Meeting the challenge of capturing tulips with a thousand of my closest photographer friends

May 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

There's no doubt it takes a pretty special photograph of a flower to be considered unique or original.  Still, their color and splendor are like a siren song, drawing in photographer's attempting to capture their beauty.  This phenomenon is magnified during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (and similar floral displays held world-wide).  The annual display of color draws thousands of visitors from around the world to enjoy nature's splendid beauty, and it seems every one of them is armed with a camera to snap images to take home and share.  A stroll through any of the gift shops or local art shows during the festival also reveals that there isn't a photo of a tulip that hasn't been taken, or so it seems.  So should a photographer just keep his gear packed up and avoid the tulips all together?

Clearly I think the answer is "no."  For me, the draw to photographing tulips is easy.  I work in the heart of tulip country. I drive by the fields on a daily basis.  Taking time to enjoy the tulip fields is easy, and being a new photographer I can't pass this opportunity.   To improve my art I need to take pictures as often as I can. While it's sometimes hard to find inspiration, during the tulip festival it's a piece of cake to find interesting and willing subjects.  I also can't ignore the opportunity to share and sell my images.  While I don't want to specialize in shooting flowers, and there are thousands of great tulip images available for purchase, there remains a demand for quality floral images.  I learned this first hand during the recent Art at the Schoolhouse exhibition where my tulip images were my biggest seller.

Still, the challenge remains - how do you shoot something that has been shot and will continue to be shot millions of times? How do you make the image interesting to shoot and to view?  I don't have THE answer, or even a profound answer, but  I did take some of the lessons I've picked up along the way and employed them shooting in the tulip fields.  Those tips apply here and other similarly popular photo opportunities and tourist stops that cry out for you to "take a picture."

Change Your Point of View

On of the obvious ways of trying to capture a unique and interesting image of a well photographed subject is to change your perspective.  The temptation at the tulip fields is to shoot everything wide to capture the blankets of color.  While this perspective can still capture beautiful and interesting images, sometimes getting low, getting close, or changing your camera angle can offer something a little different.

Early Bloom

While this is not an entirely unique image, it offers a different perspective that helps it stand out.

Open Your Eyes and Look Around

When you come upon a vast landscape, or in this case, fields of colorful flowers, it's easy be be swept up by the grandeur of the scene and wanting to capture it all.  It's pretty hard to argue with the beauty presented by acres of tulips stretching before you in large swatches of vibrant color, and you shouldn't avoid getting that big picture.  But you should also take a moment to focus on the little things. The details right in front of you; or at your feet; or behind you. There are some really interesting images to be had when you take a moment to see the trees through the forest, to borrow from an old saying.

The Over Achiever

This little blossom was working extra hard to get noticed in the vast field of red tulips.


Be Aware of the Background

One of the things that can really diminish an image captured at the tulip fields is the photographer's lack of attention to the far background.  As I mentioned, a photo of the vast and colorful fields stretching out beyond the camera can offer an outstanding image.  Unfortunately, a beautiful image of a field of flowers can quickly turn to just another snap shot when the background is littered with parked cars, campers and tourists.  The flowers and colors are perfectly framed and the exposure is set; before you press the shutter take one more look to the horizon.  What will be in the background.  Chances are if take a look around and adjust your position just a bit, instead of your image terminating on the ugly 1983 brown and white RV, you can fill the background with bucolic fields, a barn, a tree or the Cascade Mountain Range. Even if the distant background falls out of focus, knowing what will appear in the frame can dramatically alter the quality of the image.

Red Tulips Skagit County Tulips

These two images utilize structures in the background, not as the subject of the image, but to offer a pleasant backdrop to the colorful flowers.


Incorporate the Visitors to the Fields

In can be a frustrating fact about taking pictures during the tulip festival, but there's simply no getting around the large number of visitors that will be enjoying the flower displays while you're there taking pictures.  Obviously, this can be an issue at any heavily trafficked tourist location.  Frankly, it's unavoidable that people will constantly walk in and out of frame.  The easiest solution is to bring a great big dose of patience with you.  Use a tripod, set up the shot the best you can, and wait.  While there's no guarantee you will ever get a clear shot (this is especially difficult during peak visitor times on the weekend) waiting for that shot instead of cluttering the image with people will be worth it.  But sometimes the image is never clear of people and you need to be inventive.  In that case,  consider incorporating the people in your composition.


 Two senior ladies in broad brimmed gardening hats, enjoying the tulips in the distance, were included to complete the story of this picture.


I'm not going to concentrate my photography on flowers, but I'm not going to ignore the opportunity to practice my art and capture the amazing beauty that's right in my backyard.  While I recognize it's pretty unlikely I'll capture an earth shaking, never-before-seen tulip image, I will make an extra effort to help my photos tell a story and take a step beyond being just another snap shot and getting closer to art.


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