A Photography Trip to Holland in Springtime to see the tulips and bulb fields

As a photographer any trip anywhere whether it is commissioned or not is a photography tour to me.  This past weekend I was given the opportunity to go to Holland for a four day trip to pick up a car and drive it back to Paris. The destination was near Alkmaar which I know is not far from the bulb fields and I jumped at the opportunity. I have been to Holland many times but never in the spring during tulip time.  Exciting!

It is easy to get to Amsterdam, which is a springboard to most of Holland.  We arrived in Alkmaar in the mid afternoon and took a tour around.  It was rather cold and cloudy so I was slightly concerned about the amount of tulips there would be in bloom. We were assured that the place to go and see them was Keukenhof, a 32 hectare garden with over 7 million bulbs planted.

Our short time in Holland meant that we would have to go over the weekend which was certainly going to be crowded but it was the only option. The better forecast was for Sunday so we prepared ourselves for the crowds and joined the tens of thousands of other visitors from all over the world who come to see this extraordinary sight.  I tend to prefer natural landscapes to planned ones and detest crowded places but it was sensational.  The gardens were big enough to accommodate the masses and well laid out so that it was possible to take photographs without too many people in the shots.  As in all photography it just requires patience!

Everyone had a camera or was taking pictures with their phone, and a number of people had some pretty impressive equipment.  I only took my Fuji XE2 and a small zoom with me, which I regret!  I am always saying how wonderful it is to carry something so small and light and obtain such great results BUT a telephoto would have been welcome as would a macro lens, all of which of course I have at home in Paris!  My advice is if you have the equipment bring it, and put it in a comfortable back pack as you will be walking most of the day.  You can easily put the bag down and take out the required lens. Also, give yourself the whole day there, as it takes at least 4 hours to get around all of the gardens and that is without stopping too much for the pictures. 

I have never seen tulips of so many varieties and colours in my life.  The garden itself was spectacular, with waterways and trees in blossom and carpets of flowers of every shape ablaze with colours in every hue.  The garden boasts a windmill overlooking a canal and the tulip fields beyond.  Unfortunately a lot of the tulip fields were not yet out in bloom, although the middle 2 weeks of April are supposed to be the best.  I will come back next year a week or so later and just do the fields.   There was the possibility to take a boat tripalong the canal behind the gardens, which we took and it was pleasant but we were a little low in the water to see the bulbs properly and rather than doing a loop so we could be amongst the fields it just went to a certain point and then turned round the way we came so photography wise, it was limited although with a telephoto lens the result would have been much better.  The weather behaved itself and we were treated to some sunny spells and only had one downpour that only lasted some 20 minutes. 

We did go to other bulb fields north of Alkmaar on the road to Den Helder and saw some in bloom in Calllantsoog.  A lot of the tulips were not out yet and the day was grey with a strong wind blowing, none the less it was a gorgeous site and offered a lot of photo opportunities.  I can imagine what it will look in a weeks time and wish I were able to go back.  A drone would be a great idea….

Here are a few photography tips for photographing flowers.  If you want to show depth of field remember to set your f stop to around f16.  Make sure that your shutter speed to high enough.  This may mean that you have to set the ISO at around 1000 so that you do not get camera blur.  My XE2 can be hand held as low as 1/15th second and I have had sharp photos at 1/8th but I would not recommend this.  It is best to have a shutter speed of at least at a 1/60th or higher depending on the lens you use.  Conversely, to isolate a flower it is the opposite you need to do, use a high f stop such as 4 or even 2.8 or less, which will find you at a higher shutter speed such as 1/250th or more which is no problemand allows you to lower the ISO until you find the right combination.  Slower shutter speeds are the problem.  The longer the lens the faster you should be.  It is the different effects of the photos that will make your images and body of work stand out. Lastly, it’s windy in Holland and the flowers move so if they are blowing in the wind you should bear this in mind and also go for higher shutter speeds unless you are looking for a blurry effect.

Holland has so much to offer the visitor and the photographer.  It is no wonder that so many great painters hail from there and that it remains a country of artists. I find it very photogenic in all seasons.  I love the picturesque pasturelands with grazing animals, interspersed with canals, the dikes, the windmills and its beautiful wind swept beaches backed by grassy dunes and the changing sky.   I love the architecture too, and it’s many pretty towns and villages and the profusion of bicycles and walkers, the famers markets selling their local produce and the cheese fairs, I love it’s icy winters too.  It is without a doubt a perfect destination for landscape photography.  I think that I will work on a photography workshop for 2017 that encompasses the bulb fields, the windmills, cheese fairs and general landscape photography.