Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Postcards from Keukenhof

2013_NLD_F3_1383Even though it is only open for less than two months each year, Keukenhof is one of the most photographed places in the world. Its beautiful flowers would be attractive enough on their own, but the Keukenhof gardeners add their own artistic touch with their arrangements and landscaping, creating an environment that is both peaceful and stimulating at the same time.

I visited Keukenhof in 2013 with friends. As it was my third visit, I knew what to expect so I made sure I had all the camera gear I needed! As with all of my blog posts, just click on any image and you will see a better, higher resolution version of the image.



I wasn't the only photographer in our little group - Geert Jan's boys, Ingo, Leon, and Elwin, were out in force. I am very happy to say that they were creative enough to be pursuing non-standard points-of-view...


... as you can see in this shot. You think that Ingo is photographing the end of a tree trunk...


...except it was really his brother he was shooting!


The log made for an interesting group portrait.


Even Maarten got in on the picture taking!


While flowers are the usual subjects at Keukenhof, and I will get to them in a moment, there are also a lot of opportunities to photograph people.




Keukenhof is about 32 hectares (just over 790 acres) in size, which means a lot of walking if you want to see everything. The gardeners help out by liberally placing benches around the gardens so people can pause to recharge.


For those with the opposite problem of excess energy, there are playgrounds.


The gardeners and groundskeepers do a great job; they literally are the giants of the artistic landscaping industry, dwarfing us mere mortals.


But back to the main attraction - the flowers. Bright, rosy, cheery flowers....


and dark, moody flowers.


The staff at Keukenhof certainly know how to use flowers. They use them to create a painted landscape, using the flowers as the paint.


They use flowers as structural elements, complementing other structures on the grounds. In this case, it was horizontal rectangles.


They use flowers as borders on their exhibits.


They use flowers as accents.


Throughout it all, they somehow manage to wrap their exhibits around the paths that let people wander through the exhibits, get close to the flowers, and yet not trample on them.




Note that I am close, but that I am not trampling!


For this visit, my visual journey started with exploring the flowers up close.


There was even a case of "man imitating nature".


I took a variety of images like these, but they didn't really hold my attention.

What really captured my imagination where the outliers, the "ends of the tail", those flowers so far out on the distribution curve as to be downright rebellious:

There are those who like to colour outside of the lines,


those that are the early bloomers,



those hanging with the wrong crowd,


those that go out and get drunk with their buddies,


and there are those pathfinders that are so far out there, there is no ready frame of reference to describe them.



After Keukenhof, we decided to take a side trip to Leiden. Along the way, we stopped to see some of the massive tulip fields.



In Leiden, we went for a walk around town, and I managed to get my first ever photo of a Dutch windmill.


I also managed to create a unique self-portrait with the common Dutch elements: a canal, houses from the Dutch Golden Age next to the canal, and a bike.


I saw this unique building that resembled a layered wedding cake.


Maarten came across a magazine named "Maarten!". It wasn't his picture on the cover, though.


We visited de Burcht, an old fortification.


While the view from the ramparts was amazing, I loved the old, wise tree outside the walls.


We ended our walkabout with a stop at a local cafe, where we explored the concept of sobriety testing using common bar accoutrements (flipping a coaster and catching it mid-air).


It was a great way to end a visit with old friends in a beautiful setting.

All the posts from my trip to the Netherlands are here:

House of Oranje
Postcards from Kuekenhof
Train Stations
More Museums
Dutch (S)Treat
Up Close


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Operatic Kaleidoscope

2013_Asne_F4_0100"How is Wednesday for our next shoot?" I asked.

"The forecast looks better for tomorrow than for Wednesday", she replied. "But even better on Saturday - but we decided that Saturdays are too crowded, didn't we? I guess the forecast is less than accurate a whole week in advance, though?"

"Yes. The forecast is wildly inaccurate over 4 days out." I said, knowing that with my luck, Wednesday's weather probably would suck no matter what the forecast said.

Sure enough, there was a heavy fog on Wednesday and the visual sight lines were significantly reduced. It could have been worse. It could have been pouring rain. If it had rained, we would have stayed inside and I would have had nothing to blog about.

