Keukenhof garden is a festival of colours for photographers
Spring is a time of renewal. Days are getting longer and warmer, nature wakes up and the colours come back. If you are in need of a real colour boost, renewed creativity and lots of photography, the Keukenhof garden in the Netherlands might be just the place for you. The garden is spectacular and the photo opportunities are extraordinary.
For my latest visit to this large Dutch park, I arrive early to buy my entrance ticket before the crowds appear, and then study the map. Planning for a full day of photography, I decide first to walk around the garden to determine the best strategy and to scope out the areas that will be best depending on the time of day, well aware that crowds arrive mid-morning and leave at 5pm.
It is raining lightly and this drizzle makes me very happy! This is perfect weather to photograph gardens and flowers as the soft light and wetness saturate the colours beautifully. The new leaves in the trees are bright green making them an ideal backdrop, and the rain drops on the flowers make their colours extremely vivid.
Colours are bursting everywhere: rows of blue hyacinths against yellow tulips, carpets of muscaris surrounded by red tulips and yellow daffodils, then more muscaries with orange and burgundy tulip sprinkled in the middle. It never seems to end! This rainbow of colours makes it a feast for the eyes. It is not only a beautiful sight, but with the many rows and beds of varied flowers, I get pleasantly intoxicated with the fresh Spring fragrance floating in the air.
Using the tripod and a rain sleeve on the camera to keep it dry, I carefully compose the images I have in mind, while making sure none of the visitors walking by get included in my frames. By mid-morning, the number of visitors is such that I decide to work on sections of the flower beds, paying attention to the design and almost abstract scenes made by the groups of flowers.
Focussing my attention on what’s happening in my viewfinder, I have created my own photography bubble and get completely absorbed by it. The real world comes back to me when the rain starts to get heavier and a chill runs down my back. When I finally lift my head up, I realize I am surrounded by a crowd of umbrellas. It is time to take shelter indoors in one of the many pavilions on dryer grounds. With large windows, these offer perfect conditions to photograph without having to worry about what is turning out to be heavy rain outside. The tripod is useful under this soft light environment and I am careful not to get in people’s way. I find that my 28-70mm and 105mm lenses allow me to zoom into tight corners without getting into too much trouble.
The rain stops after lunch and I continue to explore the garden, tripod in hand. By late afternoon, the crowds start to thin, making it much easier to photograph larger vistas. I continue to photograph the park without being disturbed by anyone, almost allowing me to believe it is my own private garden. By 7:30pm, I finally make my way to the exit just as the park prepares to close for the night.
On the way back to the hotel, I drive alongside fields containing rows and rows of tulips. I stop by the roadside and wander in the fields, being careful not to damage any of the plants. In the distance I see two people tending the flowers, probably a father and son checking on the development of the tulips. They take measurements, examine some bulbs and walk slowly back to their tractor. Their presence makes a good addition to the photos as they help the eyes rest on them and bring scale to the endless fields.
By 9:30pm the darkness announces the time to retire the camera after a long day, knowing that tomorrow will offer many more opportunities.
What you need to know if you go to the Keukenhof garden:
It is the largest garden in the world showcasing about 7 million flowering Spring bulbs over more than 30 hectares. It is spectacular and yet difficult to photograph because the experience tends to be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions to help you get the best of your photography time while you are there:
- Arrive early to avoid the large crowds and plan to stay late;
- Plan for tightly framed images of the flower beds when the crowds are present and photograph larger vistas when people are leaving at the end of the day;
- Mark your favourite locations on the map as you walk through the garden, and come back to them when the crowds are gone;
- Be patient and give yourself enough time to frame each image;
- Take breaks and review the photos you have taken to make sure you have enough diversity in colour, texture, close ups, etc. Notice what you are missing and plan to fill these gaps;
- Remember clouds and rain are good to photograph in this environment;
- On a sunny day, photograph the displays indoors when the sun is high between 11:00 am and 2:30pm;
- This year, the Keukenhof gardens are open everyday from March 20th to May 18, 2014. The last week of April and first week of May are considered the best with the largest variety of blooms.
About the Author
Sophie has been a photographer, educator and traveller for most of her adult life. She founded Better Paris Photos in 2008 (which became Better Travel Photos in 2014) to deliver exceptional photography experiences to travellers.