Now here’s the sort of bold title we like to refrain from, here on DS. You know, the spammy “10 ways to photograph sunsets that will amaze your friends” or “top 3 reasons why your photographs aren’t getting published” or “The secret technique Cartier Bresson never revealed”.
And it’s fairly obvious there’s huge competition on the planet for that best short-stay destination for photographers title. Vegas, Venice and Valparaiso come to mind, and that’s only the letter V.
But Amsterdam will beat all of those, at least for some types of photographers. While these famous Vs and other obvious contenders have a very typical air to them, something you can’t find elsewhere, Amsterdam has variety.
Here’s a “small” city that’s safe, easily accessible, friendly, affordable, walkable and offers a bewildering array of photographic subjects. In fact, if Amsterdam failed to rise to the top of that hypothetical best short-stay destination for photographers list, it would not be for lack of beauty, but for the difficulty of making your photographic stay a short one. Amsterdam is so jam-packed with photographic subjects, it can keep you happy all day and all night long for quite some time.
Canals are obvious crowd drawers and, for once, you won’t hear me complaining about that iconic quality or recommending you take your camera elsewhere. Canals give you an instant feel of what the Dutch painters that have risen to the Pantheon of all time greats must have felt in front of their easels. The variety of lighting conditions and the way the water and houses respond to that provide endless amusement.
The photograph below shows you early morning light, the one above is late in the evening. Visit in late autumn or winter and the prospect of fog is high. Endless natural lighting scenarios.
There’s the Red Light district, though that’s more of an observation walk than a photographic one. A shame really, as the fluorescent ladies behind the red glass would probably make very interesting portrait subjects. But stopping to photograph them is probably a good recipe for a forced evening dip. You and your gear. In the canal. Don’t.
What the guides don’t tell you is that colourful lights can be found in many places in Amsterdam, and that a night shoot can be very rewarding at any time of year. You can walk, you can cycle and you can sail your way through the maze of multicoloured neons.
And then, there’s all the rest.
The street life.
Modern Amsterdam, from Nemo to Bibiloteek Amsterdam and the Maritime Museum.
The excellent zoo with animals walking freely amond visitors and stunning views over less frequented canals..
The traditional fishing villages within 30 minutes on the bus.
The harbour, the trams.
The imaginative housing developments on artificial islands, joined by bridges that can ocupy a photographer for hours by themselves.
The museums, not just the Rijk but the Eye and Muziekgebouw, both spectacular architectural achievements and providing unparalleled views over the beautiful Ij.
The cafes, boat houses, back alleys and events.
And the odd, such as living spaces … in between houses.
Amsterdam is one of those great cities, like London, that offer lovely quirkiness and have managed to make the new city as interesting as the old city. However, unlike London, which displays the unparalleled knack to mix it all up, Amsterdam has kept it all clean and tidy. Modern and historic (some parts untouched for centuries, except for cars and trees along the canals) do not mingle much but reside in separate areas. Which probably makes it easier for the beginning photographer.
The food in Amsterdam defies the most imaginative imagination. During my most recent stay, in 2014, I had rented a flat just south of the historic center, near a fab market and my evening joint was a dirt-cheap kebab place where only the smiles beat the taste. Then there’s Winkel43, the unassuming cafe in Noordermarkt, conveniently located at the end of a tiring 12 mile-long walk in the guide and which serves the best apple tart this side of nowhere. Just as anywhere else in the world, do your homework. There are tourist traps you do not want to fall into and fabulous experiences next to one another. But with several hundred nationalities offering their food throughout the city, tasting and photographing opportunities are everywhere.
Amsterdam is also very photographer-friendly.
Provided you survive the traffic – bicycle traffic, that is. Bikes are everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They are all-powerful, often a little aggressive, and will NOT stop for you or anyone else. Not on foot, not in a car. Look left, look right, listen. Then cross.
Provided you survive pedals and rubber, then, this is a city that feels safe and comfortable. Yes, like any city, there’s crime about if you’re unlucky or stupid. Late friday evenings are not the best time to swing an M240 and Summicron AA at a bunch of drunken louts. Nowhere in the world is.
So, safe. And walkable. So walkable. The historic center is nice and compact. It will take you ages to go from point A to point B because you’ll easily get lost, you’ll want to get lost and you should get lost. But you’ll always be close to some sort of beacon (or public transport, for when you legs eventually give up).
Good light is almost always available, too. The semi-circular layout of the historic center means you can always find a street or canal with your preferred lighting conditions, and the small back alleys that connect the more prestigious canals are often just as interesting for those in search of intimate photography.
So, say yes to Amsterdam.
And do it in style. Treat yourself to the world’s best (and only 😉 ) self-guided photographic walks ebook, made by photographers, for photographers.
Be warned, this guide is expensive. No, I’m not referring to the $7.99 we charge to cover plane, hotel and hosting fees. But you’ll read it and you’ll book a flight and landing pad immediately. You have been warned 😉 If this doesn’t bother you, just click the cover and land softly on our InSight: Amsterdam page.
Be creative and have fun !
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