(published in Practical Photography 09/10)
I am somewhere in the mountains on a beautiful late afternoon in spring. The valleys are filled with lush and fresh colorful flowers and a small river is slowly carving its way through. I am having a ball. Adrenaline is racing through my body as I watch a beautiful sky come to life. Streaks of warm sunlight gently touch the hills in the valley and a mix of pink and red colors paint the clouds and reflect in the river. Everything is perfect. This is it. It doesn’t get any better than this.
The next moment it’s all gone. My eyes are wide open as I’m getting out of my bed. Another damn landscaper’s dream. My mind is playing tricks on me again. Slowly I’m pulled back to reality as I walk towards the window. It’s 04.00 am and I’m up for another sunrise. Looking out of the window, my dream is a far cry from what I’m facing again today. Why? I live in the Netherlands. Land of flatness. Land without wilderness. Land of straight lines, cultivated farmlands and dullness. No mountains, no rocky shorelines. Without our dykes this land wouldn’t even exist. The sea would claim it again.
Feel sorry for me? Don’t. You see, this small, flat country has a lot to offer for a landscape photographer. Dullness can become dynamic, flatness can become fantastic. The most important thing is to change your mind-set. Many landscape photographers, when searching for a good location, look at the big picture first and then search for foreground interest and lead-in lines. Here in the Netherlands, you’ll have to work exactly the opposite way. Look for an interesting foreground object and some lead-in lines first and then start to look at the big picture. Look at the big picture first and nine out of ten times you will walk away. Don’t.
You see, with flatness comes something else. Wide open landscapes. There’s the sky, the land and in between them the flat horizon. And those wide open spaces are exactly what makes this such a great place for a landscape photographer. How? You just have to follow one rule: less is more. This flat country with it’s wide open skies is ideal for very simple, but very strong compositions.[pullquote-right]This flat country with it’s wide open skies is ideal for very simple, but very strong compositions.[/pullquote-right] Look for small things, little details that can make a big difference. A small fence, a rock, a lonely tree in a field. Anything goes. Take a foreground interest, apply the rule of thirds and you’re off. Be aware that, because of all the flatness, the sky will probably be a dominant feature in your landscape photo. So you’ll have to be a weatherman/woman as well. Looking at weather maps, satellite images, trying to forecast what will happen is something we do every day. I could not live without my weather apps on my iPhone!
The next thing is to pre-visualize. Close your eyes and visualize how this scene could look if the conditions were different. Can it look great with a dramatic sky? On a foggy morning in autumn? Or on a cold winters day? This may sound familiar but thrust me, here in the Netherlands this isn’t easy. You have to imagine how a scene can become great without special landmark features such as mountains, streams or a rocky coastline. So there is not much to hold on to and pre-visualization may be more important here than anywhere else. Almost all of the Netherlands is cultivated.
So, living as a landscape photographer in the Netherlands is not much fun? Wrong. It’s one of the best. I love it. I love to be able to see for miles. I love the big skies. I love to make something special out of something ordinary. Perspective is huge here. And don’t forget the magic light. Why is it that many of the most famous landscape painters are Dutch? Think about it. But the most important reason why this is such a great place for landscape photography, is that it is a fantastic training ground. Because of all of the things we don’t have, all of our flatness and dulness and all the wilderness we lack, this is one of the best places to learn how to play the game. You’ll really have to stretch yourself here. But if you do, you can do it everywhere. Provence, Tuscany? Bring it on! Scotland, Patagonia? Piece of cake. If you can ‘see’ a good landscape photo here in the Netherlands, the world really can be your playground.