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Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (2)

Following on from Part 1, this article introduces more famous cherry blossom viewing spots—this time, those that are best visited in mid to end April. We will also take a look at the photography techniques you can use to shoot cherry blossoms at night, and see the differences between those and the gorgeous blossoms that you see in the daytime. (Reported by: Takashi Nishikawa, Atsushi Malta, Masami Goto, Tatsuhiko Bin)


1: The Boat Houses of Ine (“Ine-no-funaya”) and Cherry Blossoms of Kaizoji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture, Western Honshu)

Evening cherry blossoms can be depicted in detail just before or after sunset, while it is not too dark

One cherry blossom spot in Kyoto that is well-known among locals (but less so to foreign visitors) is the single cherry tree which is lit up at night at Kaizoji Temple in Ine Bay. Flanked by the boat houses that seem to float on the waters of the bay, it makes for a surprisingly picturesque scene especially at night.

The key to getting the best shots of the boat houses and the cherry tree in a single shot is to shoot from the opposite bank. Because you will not be able to depict the details when it becomes completely dark, try shooting using underexposure at twilight. Setting the white balance to "Daylight" caused the image to turn out overly blue, so "Auto" was used to retain just a slight bluish colour.

During twilight, setting the white balance to "Daylight" or "Auto" creates a visually more dramatic finish.

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 79mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 10 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Photo by Takashi Nishikawa/ Location: Ine-cho, Yosa-gun, Kyoto Prefecture
Best viewing time: Mid-April/ Shooting time: 7:00 pm


Negative example: Using the "Shade" white balance setting makes the image less dramatic

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 79mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 10 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Shade
Photo by Takashi Nishikawa

If the white balance is set to "Shade", the image appears close to what it actually looks like in terms of the colour temperature, and the warm tones in the cherry blossoms is increased. However, the overall dramatic feel is lessened.


2: Takada Park (Niigata Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)

Position the subjects symmetrically next to each other to make both subjects stand out

The moat, which is not easily affected by wind, is ideal for images that make use of the reflection on the water’s surface. I wanted to create an impressive image of the cherry blossoms at night, so I directly faced the castle and cherry tree that were reflected in the water, and composed the shot by finding their point of symmetry. By doing so, I was able to show both subjects impressively in the image. The ideal shooting time is in the evening, after sunset, when the reflection in the water stands out more.

Although the key point are the reflections of the castle and cherry tree in the water, the image will appear ordinary if taken from a diagonal point of view. Moreover, the image looked cluttered with tourists on the left side, so I left that part out of the frame.

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 13 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 320/ WB: White Fluorescent Light
Photo by Atsushi Malta/ Location: Motoshiro-cho, Joetsu-shi, Niigata Prefecture
Best viewing time: Mid-April/ Shooting time: 7:30 pm


Shot from another angle: The image looks ordinary when taken from a diagonal perspective

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 28mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 10 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 200/ WB: White Fluorescent Light
Photo by Atsushi Malta

This shot was taken with the same mirror effect. While the lines of the moat do depict a sense of perspective and it still makes a nice photo, this is a very common composition that is often used--not the best choice if you're hoping to create a unique photo!


3: Kitakami Tenshochi Park (Iwate Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)

Boldly cover the sky with a tunnel of cherry blossoms, and let the oblique rays of the early morning bring out a sense of three-dimensionality

Because there are a lot of tourists around when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, aim to shoot in the early morning when few people are around. While it is a good idea to capture the expansiveness and depth in the scene with a wide-angle lens, I would recommend using a slightly telephoto angle of view to capture the flowers more densely and bring out the gorgeousness of the cherry blossoms. Furthermore, I searched for an angle where the whole sky appeared to be filled with cherry blossoms.

When shooting at this location, the finish of your photos will vary depending on the weather, the time of shooting, and how the light enters the frame. Particularly when shooting in the early morning in good weather, the soft shadows formed by the oblique rays will give your photos a quaint finish. The shadows on the path also make it easier to express a sense of three-dimensionality.

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 88mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/20 sec, EV+1.0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight
Photo by Masami Goto/ Location: Tachibana, Kitakami-shi, Iwate Prefecture
Best viewing time: End of April/ Shooting time: 7:00 am


Negative example: If there is no light, the picture looks flat

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 73mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/10 sec, EV+1.0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by Masami Goto

With a cloudy sky, the whole image becomes flat. And without the depth provided by the path or the sense of three-dimensionality provided by the cherry blossoms, it is difficult to create an image of the tunnel of blossoms.


4: Ageishi Fudo Cherry Blossoms (Fukushima Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)

The compression effect of a telephoto lens brings out volume in the cherry blossoms, allowing you to take beautiful shots in the evening light

The roughly 350-year-old tree of the prunus pendula species has flowers with deep colours. These blossoms, known as "Fudo cherry blossoms (Fudozakura)", are surrounded by rapeseed flowers, such that you can shoot them from various angles. The Fudo cherry blossoms are popular, with their imposing air, and make for a most beautiful when captured in the evening light. I would recommend choosing the angle and timing carefully for this.

For this shot I attempted to create a work focusing on the combination of the cherry tree with the shrine behind them. I made the most of the evening light and the compression effect of the telephoto lens to successfully bring out the volume in the flowers. Moreover, I made sure to reproduce the colour of the beautiful flowers, using a PL filter so as to avoid white blowout.

EOS-1Ds Mark III/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 252mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/9, 1/80 sec, EV-0.7)/ ISO 200/ WB: 6,000K
Photo by Tatsuhiko Bin/ Location: Nakata-machi, Koriyama-shi, Fukushima Prefecture
Best viewing time: End of April/ Shooting time: 5:00 pm


Negative example: The shrine stands out more than the cherry blossoms

EOS-1Ds Mark III/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 269mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/40 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 250/ WB: 5,200K
Photo by Tatsuhiko Bin

The shrine stands out too much, making the cherry blossoms look weak. I would recommend reviewing the shooting position and angle to make the cherry blossoms stand out more.

Where the spots are located:


1: The Boat Houses of Ine (“Ine-no-funaya”) and Cherry Blossoms of Kaizoji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture)
2: Takada Park (Niigata Prefecture)
3: Kitakami Tenshochi Park (Iwate Prefecture)
4: Ageishi Fudo Cherry Blossoms (Fukushima Prefecture)

Regions coloured in blue have covered in Part 1.


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Takashi Nishikawa

Takashi Nishikawa

Born in Nara Prefecture in 1965, Nishikawa graduated from the Broadcasting & Movie Department of Visual Arts Osaka Professional Total Creative School. He self-studied photography, and worked at a commercial video production company and a professional photo printing lab before finally becoming a freelance photographer. A member of the Japan Nature Scenery Photograph Association (JNP).

Atsushi Malta

Atsushi Malta

Born in 1968. Malta now makes night photography around the world his life's work, and is active in photography series in newspapers/online, magazines, weekly gravure publications, photo exhibitions, and nightscape photography-related websites.

Masami Goto

Masami Goto

Born in Hokkaido in 1955, Goto started taking photos of the Daisetsuzan mountains in 1978 alongside commercial photography assignments. In 1984, he began travelling all around Hokkaido as a freelance photographer, documenting and photographing its natural landscapes. He currently photographs landscapes all over Japan, with a focus on the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions.

Tatsuhiko Bin

Tatsuhiko Bin

Born in Tokyo in 1958. Bin mainly shoots natural landscapes in mountain villages in Japan, and supplies photos to calendars, advertisements, and various magazines.