Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time

It’s tulip time in many parts of the U.S. and nowhere are the tulips more colorful and splendorous than in Washington’s Skagit Valley.  Fields and fields of the highly valued bulb are grown for commercial sales.  Each year at this time, the area plays host to thousands of visitors who come for the annual Tulip Festival.  The exits from Interstate 5 which skirt the town of Mount Vernon and connects Vancouver B.C. to the north with Seattle to the south are literally backed up for miles with cars making their way on the weekends to see the rainbow-colored floral fields.

(I last wrote about the tulips here.)

Farmer workers in the fields help to create interest and perspective when photographing the tulips.

As a local, I have the luxury and advantage of being able to go to the fields on a weekday and avoiding the crowds.  I also get to pick my day, waiting for the weather to clear.  And so I did earlier this week when I awoke to sunny skies at sunrise.  When I go, I’m out the door by 7 a.m. to make the 20-mile scenic drive south so as to arrive by 7:30, even earlier is better.  By arriving about the same time as do the field workers, I not only miss the multitudes of tourists but I have better light for photographing these gorgeous flowers.  The dew is often still on the petals, the colors are bright and the sky is bluer. (That can of course be boosted with the help of a filter over your lens or later manipulated digitally in post-production.)

In the early morning light, the dew shimmers on the flowers.

I never know exactly which field I’ll work in unless I scout them ahead of time, as I did this year when I drove down to get the required permit from the RoozenGaarde growers that allows professional photographers to go into the fields without scrutiny from the field foreman.  I pick one spot because the light changes so quickly that by the time you’ve moved from one place to another, you’ve  lost the optimal conditions.  I “work the location,” capturing the chosen field from as many different angles as I can,  studying the surroundings to maximize what’s there and letting the location be my guide as to what and how to photograph it.

Sitting at the end of the field, boxes of bundled blooms await transport to be distributed to sellers in the area.

Some years I feel more productive than others. I rarely concentrate on just the flowers themselves. I try to make use of whatever is present: field workers, farm implements, signs, other artists or photographers who might be there, farm buildings to help create a sense of place.  When I  focus on the flowers, I strive to find different ways to photograph them and try to zero in on a particular feature or color.  If I decide to photograph the field en masse, I look for the overall impact of color or the setting.  Until I’m in the editing and post-production process  I often don’t know how I ultimately want to treat an image.

After years of having done this, I know how to dress. The fields are frequently muddy and the early a.m. air chilly.  I dress for the conditions.  Jeans and a sweatshirt are must with a warm jacket that I can shed if it should warm up, as it did this year.

Snow-capped Mount Baker rises in the distance and creates contrast with the multi-colored fields of flowers. I used a dry brush treatment in post-production to create a painterly feel to the scene.

Gloves with the fingertips cut out are also handy for those times when the morning temperatures are cold.  I also wear my insulated ‘muck’ shoes that I use for gardening because they are warm and wash off easily.  After years of crawling around in the dirt with a gardening pad, I now strap on heavy-duty knee guards so that I don’t have to scoot around on a pad and can literally get on my hands and knees to  get the shot I want.

Get down low, look up and see the tulips from a different angle to create an out of the ordinary perspective. Not how the tulips shine from the underside.

Equipment-wise, everyone has their own preferences. A UV lens filter is a must. I stick with my zoom lenses and fit close-up filters over them for really tight shots. Sometimes I use a tripod, sometimes not.  And a lens hood helps to block out annoying light flares.  I don’t spend a lot of time switching lenses or cameras in part because it creates less risk of getting damaging dirt on my sensitive digital gear.  I find it’s better  and sometimes more interesting to work within the parameters of my equipment.

I don’t make the trek to the tulips every year but this year I did as a way to unwind and relax after months of preparing for the film festival of which I now head up.  Usually I’ll take a friend along with me. This year I did it solo and enjoyed the time to myself.  No matter how you go, alone, with family or friends, these beautiful blooms are sure to restore your soul and remind you how wonderful the spring season is.

My last photo of the morning was a self-portrait still wearing my knee guards and muck shoes.

Picture Yourself Paddling

One of my great pleasures about living in the Pacific Northwest is the past time of paddling in my kayak.  It’s an activity that I took up many years ago now after moving to this area upon the encouragement of a friend.

When you live in the Puget Sound and Samish Sea area, you are surrounded by water.  I can’t imagine not taking advantage of the recreational opportunities to be enjoy the natural beauty of being on the water.  As I don’t own a sail or motor boat, kayaking is the way I do it.

These two geese were just taking off when I caught them with my camera. Wildlife in motion often produces more dramatic images than those that are still and lifeless.

For me, paddling provides time away from the distractions on land. There are no cell phones, no computers, no televisions, nothing to draw your attention from the task at hand, which is how it should be whenever you’re out there on the water.  Not paying attention to the currents, the wind, the waves and the weather can run you into trouble faster than you realize.

The reflection of light on the water always draws my eye. It’s always different and fascinating, truly a ‘watercolor.’

I often carry a camera in my boat with me, usually one of my point and shoots so that I don’t risk damaging my single-lens reflex digital cameras.  I’ve never invested in a watertight case for my SLRs, something that is on my equipment ‘wish list.’ Usually, I tuck my little compact camera safely inside my life vest (never go out without one) where I can yank it quickly out if I see something I want to try to capture.

One of the tricks of shooting on the water, especially in a kayak, is how to stay in place, bobbing up and down, in order to get the shot.  It’s not easy. That’s particularly true if you’re trying to photograph wildlife on the shore. Without a super long lens, I must quietly slip up close to whatever it is I want to photograph until I think I’m in a good range. Trust me, this is not the way the National Geographic shooters do it but it works for me most of the time. I’ve become pretty adept at handling my paddles.

The oyster catcher is one of a pair that makes their home on the island in Chuckanut Bay. This Oyster Catcher wasn’t disturbed by my efforts to photograph is against the evening sky so I managed to nab a nice profile of it surveying its nesting domain.

I like going out just before sunset. The water is generally smoother then, the light not so glaring and the colors can be stunning.  Early morning is a good time too, especially if there are nice clouds.

Even though I tend to paddle in the same waters here in my area, I never lack material to photograph.  The water, the shore, the sky seldom look the same. One day there’s a seal, the next there’s not. Some summers the oyster catchers are there with a new brood, sometimes they’re scare.  Sometimes that sunset you anticipate never materializes, sometimes it’s so saturate in color that you’d swear someone has “photoshopped” it onto the sky.

Paddling together on the water at sunset during the season of luminescence. It’s an especially magical time.

And never, never do I go out alone. That’s just asking for problems, no matter how expert a kayaker you are.  A paddle partner also gives me someone else to photograph against the vast, open scene.  My paddle partners have become quite accustomed to serving as models for my photographic expeditions.

Only two of the many photographs I’ve made while paddling appear in the show at Stone’s Throw Brewery, up through April.  I’ve shared with you here a few of the others.  Seeing these images in print, however, offers quite a different experience than viewing them here on-line so I hope that if you’re in the area you’ll stop by and have a look.

This is one of my friends with whom I frequently paddle, Its’ the same paddler as the one seen in the large print on display now at Stone’s Throw Brewery. I hope you’ll see it.