Yoshiki Nakamura’s picture of University of Washington cherry trees on a rainy night grew from the ‘yozakura’ rite of his homeland.

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In Japan, a cherry-blossom-time tradition called “yozakura” involves viewing the flowering trees at night. Historically, the only lighting would be moonlight, but nowadays trees are lit electrically.

“Maybe you’ll see a party under the trees, people drinking sake and eating sushi,” explains Tokyo-born Yoshiki Nakamura, now a Seattle resident, whose idea of re-creating the concept led to his grand prize in Seattle Times Reader Photos of the Year judging for 2017.

One difference: Nakamura adapted the idea to Seattle by staging his nighttime photo in the pouring rain.

Reader Photos of the Year 2017

(Yoshiki Nakamura)

He captured the image last April at the University of Washington’s cherry-tree-crowded quadrangle, creating a photo that is unique among the many that photographers from all walks of life shoot there each spring.

Nakamura, who turns 68 this month, immigrated with his wife and daughter to Seattle in 1994 during his aircraft-industry career, including work as a director of engineering for Japan Airlines. He retired in 2015 from Everett-based Jamco America, which specializes in aircraft interiors.

He got into photography in 2001 with the growing dominance of digital cameras, which allow “anyone to learn the skills very quickly,” he says.

When he started, Nakamura set out with the ambition of becoming the best photographer in Seattle. Nature photography has been his forté. Look at his Facebook page or photo website, and you’ll see evidence of regular outings such as raft trips to photograph eagles on the Skagit River, or guided snowshoe outings on Mount Rainier.

He tempers pride with humility.

“My photography is 50 percent preparation, 25 percent technique and knowledge of how to use the equipment — and 25 percent is what I call the photo god,” Nakamura says with a wry smile. “I capture many images that I can’t believe I was able to capture.”

For example, once when he was photographing a full moon interposed with the top of the Space Needle, using a telephoto lens to make the moon huge, a distant jet crossed his view of the moon. He captured the tiny silhouetted plane in his image. It was featured in The Seattle Times.

He has contributed for years to the Times’ Reader’s Lens feature, but he’s never before won the top prize. His hobby fuels a web-based business, Seattle Digital Photography, though he explains, “I don’t do this for a living, this is my passion.”

To get the winning photo on the UW quad, Nakamura displayed his talent with lighting.

He said the models in the photo are a “photography friend” and his children. The center person stood in front of tripods holding two remotely operated flash units, one facing the camera to impart a sort of silver lining to the people, and the other lighting up the cherry trees and raindrops. (In the winning photo in the gallery above, look closely to spy the tripod legs.)

A third remote flash to the photographer’s left lit the models’ faces. Nakamura stood at the bottom of a small staircase, so the camera looked up from a dramatic angle.

“I experimented with several angles to get the raindrops to light up,” he says. “I’m trying to apply my engineering approach to photography with some artistic results.”

When magnified, the raindrops in this winning frame (and not others) showed a streaky quality he liked.

“I don’t know why — it’s mysterious,” he ponders, wondering if the flash was faulty. “I need to analyze it. Or maybe it was my photo god.”