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Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (1)

Spring in Japan is synonymous with cherry blossoms. But with differing best viewing times between regions, how can you go about photographing stunning images of the flowers? In Part 1 of this 2-part series, let's take a look at some scenic spots with flowers in full bloom from mid-March to early April and learn some tips on how to photograph them at their finest. (Reported by: Fumio Tomita, Makoto Hashimuki, Shirou Hagihara)


1: Isshingyo Grand Cherry Blossom Tree (Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu)

Increase the colour temperature with the WB to reproduce the morning light

This was a scene I captured of the cherry blossom tree struck by the first light of the morning. Because the colour temperature of light is low in the morning, colours such as red, orange and yellow are captured in a way that emphasizes the colour of the cherry blossoms overall together with the ambience of the morning. I decided on the angle to shoot at, after taking into account factors such as the shape of the tree, the amount of flowers, the position of the rapeseed flowers that typically bloom in the Japanese spring (lower part of the photo), and the background.

In the mornings and evenings when the light is weak, the morning ambience will not be depicted if shooting with AWB (Auto White Balance). However, by increasing the colour temperature in the WB settings of your camera, the redness of the image as a whole is increased, allowing you to depict the tree bathed in the morning or evening light. Do take note not to set the colour temperature too high, otherwise the photo will appear unnatural.

EOS-1Ds Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 95mm/ Manual exposure (f/18, 1/3 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: 7,000K
Photo by: Fumio Tomita/ Location: Minamiaso-mura, Aso-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture
Best viewing time: Late March/ Shooting time: 7:00 am


Negative example: When shot using AWB, the impact of the morning light is weakened

EOS-1Ds Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 95mm/ Manual exposure (f/16, 1/3 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Photo by: Fumio Tomita

When shot using AWB, the redness of the morning light is suppressed. Hence, although the original colours of the cherry blossoms are reproduced, the camera does not convey the visual impact of the large cherry blossoms enveloped in the morning light.


2: Ryuganbuchi, Uruigawa River (Shizuoka Prefecture, Central Honshu)

Reduce exposure to prevent blowouts in areas with snow

This photograph was taken at a location with cherry trees in the foreground and Mount Fuji towering in the background. Because the mist becomes thicker in spring, I would recommend shooting in the morning when the air is clearer. For maximum impact, it is also best to shoot when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. If you are not careful about the exposure though, your images of Mount Fuji’s snow-capped peak may be more susceptible to blowouts. So for better results, try reducing the exposure for your shoot.

Also, because this location becomes crowded with many photographers, use the telephoto end of your camera to cut the people out of your shots. There is a narrow bridge with high traffic volume, so be aware of your surroundings so as to avoid accidents.

EOS 6D/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 93mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/320 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Photo by: Makoto Hashimuki/ Location: Kuzawa, Fuji-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Best viewing time: Late March/ Shooting time: 11:00 am


Negative example: Including people in the frame turns the photo into a mere record of the scene at that point in time

EOS 6D/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 88mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/400 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Photo by: Makoto Hashimuki

If people are included in the frame, it becomes a descriptive shot, which merely shows what is on the scene. Choose your angle and shooting location so that people do not appear in your photos.


3: Gokanjoshi Park (Gunma Prefecture, Eastern Honshu)

Include cherry blossoms at the top and bottom to depict a sense of compactness

This shot was taken in the middle of a nature trail leading up the mountain. Mount Myogi appears sandwiched between the cherry blossoms below and above. Raising the height of the tripod to make the distance between the overhanging cherry blossoms and the mountain appear as close as possible fills up the empty space, depicting a sense of compactness. This results in an image that conveys the full, rich fragrance of the flowers in spring.

Moreover, placing the cherry tree vertically in the image to maximize the visibility of the branches emphasizes the mesmerizing beauty of the cherry blossoms as they are struck by the light from the evening sun. At the same time, a sense of altitude is brought out in the image, expressing the scale and grandeur of Mount Myogi.

When taking photos from this location, most people would compose their shots using only the mountain and the cherry blossoms below. While it is still possible to express the sense of scale by simply placing the mountains behind the cherry blossoms, the addition of overhanging cherry blossoms increases the appeal of the image and takes the presence of the blossoms to a whole new level.

Because sky in the background is bright, the camera will be impacted by the brightness when using auto exposure, causing the image to become darker. In order to depict the beauty of the cherry blossoms in this scene, it is necessary to make the image appear as you see it, or a little on the bright side. So for this shot, the exposure compensation was set to EV+1.0.

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/15 sec, EV+1.0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Shirou Hagihara/ Location: Nakagokan, Annaka-shi, Gunma Prefecture
Best viewing time: Early April/ Shooting time: 5:30 pm


Negative example 1: Placing cherry blossoms only in the bottom of the image lessens the attractiveness of the image

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/20 sec, EV-0.7)/ ISO 200/ WB: Manual
Photo by: Shirou Hagihara

When only placing the cherry blossoms in the bottom of the image, the sense of scale of the landscape as a whole increases, but the presence of the cherry blossoms is weakened.


Negative example 2: Without positive exposure compensation, the cherry blossoms appear darker

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/15 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Shirou Hagihara

Because the sky takes up a large part of the image, the cherry blossoms appear dark if exposure compensation is not used, and the attractiveness of the image is lost.

Where the spots are located: 


1: Isshingyo Grand Cherry Blossom Tree (Kumamoto Prefecture)
2: Ryuganbuchi, Uruigawa River (Shizuoka Prefecture)
3: Gokanjoshi Park (Gunma Prefecture)


In the next part, we will introduce the following scenic spots that reach full bloom a bit later, from mid- to end-April (in blue on the map):

- The Boat Houses of Ine (“Ine-no-funaya”) and Cherry Blossoms of Kaizoji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture, Western Honshu)
- Takada Park (Niigata Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)
- Kitakami Tenshochi Park (Iwate Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)
- Ageishi Fudo Cherry Blossoms  (Fukushima Prefecture, Northeastern Honshu)


For more tips and techniques about photographing cherry blossoms, check out:
Photographing Cherry Blossoms: Should I Shoot Wide-angle or Telephoto?
How to Capture Detailed but Dreamy-Looking Cherry Blossoms With a Soft Filter


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Makoto Hashimuki

Makoto Hashimuki

Born in 1977 in Shizuoka Prefecture, Hashimuki took up photography after purchasing a mirrorless camera in 2012. Fascinated by Mt. Fuji, he later purchased Canon’s EOS 6D and lenses to pursue more serious photography. His shots of Mount Fuji are featured in many publications in Japan, including photography magazines and calendars

Instagram: @hashimuki


Fumio Tomita

Fumio Tomita

Born in Tokyo. After graduating from Tokyo College of Photography, he studied under a mountain photographer, and later became a freelance photographer. He specializes in natural landscapes inside Japan.

Shirou Hagihara

Shirou Hagihara

Born in 1959 in Yamanashi. After graduating from Nihon University, Hagihara was involved in the launch of the photography magazine Fukei Shashin where he worked as an editor and a publisher. He later resigned and became a freelance photographer. Currently, Hagihara is engaged in photography and written works centring on natural landscapes. He is a member of the Society of Scientific Photography (SSP).

Digital Camera Magazine

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