I expected to see a lot of bikes in Amsterdam, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, not until I visited the bike parking lot did it sink in.
Surrounding the public transit stations are huge bike lots. Some of them are multi-stories high and comfortably house tens of thousands. Some like this were outside and stacked to make efficient use of space. Maybe it’s not so strange, but I was amazed nonetheless.
Since everyone is accustom to it, biking seems like a natural thing to do here. It made me wonder why we can’t seem to get it together in places like Florida where I live. From a transportation perspective, we are like dinosaurs, relying on our cars to get everywhere. If we don’t figure out a better way, we may soon end up like the dinosaurs.
Arriving into Amsterdam from Florida I had the advantage of my time zone. So I walked around the central section of the city late into the night.
At that time I was doing some software work for a client. These days I do most of that type of work remote, so I felt it unnecessary to mention that I was out of the country. From my hotel, I could take meetings as if I was sitting at home. Then, when done, I would step outside and explore the city.
What brought me there in the first place was a photo exhibit I was participating in just outside the city. I was able to attend the exhibition, explore the city and, for all intents and purposes, continue helping my client as though I was sitting right at home. It was a new experience that worked out well on all fronts.
When in big cities I’m usually quite happy with rain. It creates scenes and situations that are interesting to observe.
First of all, people are carrying umbrellas which by itself creates a certain aesthetic. Then there are the motions people go through to keep out of the rain, like running from one source of cover to another. However, in places where it rains all the time, you will also notice how well people ignore it. Amsterdam is one of those cities where people are always outside, rain or shine. So it’s just as interesting to see what they don’t do as what they do.
In this case the couple were taking selfies and the gentleman was texting the pictures on his phone, oblivious to the precipitation. I noticed that in Amsterdam people are always riding bikes regardless of the weather, in some cases holding umbrellas as they go.
I haven’t quite perfected the art of ignoring the rain. I’m a duck and cover kind of guy. But from a temporary shelter I can stand there, observe and take photos of things around me. The best part of that is stepping into a bistro and waiting it out with a hot chocolate. Then, sufficiently refreshed I head back out for more fun.
Here’s another image I took while walking around central Amsterdam in the early morning hours. I was only here for a week so I made the decision to stay on North American time. That meant I was still wide awake very late which works well for night photography. I could capture the lights reflecting on the still waters of the canals to my heart’s content.
A couple of times I left my tripod back at the hotel. To get these long exposures without shaking the camera I would make due by balancing it on a bike seat. All of the little bridges have bikes leaning against the railings. All I had to do was pick one with a relatively wide seat and gingerly set the camera down. I used a wireless trigger so that I didn’t need to touch the camera to activate the shutter.
That little system worked quite well and to be honest, it’s a technique I’ve used in many other places as well. I don’t always want to bring a tripod especially when shooting street scenes at night. For that I’m grateful for the high ISO performance of Sony cameras, it allows me to do things that were unheard of just a few years ago. For street photography you want to travel light and be able to react quickly.
Yet when I’m out walking around I’ll invariably see something like this scene and I wish I had a tripod. Then it becomes a little game of figuring out what I can use to stabilize the camera. I use all manner of things like balancing on a fence railing, stabilizing the lens with the camera strap, even placing the camera on the ground and shooting up.
As a result I’m hard on camera bodies. They get scratched quite a bit. But for me the scratches on my camera body are like notches on a belt. It’s funny but a scratched up camera feels to me like a comfortable set of well worn shows; we’ve seen a lot together.
This is a long exposure I took while walking under a bridge in Central Amsterdam. The hanging vertical lights and their reflections created an eerie effect. It’s a public space that’s transformed into a surreal display of light, reflection and color by night. Just one of many surprises I found while walking around the city of Amsterdam.
I spent a lot of time along the canals at night. It seemed perfectly safe, save for the odd solicitations in a certain quarter not to be mentioned; but that’s another story for another day. No matter where I turned there were lights reflected on the water. If you’ve followed me you know that’s too much for me to resists; the lights that is.
I stood at this spot for a while taking pictures. Every now and then this space was filled with the rumble of trains passing overhead. I passed this same spot in a canal boat tour earlier in the day and it didn’t look anything like this. I would never have guessed it could be transformed like this at night.
The reason I came to Amsterdam is that I had some photos being shown in a Museum in Harderwijk at an event sponsored by BTP and Rinus Bakker. My plan is to come back for the next showing and spend a little more time exploring places like this. Until then I’ll have to be content with my memories and photos.
