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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Sakura Petals in a Castle Moat: 3 Scene Variations to Capture in Hirosaki Park

2023-03-28
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6.06 k

Hirosaki Park is one of the most famous spots for sakura viewing in Japan’s northern Tohoku region. The site of the beautiful Hirosaki Castle, also has over 2,600 sakura trees of different varieties. One must-photograph scene is of floating sakura petals called “hana-ikada” (literally: “flower rafts”) blanketing the water in one of the castle moats. Of course, there is more than one way to capture the same scene. Landscape photographer Jiro Tateno shares three variations. (Reported by: Jiro Tateno, Digital Camera Magazine)

Location: Hirosaki Park, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
When to go: Later than peak season in places such as Kyoto/Tokyo. Generally, mid-April to early May. 
Due to its northern location, the sakura in Aomori bloom later than in regions further south, such as Tokyo and Kyoto. The images in this article were shot on 22 and 24 April.
Best timing: Any time.
The images in this article were shot in the morning, but the night-time light-up during sakura season also offers great photography opportunities!

In this article:

 

1. The classic landscape shot

EOS R5/ RF70-200mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 94mm/ Manual exposure (f/10, 1/60 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: 4,800K
Time of the day: 12:30pm
Other equipment: PL filter


Timing: Find freshly fallen petals

This scene is best photographed when the petals are freshly fallen. After some time, their colour becomes less appealing and they may also drift away.

Even when the sakura are in full bloom, it’s hard to predict when the petals will fall and blanket the moat as that depends on various environmental factors. To some extent, it’s about luck! But observation skills are also crucial, so take a walk around the moats, keep your eyes open, and look out for opportunities.

The image doesn’t look as exciting without the blanket of floating sakura petals.


Lens: Use a long focal length to exclude unnecessary elements

There are several moats in the castle where floating sakura petals may be photographed. However, they are usually flanked by walking paths and other buildings. They will end up in the frame if you use a wide-angle lens, especially if you are shooting from somewhere that doesn’t let you move closer to the sakura.

It’s good to have a longer lens with you when you visit. For the main shot above, I used a telephoto lens. I managed to crop out distractions at 94mm so that all attention would fall on the floating sakura petals in the water.

The walking path next to the moat was still in the frame at 81mm. I had to zoom in to at least 90mm to exclude it from the frame.

 

2. Variation 1: Slow-shutter silhouettes

EOS R5/ RF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 72mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 10 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: 4,800K
Time of the day: 10:12am
Other equipment: ND filter


Use an ND filter to capture the water movement

For this shot, I wanted to make use of the clean silhouettes of the sakura branches and blossoms that the late morning sun cast onto the thick layer of floating petals.

I happened to discover a spot where the water was swirling around in a spiral, and decided to incorporate it into the image, using a slow shutter to emphasise the spirals created by the water movement. The water was flowing so slowly that I had to use an ND filter to make the shutter speed sufficiently slow!


Shot at 1/100 sec

The spiral movement of the water isn’t obvious if the shutter speed is too fast. This image doesn’t look as dynamic.

 

3. Variation 2: A close-up that tells a story

EOS R5/ RF70-200mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/250 sec)/ ISO 320/ WB: 4,800K
Time of the day: 7:27am

The moats filled with floating flower petals are always such a highlight that there is no lack of photographs with them as the main subject. But if you observe closely, there are many other potential subjects that are unique to this season, or even to this specific time of the year when the sakura petals start to fall.

The subject of the photograph above is one of them. Instead of the usual picture of sakura blossoms in full bloom, I have captured the red calyxes that remain after most of the petals have fallen. Finding a branch that still has a few petals and framing it against the petal-filled moat in the background endows the image with deeper meaning and makes it tell a story.


Tip: Angle your camera so that the petal-filled waters form the background

The storytelling effect comes from putting the empty flower calyx and the sea of petals close together in the same frame to achieve a contrasting effect. The shot above has the same calyx against a normal background, and it looks less impactful.


Location: Hirosaki Park, Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Access: Hirosaki Park is easily accessible by a 20-minute public bus ride from the JR Hirosaki Station.

More information at:
JNTO: Hirosaki Castle
Hirosaki Park Official Site


For more sakura photography spots and useful tips, see:
Techniques for Dramatic Shots of Raining Flower Petals
Stunning Sakura Scenes in West Japan to Shoot with a Telephoto Lens
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (2)
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (3)
Photographing Cherry Blossoms: Should I Shoot Wide-angle or Telephoto?

About the Author

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Jiro Tateno

Born in Tokyo in 1975. From around 1990, he came into contact with nature through fly fishing, and took up photography. From 1999, he travelled around the country taking photos with the theme of "Natural Beauty". He currently supplies photos for magazines, books, posters, calendars, and so on. He held an "Okinawa" photo exhibition in 2010, and "Northern Lights - Journey of Light/ Iceland" photo exhibition in 2017.

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