Åsne was one of the first dancers in Oslo that worked with me on my Postcards For A Dancer project, and our first shoot was in the middle of winter when it was -10 degrees! She didn't seem to mind. She was very focused on getting the right image and we created a couple of interesting compositions as a result of her willingness to shoot despite the cold.

2012 Asne_0042

2012 Asne_0065V3

We made those images at the top of the fantastic Operahuset, and while Åsne and I have since made many images together, we never returned to the Opera House to shoot. So on that Wednesday I was surprised when it was the first place she suggested we go. I was quite skeptical, because we were re-shooting a double exposure of a hinge and butterfly leap that we had first tried at Rådhusplassen.


I have since come around to liking this image, but initially I thought that I did not control the background exposure very well. So the purpose of our shoot this time was to re-do this concept with a different background. I did not think the Opera would give me the background I needed, but it was very close to where we were. In the spirit of you never know what you will find if you don't look, we walked over.

Sure enough, it did not look very promising for the hinged butterfly. I saw issues with the background in every direction. For example, when looking out to sea, the iceberg sculpture in the harbour was just dark enough to be very distracting.


We tried a couple of shots looking the other way, but I did not like the impact of the building and the chain rail on the right. I found the windows in particular too distracting and thought it would take away from Åsne's jump.



I probably drive dancers crazy when it comes to making a photo. What they look for and what I look for in a composition is quite different. I can be ecstatic with a composition and a dancer will look at it and veto it because of a hand or foot position. On the other hand (or foot!), she may be very happy with how I captured her dance, but I may be very unhappy with some distracting details in the background.

Working with a photographer can sometimes be challenging from a dance perspective, because the criteria that the photo has to live up to are multiplied between dancer and photographer. Both will agree that the aesthetic of the picture is what’s important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to both people. While Scott looks for the geometrics in my poses in relation to the surroundings, I am more concerned with the dance technique being correctly shown in my leaps or poses. Also, I look for continuous lines in a pose, whereas I have come to understand that Scott looks for triangles. This has sometimes led to us disagreeing on which photos to draw out from the bunch. Which again has led to us both learning a lot from each other. And I guess that isn’t so bad.

The photo-technicalities are, of course, also a deal-breaker – like with the “hinged butterfly”. I quite liked the original, but of course, I don’t have a trained eye for such matters. Because I couldn’t see the trouble with the background exposure that seemed to be such a big deal to Scott, I was less motivated to do the reshoot than I was for the first one. I guess that was one contributing factor to my looking for other potential motives around the Opera house.

So there we were, down at the Opera and nothing was really clicking. I was about to suggest we head up to Nationaltheatret, when Åsne paused and looked at the side of the building. We were right in front of the cafe and could see the people inside having a coffee through the very large windows. But just a little further down, the windows turned into mirrors. You can see the transition in the photo above, where the windows turn lighter right around where her heel is.

We walked over and tried to see inside. I checked the building floor plan afterwards and saw that there is a storage room at this point. It must not have been in use as it was very dark inside. The effect was to turn the window into a mirror. We were clowning around taking a few snaps with Åsne's iPhone, when suddenly we realized that there could well be some interesting mirror compositions to be had.

We approached the idea from a distance at first, letting the sides of the building recede into the fog.


There is almost no colour in this image. There are yellow and red hues in Åsne's skin and hair, and a slight blue-green reflecting off the building, but otherwise this photo is almost pure black and white. I really liked that, along with how the building fades into the background.

After a few frames from this angle, I moved in closer for a kaleidoscopic composition. I just let Åsne do her thing and snapped away. The result was a series of very interesting compositions, which you can see in this series of images.







Like Scott joked right when we were about to give up and leave: “Let’s not forget whose idea it was to come here." ;-)

Yes, it was Åsne's idea to go to the Opera and that is the thing about working with fellow creatives: they often have great ideas. If you have the courage to listen to them, you can make some great art - like this snap of us performing the Nutcracker in the lobby of the Opera House.