Cherry Blossom Season

Under a Canopy of Petals

Peggy Weatherford of Sterling takes engagement announcement shots of Remay Hernandez and Michael Feldman of Ashburn.
Peggy Weatherford of Sterling takes engagement announcement shots of Remay Hernandez and Michael Feldman of Ashburn. "So much can go wrong" trying to get the perfect shot during cherry blossom time, Weatherford said. (Composite Photo By Jay Premack -- The Washington Post)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 10, 2006

As the petals fall from the cherry trees and form pink drifts at city curbs, there is one group of people who will slump over, exhausted and relieved the blossom season is over and the official festival ended yesterday: wedding photographers.

The ultimate Washington photo op that lasts but a few, fleeting days can be hellish for wedding shooters. Many have come to dread those days when their couples call en masse and they must battle the capricious nature of the cherry tree bloom, 50,000 people at the Tidal Basin, brides who don't want to sully their trains and pairs whose loving moods don't intersect with blossoms' peak.

"On one hand, we always get beautiful, beautiful pictures with the blossoms. But it is so hard. So much can go wrong," photographer Peggy Weatherford said. "It's a love/hate thing with the blossoms."

Often, you'll see the photographers early in the morning, sometimes at 6, fighting sunrise crowds and straining to pluck dreamy looks from the betrothed who just got up, just got into a fight or just don't feel like making goo-goo eyes at each other.

That was the case one year: The blossoms were stunning, but by the time the couple made their way through the traffic and the crowd of thousands, they were deep into a quarrel. They wouldn't look at each other. They hardly wanted to touch. It was headed for disaster, Weatherford remembered.

"We finally found some blossoms that were so heavy, they were dipping into the water -- it was so beautiful," she recalled. "We told the couple to take their shoes off, roll up their pants and dip their feet in the water. We took a picture of their reflection, and it was just perfect. You couldn't see the pinched look on their faces."

Other photographers don't even want to go there.

"I usually discourage couples from going. They really have to twist my arm to go down to the Tidal Basin," said Charles Jablow, who has been a photographer in Washington for almost three decades. "I tell them: 'Everybody will be in your engagement photos. They're going to walk through there with orange shirts and red shirts and it's going to ruin the composition.' "

Thomas Van Veen is one of the photographers who doesn't frequent the Tidal Basin much, yet "I still go down there 10 or 15 times a year."

He was there Wednesday night and created quite a stir.

One of his brides, fed up with the family politics of wedding planning, had had enough. With less than a week's notice, she donned her full wedding regalia (veil and all), grabbed her groom, a minister and Van Veen, and headed to the Tidal Basin to elope.

"It was just a five-minute ceremony, but there were tons of people all over, and everyone was taking pictures of us," Van Veen said. "A bunch of Japanese tourists were milling about, getting in the photos. We just had to know the crowds were going to be part of it."

Some brides are less spontaneous and plan far ahead. In weddingland, this is the one time that tactic may not pay off.

One year, Weatherford was stuck with a shoot date that one fastidious bride insisted on, despite the best predictions of the chief horticulturalist for the cherry blossom peak.

"The day was horrible -- it was a howling wind, a gale. It was, like, 30 degrees," Weatherford recalled. "The blossoms weren't even open yet. Just these bare branches."

And there are times when the trees are simply perfect, and that's the problem.

More than once, after wrangling the photo equipment and the couple to the right spot, Jablow was met with a clueless groom who had agreed to the shoot but was horrified when faced with the pinkness of it all for his solo shot.

"I've had grooms say 'No way,' they don't want to be in front of the cherry blossoms alone. It's unmanly, all the pink," Jablow said. "So we got this one groom and moved him by a gnarled tree with lots of interesting branches. It was very manly. He was happy."

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