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5 September 2018

‘I’m not that good, actually – I’m mainly here to learn some new tricks'

The first evening of Illumination Week managed to draw dozens of (hobby) photographers to Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage. There was a flurry of activity among the reeds as workshop participants tried their skills to get that one perfect shot of the windmills’ gloriously illuminated frames.

“I’m not that good, actually – I’m mainly here to learn some new tricks.” Crouching low behind Fred Dolbow are two fellow photographers, lying prone on the bridge connecting the banks of the Middelkade and Blokweerschekade. Their lenses are fixed on the Nederwaard mills beyond. They’re going all out to get that one perfect shot. “This place is stunning”, Dolbow says. The Portland-based American is about to spend the coming months in Europe, combining work with a holiday on the continent. This Monday, his first trip on the mainland starts with an evening photography workshop set for Kinderdijk’s Illumination Week.

Nederwaard at its best. Image by Cees van der Wal/SWEK.

Nederwaard at its best. Image by Cees van der Wal/SWEK.

As the afternoon draws to a close, Belgian landscape photographer Bart Heirweg is at the Blokweer museum mill grounds, all set to receive the international entourage. The American is joined by participants from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This is the first of three workshops held throughout Illumination Week. At his Blokweer venue, Heirweg sets out with some technical information: how do you put your camera to best use to get the most stunning landscape photography?

Dutch cookies

Once the theory session is concluded by serving some Dutch cookies (‘speculaas’ ginger cookies, to be precise), the company heads outside for some photography action. They start out at the millyard, where they are soon joined by dozens of other (amateur) photographers assembling at and around the quay of Middelkade at dusk. The first enthusiasts have been waiting there since 4:30pm. The reeds become the stage for a bustle of activity. Apart from a few clouds, the weather seems to be cooperating well. As the clock strikes 8, the brand-new LED lighting arrays switch on, casting the Kinderdijk landmarks in beautiful floodlight. In spite of their numbers, the photo enthusiasts grow silent, interrupted only by the odd whisper and the rhythmic click of camera shutters.

The silhouette of American participant Fred Dolbow, framed by one of the Overwaard mills.

The silhouette of American participant Fred Dolbow, framed by one of the Overwaard mills.

The evening sky has given way to pitch-black night as Heirweg paces up and down the scattered ranks of his students. He clearly enjoys the Kinderdijk splendour surrounding him. “We don’t have many windmills left in Belgium. There’s just a few left in the Flemish Ardennes where I live. They have this atmosphere of nostalgia around them. In landscape photography, there’s always a risk of going ‘too wide’ because you want to show too much in one shot. You run the risk of losing the vitality of the picture. When you’re out shooting windmills, at least you have a clear defining feature to focus on in the landscape.”

Illumination Week 2018 programme

The author

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