It seems every time I look at my photos from Amsterdam there are bicycles. Any direction you look people are going this way and that on bikes. It’s refreshing to see especially from a North American perspective. The only way I can relate to this is having grown up in suburbia where, as kids we rode bikes everywhere. Here, they just keep on doing it as adults.
From a photographic perspective it creates ideas for images. One of my favorite is riders in motion. To do that you have to pan the camera along with the rider. If the shutter speed of the camera is set slow enough you get a blur like this. It’s an effect that evokes a sense of motion.
This is a type of street photography that I practice when in urban settings. Photography is the art of noticing things. When you have a camera and are purposely looking for scenes you notice more. On the other hand, if you are walking to the store and have your mind on what to eat for dinner you might miss a lot. Photography is a practice of being present in the moment and open to things going on around you.
In this case I was standing around and noticed the stairs and horizontal motion of cyclists which created an idea in my mind. I took several shots panning my camera right and left depending on the direction of the cyclist. This was my favorite of the bunch.
This reminds me of the saying that we are more alike than unalike. While in Amsterdam I took a ride on a boat through the city canals. It’s a perspective that had me looking up at the houses, streets and people above the water level. It was a covered boat but sat outside the whole time taking photos. Being a foreigner I find it particularly interesting to watch people. I think that’s a natural reaction to a new place, maybe because we relate to people more than surroundings.
I think people in most places around the world have a lot in common. Where we live is part of the equation, but not the most important part, at least that’s my theory.
People here seem to be happy. There is a sensibility that’s rarely found in North America, we have it but in isolated cases. What is it? It’s hard to put my finger on it. Folks are content to ride bikes instead of cars. People spend quality time together rather than work all the time. It’s a sense of identity of a small country that is sometimes lost in a large country. And then of course there are the laws, they are very different.
All that aside, at our core we are more alike than unalike. We think about many of the same things, we feel the same, we react to the same things. By experiencing and learning from each other we become wiser. When we look closely at people we realize we are not so different.
Photography is sometimes an opportunity to meditate on these ideas, to cut through the exterior and make a connection. That may sound counter-intuitive, but I think there’s something to it, at least for me. But then, if we’re not all that different maybe it is for you too.
I took this on Architectural Appreciation day. That’s a joke, there’s no such thing, at least that I’m aware of.
This building is in central Amsterdam. It struck me as a statement of architecture. It was cold and I had competing thoughts that there wasn’t anything worth taking a picture of. That’s how my mind works, it’s always looking for an out when the weather is not good. I looked straight up and decided I better setup despite the protestations of my body and complaining mind.
I think that if I lived in Europe I’d shoot a lot of architecture. Even so there are opportunities closer to home. I know its cliche but it really is a matter of perspective. The idea with architecture photography is to reduce some design to a simple box. Sometimes when we look at things we see too much to appreciate the details. Architecture photography is about appreciating details. Focussing the lens on a single aspect of a building is, believe it or not, an act of appreciation. Think about it, the person who designed this building has surely considered this perspective in his or her mind many times. However most of use walk right by, never looking up to notice. Now imagine you are that architect and you see and read this post. You might smile and think someone actually noticed and appreciated it.
A darkened central Amsterdam underpass creates a setting that is best described as a scene. Scenes are a combination of things that together make it more than just a place. Looking for scenes is a pastime of mine especially when walking through cities at night. Textures, light and motion combined to evoke imaginary scenarios rarely rooted in reality. As I took this the trains rumbled overhead completing the urban soundtrack of this vignette.
This underpass was something of a mystery to me when I first arrived in the city. It is across from my hotel and as I timidly explored I couldn’t see where it ended. As it was late I shied away from following it to the other end. Later I discovered it led to a busy neighborhood full of shops and bistros. But my initial trepidation contributed to a state of mind (erroneous as it was) that created this foreboding subterranean scene in my mind.
If I had to sum up my impressions of Amsterdam in three words I would say bikes, umbrellas and canals. There were a lot of each. To take it a step further, operating a bike shop here is steady employment. As well, I think that selling umbrellas might also be big business.
I stood on an adjacent bridge taking photos of people as they crossed this bridge. This scene typifies the central canal district and is repeated hundreds of times from one bridge to the next.
Because I was carrying a camera I didn’t have an umbrella, otherwise it’s a good idea to have one. It got me thinking that umbrellas haven’t changed much in a hundred years, they still look and operate the same.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later I started seeing ads on TV about new type of inverted umbrella. Without going into all the details I think it’s an amazing idea and the only thing I can’t figure out is why nobody invented / inverted it years ago. My wife was so impressed she bought four and gave them away as gifts. So here is a tip, someone needs to open up an inverted umbrella stand in Amsterdam, I think it will be license to print money.