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Windmills at Twilight, Oterleek, Holland, Netherlands
Tom used two exposures to capture this beautiful, serene, composition of windmills, the moon and alluring afterglow.

The Netherlands are home to over a thousand iconic windmills and two billion colourful spring tulips – here’s how to photograph them the expert way.

Living in a place with windmills on my doorstep, it may seem strange to travel to another country to shoot windmills. But the mills of Holland are on a much grander scale than the ones near my home in Norfolk, and many are still lived in.

The Netherlands are only a 40-minute flight from me, and after driving around this compact country for a week, I wondered why I didn’t make the short hop more often! It’s packed full of photographic possibilities, but is most famous for its tulips in spring, which is why I’m here. I spent the first few days shooting the iconic locations of Amsterdam, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Dutch architecture reflecting in the canals. One evening, I arrived early to a classic location along the Keizersgracht canal to capture the blue hour. As the light levels dropped and the illuminations came on, about a dozen other photographers assembled, all with the same idea. I photographed this spot years ago before the age of the Internet and was the only one there, this is the power of social media. It must have looked like we were a pack of paparazzi photographers waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting celebrity, as I was asked several times by passing tourists who we were waiting for.

The next day I headed out to photograph brilliant multicoloured fields of tulips, but the weather had been so cold, they weren’t making an appearance anytime soon. Plan B had to be initiated, so I headed north of Amsterdam to check out several windmill locations. There are over a thousand windmills in Holland, but I was looking for specific characteristics that would make a good photograph. The location had to include a good foreground-preferably with water for great reflections, a clean non-distracting background and facing either east or west to incorporate a sunrise or sunset. A lot to ask for I know, but I had a lot to choose from so I was confident I would find just the right place. Even with the Internet and applications at our disposal, I still had to visit several locations before finding the one pictured here. In many ways, it was better than I could have imagined as I had two mills for the price of one, the first mill acting as a frame for the second.

On a not so cloudy afternoon

Now that I had all the elements in place there was only one thing missing from the image that I had in mind: clouds. They were pretty much non-existent all week so I had to work with what nature gave me. The afterglow at sunset provided me with atmosphere I wanted, but there was a distinct void in the upper left of the frame where my clouds would have been. Time to think outside the box, literally, as there was a beautiful crescent moon just above my frame; the perfect time to use the double exposure function on the D850. A well-placed moon in the frame would fill that void, completing the composition.

A normal size moon wouldn’t have any impact so I use my Nikon 300mm f/4 to give it some prominence. I set the double exposure mode to make two images in a series, making the first exposure of the mills with a 24-70mm lens for ½ second @ f/11. Then changing the lens to the 300mm, I exposed for the moon for 1/60 second @ f/8. I used my single focus point in the viewfinder to help me place the moon exactly where I wanted it. After a few attempts, I captured the image I was happy with.

As photographers, we often have preconceived images in our minds that we want to capture, but ultimately nature has the final word so it’s good to keep an open mind. I had such a wonderful week in the Netherlands, so no doubt I will be hopping over the water more often to explore this country in greater depth.

I run a Holland In Spring workshop every April, taking in the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens, windmills and canals, and finishing with two nights in Amsterdam. Find out more here

Originally published in N Photo magazine

Single Red Tulip in Field of Yellow Tulips, Abbenes,  Holland, Netherlands
When the tulips finally came into bloom, Tom centred this composition around a lone red tulip in a sea of yellow. And yes it was a straight shot, no Photoshop involved.



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