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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon Z6 - Night Cherry Blossom Photography

I had been to Japan numerous times (more then 15+ occassions but mostly for business) yet I have not had the opportunity to witness the cherry blossoms aka Sakura Season.

Sakura season is also synonymous with the practice of "Hanami" which is the centuries-old practice of drinking under a blooming Sakura tree.

I decided that it was time for me to finally witness Sakura and decide for myself if it was really such a spectacle. For this hastily decided trip , my main priority was to photograph Mount Fuji so I only planned 1 day & night to photograph Sakura in Tokyo while hoping for more at the Mount Fuji area (alas that was not to be for this trip).

For this blog , I will focus on my experience photographing cherry blossoms at night.

Cherry Blossoms against the Lanterns at Asakusa

ISO3200 , 1/100s , f5.0 , 28mm focal length

Hand-Held , Bracketed , Blend of 2 captures (1 for Cherry Blossom , 1 for Lanterns)

Hardware Used

Nikon Z 6 Mirrorless camera

Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4.0S

Cherry Blossoms framing the Pagoda at Asakusa

ISO6400 , 1/200s , f7.1 , 40mm focal length

Hand-Held , Single Capture

Setup / Techniques & Insights

1. Hand-Holding

Most convenient way to photograph due to the potential of huge crowds enjoying the spectacle. Using a tripod would be mostly a disaster and slow one down significantly.

2. Using high ISOs between ISO1600 to 6400 would be pretty normal

This would help accomodate a fast enough hand-holding shutter speed and a good Depth Of Field when needed

3. Focal Lengths of between 24mm to 70mm would be the most practical

For this night series , I only used a 24-70mm lens and if I needed wider , I would employ the technique of creating panoramas

4. Photograph in RAW especially if you do not prefer to digitally blend

All of my images shared in this blog were captured in JPEG FINE* format , that would be because I would employ high speed in-camera bracketing to execute two shot brackets which the Z 6 is perfectly capable of when I needed to.

In many cases , even photographing in RAW would be incapable of capturing the full dynamic range , for example the bright lanterns versus the dimly lit cherry blossoms. So bracketing would be a very useful technique to apply.

5. Multiple-Exposure

This would be a great technique to employ especially at night with the dark sky. I used it in the shot below to position the blossoms from a different capture strategically based on the composition I wanted. For those using the Z Series cameras , turning on the overlay option will help greatly in composing !

Cherry Blossoms framing the Pagoda at Asakusa

ISO6400 , 1/200s , f7.1 , 40mm focal length for the pagoda and blossoms on the left

ISO6400 , 1/60s , f7.1 , 40mm focal length for the cherry blossoms on the right of the image


2 shot multiple-exposure

Cherry Blossoms against the Lanterns at Asakusa

ISO4000 , 1/100s , f8.0 (for the blossoms)

ISO4000 , 1/500s , f8.0 , 39mm focal length (for the lanterns)

Hand-Held , Bracketed , Blend of 2 captures (1 for Cherry Blossom , 1 for Lanterns)

Cherry Blossoms against the Lanterns at Asakusa

ISO3200 , 1/100s , f8.0 (for the blossoms)

ISO10000 , 1/30s , f5.0 , 35mm focal length (for Tokyo Skytree)

Hand-Held , Bracketed , Blend of 2 captures

Another example where bracketing would be a must. Tokyo Skytree was a distance aways and so dimly lit vs. the blossoms which were like 10 feet away from me. The difference in exposure was huge.

Night Cherry Blossoms at MEGURO RIVER

This location was incredible and SO crowded (maybe that was because I was there on a Sunday evening ?).

The popular POVs were packed , that it was shoulder to shoulder and potentially you could be 2 to 3 rows from the front when shooting a scene. To get your shot , hand-holding would definitely be the best & most efficient option.

Of course , there were photographers using tripods , taking up much wanted space and occupying the spot for a long time but to me it was not the right thing to do.

So enjoy the scenes captured from MEGURO River. This is one location where you will also see the practice of "Hanami" with the younger couples. Most of them were holding glasses of alcoholic and/or non-alcoholic champagne and enjoying themselves. The champagne vendors were definitely doing brisk business.

Tip : This shot was captured by intentionally using very slow shutter speed of 1.3 seconds to create motion blur. The Z 6 in-camera stabilisation capability helped me in capturing a sharp image even at that shutter speed. As an added insurance, I also captured the scene using a high speed burst.

Tip : This shot was a panorama creation from a 3 shots capture

Photographing cherry blossoms at night was definitely an experience. Photographically I found it extremely enjoyable , not because of the scenes itself but more because of the dynamic range & the compositional challenges !!

My 1 solitary night was of course not sufficient by any means and there are so many more beautiful sakura locations to photograph at night. This will definitely not be my last time. More to come next year.

Look out for my next blog on photographing sakura in the day which provides a different challenge altogether.

Till then ......... cheers , Andrew

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