Japanese Tea Garden – Portrait Locations

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden – Portrait Locations in San Antonio

I think I have a love/hate relationship with the Japanese Tea Garden. This was one of the first locations that I shot an engagement session at 10 years ago when I moved here. First, the things that I love. It’s beautiful. There are rock walls that are visually interesting and different. The huge stone gazebo is just a marvel that I could stare at for hours, noticing the intricate work that went into its construction. The variety of plants, trees and flowers is one of the best I’ve ever seen. They have Asian plants and flowers that you just don’t see much in South Texas. It’s a huge variety of colors, textures, and light. You can shoot pictures on the bridge, and then move just 20 feet, and have an incredibly different atmosphere and background. There are huge Koi ponds with fish that MUST weigh 20 lbs swimming around. I swear some of the Koi look like they could jump out of the water and take off someone’s arm.

What I HATE:
The first time I went here, (and the majority of the times after that) as soon as I walk onto the property with my large camera and lens, someone jumps out and says (or shouts) “Where is your Photography Permit!?” The tone they seem to use is similar to watching the old WWII movies where the German Gestapo asks “Papers!?” and holds out their hand. Yeah, I get it. They require a permit for professional photographers. (if you have a crappy point and shoot camera, no one will say a word, but if you have a Canon or Nikon DSLR, get ready for the permit nazi) The permit is not expensive, or hard to get. I think it’s $20 and you can pay for it online from their website: http://www.saparksfoundation.org/japaneseteagarden.html

It’s crowded. I should know by now, not to schedule a portrait session at the Japanese Tea Garden on a Sunday evening. You couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting three portrait photographers. I’m not exaggerating. You literally have to stand in line and wait your turn to shoot at several different areas (the bridge and waterfall). This doesn’t bother some people.

The Climb. You better be in shape for a session at the Japanese Tea Garden. Wear comfortable shoes. Ladies, don’t wear spike heels under that dress or gown… hiking boots would be better. There are lots of stone steps. You’re going deep into what used to be a stone quarry. You’ll feel like you hiked 5 miles when you’re done. Check the weather, if it’s going to be 95 degrees with 90% humidity, you might want to re-think the Japanese Tea Garden.

Spring 2014 problems: Back in February, we had a freeze. Temps dipped into the 20’s, which is pretty rare for South Texas. Another photographer told me that some of the pipes that feed the waterfall (a great looking background) shattered from the freeze. The photographer that told me this had a session there in April, and guess what? The waterfall was still broken, and most of the plants were dead or dying from not being watered. They didn’t tell this to the people who were booking sessions there. I had a client want a portrait shoot there in June. Surprise, surprise, the waterfall was still broken, and most of the water ponds were drained and dry. I don’t know who is at fault for this, but I suspect it’s the city parks department. I realize they only have so much money and so many people for doing repairs around the city. I try to warn clients to not expect anything to be working or in good repair at this location. The $20 photography permit seems pretty reasonable, but after my last session there, I don’t think my client got their money’s worth. On the good side,… having a photographer like me, I can make a portrait session in a parking lot look good. This is a very popular location for doing Quinceanera Portraits

Your mileage may vary.

Leave A Comment