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

The importance of light when shooting street photography

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Street photography has grown in popularity of late, in large part due to the availability of smaller and more available cameras (i.e. cell phone cameras, mirrorless cameras, etc).   I love that so many people are now finding joy in a genre of photography that means so much to me.

Shooting street photography well, however, has many challenges.   Developing the skills to shoot people candidly without drawing attention to yourself, and/or the skills to talk to and shoot complete strangers takes time and can be challenging for some people.

We all start somewhere of course, and I have definitely made my share of images that will never see the light of day (more than my share, actually).  I think the important thing to remember is that all of the “rules” that apply to other genres of photography also apply to shooting on the street:  The right subject matters.  The right moment matters.  The right background matters.  The right light matters.  The right composition matters.   We don’t always get all of these in our street images due to the unpredictability of the street and the need for split second timing, but we should still endeavour to compose our street images as well as we can.

The word photography actually means “to write with light”, and lately I have been focusing on light a lot while shooting street photography.  Contrasty light.  Golden light.  Back light.  Lines and shadows caused by light.  Here are some images from my recent outings, all taken with either the Fuji X-Pro2 or the Fuji X100t.  All black and white images were taken in the Fuji Acros film simulation, and all colour ones in the Fuji Classic Chrome film simulation.

Each photo was inspired by the light the subject was walking through.  I hope you enjoy viewing them:

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I encourage all of you who aspire to shoot street photography well (and I put myself in this category as I still have so much more to learn)  to endeavour to consider your street compositions with the same level of detail that you probably consider your other photography.  Watch for interesting subjects and great moments.  Compose with the right background in mind when you can.  Above all, always consider the light and how it impacts your photographs.  Your street images will be that much better for your efforts.

Cheers,

Ian

Photographing Amsterdam at Night

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I love cities at night.  I love the lights, the shadows, the reflections, the way life on the street changes.  There is something magical about it for me and Amsterdam did not disappoint.  The canals, the museums, the train station, the Red Light District, everything is lit up and the post sunset blue hour there is simply gorgeous.  My travel companion and I were out every night shooting deep into dusk during our week in Amsterdam, and in this post I’d like to share some of those images with you.

This post is part three of a three part series from my recent trip to Amsterdam:

A quick note:  I have been told that WordPress compression has been affecting the image quality for some people.  If that happens for you please click each image to view it larger.

An even quicker note:  All images in this post were taken with the Fuji X100t, the only camera I brought with me for this trip.

The photo at the top of this post is of the Rijksmuseum, a national museum dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam.  Originally founded in 1800, the museum has over 1,000,000 items in its collection (including a large body of work by Rembrandt).   At night it is especially beautiful because of the golden reflections in the pool behind the museum, which is how we chose to photograph it.  In a previous post I discussed how we had “so so” weather throughout our March trip, but this photo highlights that you can still get a beautiful blue hour shot despite the clouds.  Always go out and shoot, you will be surprised what you can capture.

Shooting through blue hour, to capture photos like the one above, became a nightly endeavour for us.  During the day, as we walked the city, we’d see a great spot and make a mental note to return to it for our evening shooting session.  The canals always made for great photo opportunities:  The buildings surrounding them were lit, the canals were lit, and you if you were patient you could even get light trails from the boats passing through the tunnels:

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Here are a few other blue hour shots of the canals and the city streets:

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I rarely shoot past blue hour in the evening because I love that little hint of colour in the sky you get at this time.  Once the sky is dark It is usually time for me to put the camera away and just enjoy the view with my eyes, but I found myself shooting deep into night in Amsterdam often.  There is something romantic about the way Amsterdam looks at night:

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There is 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:

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On our stroll back to the hotel each evening we would walk through the Red Light District, specifically to see what new photographic opportunities we could find.   I loved the neon lights, the reflections in the canals, the fabulous people watching opportunities, and quite often the bakeries where I could get desserts far larger than were good for me.  🙂

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The week we were in Amsterdam was also the week that the terrorist attacks happened in Belgium.  The night after the attacks, while returning to our hotel, we walked through Dam Square and were surprised and moved to find the Royal Palace had been lit up in the colours of the Belgium flag:

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It was late at night as we walked through the square, but there were still quite a few people present so I shot this photo as a long exposure to blur out the people and put the focus on the colours of the Belgium flag.  It was a touching tribute.

And finally, a photo taken just down the road from Dam Square at an area known as the Damrak.  This is one of the quintessential views of Amsterdam and is one of my favourite images from the trip:

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I highly recommend a photography trip to Amsterdam.  The city photographs beautifully during early morning and late evening, and during the day you can spend time visiting the museums and places like the Anne Frank House.  You can shoot street photography, mingle with the city’s amazing people, and get off the beaten path where you will find small parks, flea markets, amazing restaurants, etc.  We spent almost six days wandering the city in March, averaging 15 kilometres of walking per day, and never found ourselves lacking for photographic opportunities.

I hope you enjoyed this series from Amsterdam, shot with my beloved Fuji X100t.  Over the next few months I will have a lot of new content on this blog:  A review of the new Fuji X70, a lot of photography from Vancouver, upcoming trips to Seattle and NYC, and two new interviews in The Interview Series.

As always, thank you for visiting and please leave any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Cheers,

Ian