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How to Capture Detailed but Dreamy-Looking Cherry Blossoms With a Soft Filter

The first step to detailed but dreamy-looking cherry blossoms might be to shoot a large cherry blossom tree up close. However, what settings should you use when shooting at night and in windy conditions to capture the details of the peripheries? Find out more about the techniques to do so in this article. (Reported by: Hidehiko Mizuno)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 32mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/3 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 800/ WB: Daylight
The cherry blossom trees in Maruyama Park had been withering for some time, but have been gradually revitalised in recent years. I strived to capture the detail of a tree full of vitality while recalling its former glory.


Focus on the branch with the most magnificently blooming flowers

I love the famous cherry blossoms of Gion. In particular, I love viewing them at night in Kyoto’s Maruyama Park in Japan. I wandered around the area to find an angle from which I could capture the shape of the tree most splendidly, while trying not to disturb other visitors to the park.

Shutter speed
Because it was a little windy, I first set a shutter speed that would be sufficient to “freeze” the flowers in place. To keep noise to a minimum, an ISO speed of 800 or less is desirable.

Determining the appropriate aperture to use proved to be a challenge for this picture. To properly show the details of the edges, I usually recommend using f/8 or higher. A maximum aperture of f/4 might provide a fast shutter speed and be easy to use, but the depth of field is shallow, so only the centre of the image will be captured satisfactorily.

For this shoot, I photographed the large cherry blossom tree from a close range. Although I shot at a wide angle, it was necessary to use a narrow aperture, which made it difficult to know where to place the focus in a shoot where using f/5.6 to f/8 provided just enough depth of field. When I focused on the nearby petals, the petals at the back became blurred, and when I focused on the tree trunk, the reverse occurred.

I found that I got the best results when I focused on the branch with the most magnificent collection of flowers, at an intermediate shooting distance. From there, when I narrowed the aperture to f/8, I was able to keep the entire tree fully in focus. In addition to ensuring that the shape of the tree was entirely visible in the image, I used a soft filter and kept the centre sharp while depicting the large tree with a dreamy finish.


Tip 1: Use f/8 to sharply capture all of the cherry blossoms

At f/5.6, the depth of field is shallow, so not all of the image is clear when photographing the large cherry blossom tree with a short shooting distance. The peripheries of the image are not clear, with the branch overhanging in the top left of the image standing out in particular as lacking in clarity, so the depth of field is insufficient overall.

Aperture f/8 is generally recommended for capturing sharp, fine details of subjects that are a moderate distance away. For more details, read:
Aperture-Priority Technique #7: Aperture Settings for Sharp Depictions of Nightscapes





Tip 2: Keep light sources out of the frame

Ensuring that there are no light sources to draw attention away is another key point for capturing cherry blossoms beautifully at night. Particular care is needed when using a soft filter, as light sources will bleed into other areas of the image and stand out significantly. In the photo below, numerous lights in the peripheries are captured, competing with the cherry blossoms for the viewer’s attention.

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/2 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 500


MARUMI Foggilizer Filter for Cameras - Soft Effect Filter 77mm


For another tutorial on obtaining stunning photos of cherry blossom trees at night, check out:
Stunning Starscapes: Photographing a Spectacular View of Cherry Blossoms and the Milky Way at Night


Recommended lens when using f/8: EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Personally, I use the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, which allows reliable and smooth focusing even in dark locations. While images captured at a maximum aperture of f/4 are sufficiently sharp, if you narrow the aperture down to f/8, even the peripheries are captured beautifully.


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Hidehiko Mizuno

Hidehiko Mizuno

Born in 1968 in Kyoto. The works he has released centre on the beautiful scenery, and also the shrines and temples of Kyoto.