Tokyo Cherry Blossom/ Sakura Photoshoot: Expectation vs reality
Sakura season is fast approaching again, which means I’m starting to get enquiries for taking photos during Sakura season. For many people, this will be their first time taking photos during Sakura season... or first time to Japan for that matter. Due to unfamiliarity, many of them relies on the internet to find famous sakura spots, fell in love with one/two particular places and contacted me to take their pictures in their chosen spot. The problem is, not all of the famous spots are suitable for taking sakura photoshoot.
The biggest problem: Crowd. Tokyo is already one of the most dense cities in the world. But during peak sakura season, not only the locals, but tourists from all over the world come out to enjoy the park. Just to get in to a park during a peak sakura season in the midday will take 20-30 minutes due to the crowd looking to get in. In parks where there is no official operating hours and people can come in anytime, the locals start reserving spots by laying mats as early as 3-4 am. That is just how crazy the situation is. Unless done properly, chances are you will end up taking photos of people, not sakura.
So how can you take nice pictures of yourself with clear background of Sakura? The two important considerations are timing and space.
Timing: the earlier the better. The best sakura pictures I have taken are done around 7 or 7:30 am, when the main sakura crowd are not yet appearing. This is also when most of those great Tokyo sakura photos you saw floating around the net are taken. Even then, in parks opening 24 hours like Ueno park this is sometimes still not good enough, as even without the crowd you will see blue mats everywhere, ruining the pictures. Another trick is to aim for the opening hour for parks with operating hours, meaning 9 am for most of these parks. If you line up 20-30 minutes before the opening, you’ll be the first in line and claim the best spots, and take pictures before the main crowd gets it.
Note: For those hiring photographer for short 1-2 hours session, things like taking photo of boat rowing on the lake during sakura season like in Chidorigafuchi is not suitable. This is due to the queue sometimes stretching 2-3 hours making it impossible to predict the timing of when you can get on the boat. Vacation photographers like me will have multiple sessions in a day during Sakura season and it is hard for us to adjust our schedule depending on your queue.
Another consideration: Space. Some places like Nakameguro are great for seeing Sakura, but not the best place for taking pictures as they are located along two narrow roads. Everyone has to walk through the same routes. Same with a few other parks where you have to follow certain prescribed routes. You can never avoid the crowd there and stop to take photo as long as you wish. The best place is large parks with lots of space which allow people to move freely. The larger the groups are, the more important the consideration that needs to be paid here.
My recommendation is for you to be flexible talk to your photographer and leave the location choice to them. As a local, they will know the trick or even secret place like local parks not frequented by tourists. Those smaller local places are sometimes better than the popular but crowded places for photo taking purpose. This is especially more important if your/their schedule only allows for shoots later in the morning/ afternoon.
In my case, most of the time I will aim to reserve a nice spot under the Sakura tree in a park like Shinjuku Gyoen first thing in the morning, and take 2-3 sessions at the same spot with different clients there. That way, even with later clients I can still get some nice pictures on that spot. But this does require cooperation/ flexibility from clients’ part too. Hence, while I will try my utmost to fulfill clients’ request, in case they insist to choose a spot which I think is unsuitable and I do not have confidence in being able to take decent photos on their chosen time/ place, I may have to refuse the session to keep a certain standard.
Here are some of my favorite places for sakura photoshoot:
My all time favorite. Lots of spaces, free to move around, 9 am opening hour allowing for us to come relatively late and get good spot, and various other non-Sakura spots to take photos on! And central location in the middle of Tokyo!
Another favorite, big park lawn combining sakura and Tokyo Tower in the background, and also a nearby temple allowing you to get all the essence of Tokyo in 1 spot!
Still a relatively good choice for a shoot in early weekday morning, with relatively large lawn allowing you to combine sakura with a glimpse of traditional Japan at nearby Meiji Shrine or hip scenes at Harajuku. However midday onwards this location is impossible.
Combining large space, sakura trees with scenic waterfront location and beach, you can get almost everything here. Note though that due to the distance from other popular areas, during weekdays and super peak period I might not be able to accommodate a shoot here.