossoms bloom a tad bit later here than in the Tidal Basin which may give us a safety net if we need to reschedule! A permit is required through the National Arboretum itself, and currently photography sessions are only permitted for Tuesdays, Thursday, and Sundays between 8:00am to 4:30pm. Sessions must be scheduled at least two weeks in advance and no walk-up permits are granted, but they seem to have a flexible rescheduling policy for inclement weather.

Private Neighborhoods

Another photographer suggested this neighborhood as a secluded option. It appears to be a hot spot on warm weekends with families and folks following a biking trail, but mornings are said to be very quiet with lots of trees. Parking sounds potentially difficult and you would likely be changing in your car (if you choose to do multiple outfits!) as there are no public restrooms nearby.

Dumbarton Oaks

I’m seeing a lot of mixed information for this property that permits may be required and/or professional photography may not be allowed at all, but I wanted to include it because it is truly beautiful! My current understanding is that there is a park named Dumbarton Oaks that touches property lines with privately owned Dumbarton Oaks and the privately owned property does not allow professional photography but the park does allow professional photographers.


Alternative Photo Locations:

If you’re open to other types of pink-blooming-trees, we can consider these locations!

Enid A Haupt Garden in the Smithsonian Gardens

While not cherry trees, these gardens do have pink magnolia blooms that will flower. The gardens are open dawn to dusk, restroom access is limited but no permits are required. Pets are not allowed within this particular garden, but seem to be allowed within the other Smithsonian Gardens.

DAR Constitution Hall

DAR will also have a pop of pink magnolia blooms! There is a marble patio with a magnolia tree and a glimpse of the distant Washington Monument. They have parking garages nearby, and their website makes it sound like permission is needed for photos but not a paid permit. No information online about restrooms for changing!

The Library of Congress

If Magnolia blooms don’t do it for ya, we can find apple blossoms within walking distance of the Library of Congress about a week after peak cherry blossoms! It does not appear that photos are permitted inside of the Library, but once open you should be able to change in their restrooms indoors if you wish.


Changed your mind about Cherry Blossom Photos in Washington DC?

If the idea of locking in contracts, permits, and engagement session dates on a short timeline sounds intimidating or overwhelming to you, you can read more about my non-cherry blossom location suggestions too!

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