Travel Photography Tips from Amsterdam

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Note:  This article originally appeared, in part, in the September edition of the official Fujifilm X Magazine that publishes on the iPad.   I was asked to share 8-10 photographs from a recent trip to Amsterdam, and to offer some travel or photography tips with each photograph that could assist people learning about travel photography.  As this content wasn’t created exclusively for the magazine I thought I’d share it here in its entirety.   I hope you like it!

PHOTO ONE (SEEN ABOVE)

Settings:

  • Fujifilm X100t with the Wide Conversion Lens (WCL-X100) on my travel tripod
  • f/8 at 28 seconds at ISO 200

Thoughts:

Whenever I travel I want to tell the story of the location I am visiting.  A final photo essay from a trip usually includes photographs of iconic landmarks, people, and of the little detail shots that tie the story together.  I spend a lot of time before photography related trips doing research, so I have a good idea of what I want to shoot when I get on the ground.  This location is perhaps the most photographed part of Amsterdam.  It beautifully highlights the canals, the bridges, the architecture, and the way the city is lit up at night.

The funny thing about photos like this is that the most difficult part is getting to the right place, at the right time.  Once my camera is set up on my tripod I simply set my ISO to its lowest setting, set my aperture to capture the depth of field I want, and let my shutter speed fall where it needs to be.  The only other technical detail is that I use a remote or the built in timer to take the photograph to prevent any camera shake.  It is important to me to keep it simple, because I want to cherish the experience and not be obsessed with my camera settings.  Sitting with a good friend that night, taking photos of that beautiful location, is a memory I will have for a long time.  It’s great to have the final image, but photography should never ruin the experience of traveling.

PHOTO TWO

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Settings:
  • Fujifilm X100t with the Wide Conversion Lens (WCL-X100) on my travel tripod
  • f/8 at 20 seconds at ISO 200

Thoughts:

When the beautiful post sunset blue light is gone I usually stop shooting, but I found Amsterdam to be different.  They light the city so well that I often continued shooting deep into the evening (this photo was taken soon after I took photo number one above).  I shifted location to make a different frame, and also shifted into a contrasty black and white film simulation as the sky had little detail left in it.  This also helps give the photo a timeless look in my eyes.

PHOTO THREE

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Settings:

  • Fujifilm X100t
  • f/5.6 at 1/125th at ISO 400

Thoughts:

When I am just walking around a city I tend to leave my camera in Aperture Priority Mode, and I also use Auto ISO.  This allows my camera to handle the technicals for me, and lets me focus on finding my compositions.  On this wet day the sky was horrible, so I knew the chances of there being beautiful light and colour were quite low.  With this in mind, I set my camera to one of the black and white film simulations and focused on finding storytelling detail shots instead of the epic cityscapes I might go for in better light.

I call this a storytelling travel photograph because it immediately gives you a sense of place:  The writing on the sign, the bicycle, the canal, the church, the buildings… it is a photograph that helps you feel what winter or early spring in Amsterdam must be like

PHOTO FOUR

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Settings:
  • Fujifilm X100t on my travel tripod
  • f/10 at 20 seconds at ISO 200

Thoughts:

Amsterdam is definitely known for its iconic canals and bridges.  During my pre-trip research I read that there were over 100km of canals and over 1,500 bridges.  I knew that meant a lot of my photos would feature the canals, but also that I needed to ensure I focused on other parts of the city  too so that I could tell a complete story.

This photo is of a small square in Amsterdam called Rembrandtplein,  named after the famous painter.  The centrepiece of the square is a large sculptural representation of Rembrandt’s famous “The Night Watch” painting, but today the area is more commonly known for it’s clubs, bars, and restaurants.  The square comes alive at night, offering a plethora of photographic opportunities.  This photo also allowed me to cover another important storytelling aspect of Amsterdam, which is the legal use of marijuana at the local coffee shops.

PHOTO FIVE

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Settings:
  • Fujifilm X100t with the Tele Conversion Lens (TCL-X100)
  • f/5.6 at 1/1,000th at ISO 2000

Thoughts:

The Netherlands are famous for their Tulips, so I knew I needed to have them in my final photo essay.  This proved more difficult than you would have thought because we were there before the Tulip season.  I finally found these ones at a small florist, sitting outside on display.  It was incredibly windy, so I had to increase my ISO to 2000 to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the Tulips as they blew around in the wind.

It is important to trust your camera.  I feel very comfortable shooting up to ISO 3200 on the Fuji X series, and will go higher if it is needed.  The important thing is to get the picture.

PHOTO SIX

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Settings:
  • Fujifilm X100t with the Wide Conversion Lens (WCL-X100) on my travel tripod
  • f/16 at 20 seconds at ISO 200

Thoughts:

This is another iconic location in Amsterdam, where I knew I needed to make a beautiful blue hour shot.  The weather didn’t cooperate for the first few days, but I went back to it a few times until I had the image I saw in my mind.  Pre-trip research helps you plan out your shots, and tenacity will get you the rest.  If a photo is important to you, and if you have the time, it is worth going back until you get the image you want.

PHOTO SEVEN

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Settings:
  • Fujifilm X100t
  • f/8 at 1/250th at ISO 200

Thoughts:

This is actually the exact same location where photo number three was taken, but on a day where the weather was beautiful.  The photo feels totally different with blue sky, sunshine, and light reflecting off of the buildings and water.  I often will take different photos at the same location if I can.  I’d rather grab more than I need while I am on location and make my final selections during the editing process.  In this case I loved both photos, for different reasons.  I think together they help tell a more complete story of Amsterdam.

PHOTO EIGHT

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Settings:

  • Fujifilm X100t with the Wide Conversion Lens (WCL-X100) on my travel tripod
  • f/8 at 1/1,000th at ISO 1250

Thoughts:

When I am out shooting street photography I often find a background first, then wait for an authentic person to enter the scene.  By authentic, I mean a person who fits the locale and helps tell my story.

