This week's trip was to a little bit of a different destination, a family city break in Amsterdam, meeting with my mother "half-way" between Finland and Scotland. The trip's primary purpose was not photography... but of course I had my camera with me and I was interested to see what would catch my eye in this historic city. We stayed in the museum district of the city, near to the Rijksmuseum.
Large cities give many opportunities for different kinds of photography. For some photographers the people inhabiting the city and their daily interactions with each other can provide an endless source of interest. For others the buildings and monuments of the city, built over many generations, in a myriad of styles, in various states of repair, provide a fascinating landscape. The massive concentration of activity and enterprise in a small area means that there is always something going on, and there are often interesting little details to be found in innocent looking corners. In many other forms of photography the onset of darkness provides some limitations, but in city photography the fluorescent world that emerges after dark brings a new set of opportunities.
Having spent most of the last few months searching for the peaceful beauty of nature, in the mountains or on remote islands, it was something of a culture shock to be in this frantic city, swarming with people. Navigating the city as a pedestrian is a challenge in itself. The sheer amount of pedestrians is one difficulty but the bigger challenges are caused by the amazing amount of bicycle traffic flying towards you from all directions at all times. There are probably some very sensible rules for who goes and when... but they are not immediately obvious to a visitor. In order to survive even a short walk on the city streets you need to have great spacial awareness and rapidly adjust to situations as they emerge, perhaps it is not surprising that this city was the birthplace of "total football".
In attempt to avoid the crowds and to have a more peaceful atmosphere for photography I chose mainly to shoot late at night and early in the morning... the latter being by far the more peaceful option.
During the 4 day trip I walked along many kilometres of canals and while the scenery was always interesting to observe, I did not find many places that gave opportunities for a clean composition. In the past I have really enjoyed city photography, especially at night, but on this occasion and in this destination I had difficulties to find inspiration.
Many of the buildings, especially around the canal network, were built many generations ago, but around the edges of the historic old town a lot of new architecture can also be found. The Oeverpark area, across the water from the Centraal station, is home to the EYE film museum and the A'DAM Lookout, both of which caught my eye immediately as we first arrived to the city by train from Schipol airport. The Lookout houses a restaurant and an observation platform 20 stories above the city and is lit up in bright yellow at night while the EYE museum has an interesting design.
I returned to these buildings, making use of the free ferry which runs from outside the Centraal station 24 hours a day, on a few occasions during my stay and found interest in both wider shots of the buildings and some more abstract geometrical arrangements.
It was interesting to note how many different bird species were sharing this hugely busy city with the human population. The waterways were home to large amounts of mallards and coots with a smaller but still noticeable population of moorhens also easily visible. Mute swans, crows, jackdaws, sparrows, magpies, grey herons, pigeons (wood pigeons and feral pigeons) and various gulls were also easy to notice. By far the most obvious bird, based on noise level rather than sheer numbers, was the ring-necked parakeet, a population of which has made a foothold in the city. Their loud screeching can be heard almost constantly in many parts of the city and it was a common occurrence to see something bright green flashing past in the corner of your eye. Another species that could be considered "non-native" in the city but which can also be found there in significant numbers is the Egyptian goose. Both of these populations have developed from birds that have escaped from captivity rather than arriving in Amsterdam by their own initiative. I suppose I am not meant to approve of the presence of these non-native species... but they both looked quite exotic to me and I was happy to see them before I found out that maybe I shouldn't have been.
A couple of years ago, at the beginning of my photography activities, I found a lot of interest in photographing flowers. This can of course be done in many places, including your own home, but it can also be very interesting to take a trip to some botanical gardens where you might find some more exotic of interesting species. The Hortus botanical gardens in Amsterdam are a great place to spend an hour or so with interesting plants both outside and in as well as a butterfly house where you can see hundreds of those beautiful and delicate fluttering insects.
Overall, this was a good trip, and a great chance for us to spend some time with my mother in one of her favourite places.
Where next? Well... that is under consideration. After this city experience I think that somewhere with rather fewer people will be a high priority. If anyone has any suggestions about good photography destinations, particularly for landscape or nature photography, then please feel free to comment this post!
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