I loved this spot on this little wooden bridge, where I could look down the canal toward the church.  I manually focused on the railing at f/8, and increased my ISO until I could get a fast shutter speed to capture people moving through the scene.  I probably spent an hour or so photographing people here and this lady with the umbrella, lost in thought, was my favourite image from those photos.

PHOTO NINE

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Settings:

  • Fujifilm X100t
  • f/8 at 1/250th at ISO 3200

Thoughts:

Here is another example of finding authentic settings and authentic people to help tell your visual story.  I love this gentleman walking through the scene, wearing his hat with his hands clasped behind his back.  The buildings reflected in the window, and the writing on the glass and on the menus, also helps to promote a sense of place.

If you are shooting people walking through a scene like this pay particular attention to the timing of their steps.  You want to catch your subject at full stride, rather than mid stride where they have one leg bent up in the air like a flamingo.  Catching them at the right stride makes the photo look more natural and pleasing.

In Summary…

Travel is a wonderful thing, and travel photography provides us with the opportunity to share memories of our travel experiences with others.  The end goal of my travel photography is to create a storytelling photo essay, one which tells the story of the place I am visiting and of its people.
And now I must ask:  Do you love to travel?  Where is your favourite place?  I’d love to hear about it!
Cheers,
Ian

28 thoughts on “Travel Photography Tips from Amsterdam

  1. Barron says:

    Wonderful post, Ian! I was surprised that the 28 second exposure didn’t blur out the reflections in the water more. But good to know!

    As for your question at the end, I love to travel, and my favorite place is Japan. When I lived there in the late 90’s, I used to photograph using my Minolta film camera. Was fun! I still enjoy taking photos there, but would love to explore the city with my camera.

    I love your blog, btw. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  2. Bob Raisler says:

    A fine photo memory, well captured and with a meaningful selection. My wife and I were in Amsterdam at the end of a tourist-type tour and we saw the city from a canal boat and a bus, but with no chance to make our own itinerary. I’ve wanted ever since to return and walk to our own choice of photos. Seeing your photos only accentuates that need.

    Enjoyed the tips as well. I particularly liked the one about waiting to take the exposure until your subject is “well-grounded” (both feet on the ground). Between you and Olaf Sztaba I’m learning a lot that I need to know.

    In answer to your question, I loved Chile. Traveling the Trail of the Inca, especially Machu Picchu, stirred something deep inside me.

    • Ian says:

      Yes, Amsterdam is a city that really needs to be walked for a few days to see well.

      I loved your comment “stirred something deep inside me”… that happens to me often during travel.

      Best wishes,

      Ian

  3. Christian says:

    Ian,

    I have been reading your blog for more than a year. As I am a novice, I have learned a lot and I find your posts quite inspiring. My seeing has improved from what I learn here. I especially enjoy posts like this that explain in detail your thoughts and settings used to capture such outstanding images. I was wondering, are these JPEGs? If they are processed raw files, then what processor do you use and what is your workflow? Could you please draft an article on how you post-process images?

    Christian

    • Ian says:

      Good morning Christian,

      Thank you for commenting, and for your kind words! Most of the Amsterdam photos were RAW if memory serves correct. I only work in Lightroom, with the VERY occasional trip to PhotoShop for portraiture if the skin needs a little love.

      I will do a processing blog post for sure!

      Cheers,

      Ian

  4. Jakub says:

    Hi Ian,

    I have been following your blog for several months now and I really deeply enjoy your pics, I think you have a great eye for places you photograph, one can really feel the atmosphere…
    My favourite place is San Francisco where I’ll be going again in January and your site provides much inspiration for that particular place…

    • Ian says:

      San Francisco is very near and dear to my heart. I love everything about that city, so of course I am a little jealous that you will be there next month. 🙂

      Many thanks for your kind words!

      Cheers,

      Ian

  5. Justin Cliffe says:

    Hi Ian

    A great blog – I love these images, both for the fact that they’re of Amsterdam (a favourite city with many happy memories – I used to work for a Dutch financial organisation) and the style in which they’ve been taken. There’s a real ‘sense of place’ about them – leaving no question as to where they were taken, even if I didn’t know the city.

    I also like the fact that they’ve all been taken on a X100T, some with the WCL & TCL converters and so I would imagine that your bag will have been pretty light. I did the same thing on a trip to Paris last year (but without the converters), so liberating!

    Keep up the good work – hope to see you in London sometime!

    Justin

  6. Elizabeth Castleman says:

    Hi Ian. Love your blog. I would like to know which model of travel tripod you use or would recommend. Thank you.

  7. kyle says:

    Good stuff Ian!

    To answer your questions, I definitely love traveling (who doesn’t?!), but I’m not sure I could pick a single favorite place to travel to… I’m usually more interested in looking for a new place to visit than going back to an old location. But if I had to pick one I’d probably go with Chicago. I lived there for a few years so it’s always fun to come back to visit friends and old hangouts in beteeen wandering the streets.

  8. RogerB says:

    Ian,

    You’ve done it justice and I thank you for taking the time to share “thoughts” with each image. While these images don’t need any explanation to convey your message about Amsterdam, it’s good to hear a bit about yourself. The detail in these images causes me to visit them again and again.

    I’m very fond of the X100 and each time you publish one of these blogs, I’m pushed toward refreshing my original. I have a XP2 kit now, but my heart is really with the X100 footprint.

    You mention often your travel tripod. So many locations are not very tripod friendly, especially as I envision them set up on a bridge. Can you say something about your choice of tripod and ways to fit into the venue in a friendly way.

    Best Regards,
    Roger

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