But it can be so wonderful to visit a place we know little of. To allow its streets to tell a story. To get swept up in the feeling of a city.
That was my first experience of Amsterdam.
I went right after I graduated university. My best friend was doing a semester abroad there, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to go to Europe for the first time. But all I knew of Amsterdam was its reputation for sex and drugs. So I expected it to be fun. I didn’t know it would be magical.
To me, Amsterdam is like a fairy tale, all narrow streets and winding canals and flowers bursting out of every corner. But I was also surprised by its rock n roll edge. Vibrant street art. Perfectly curated vintage shops. Beautifully designed homes never adorned with curtains. There seemed to be something new and wonderful around every corner.
Traveling without knowing much about a place is like stripping off the filter of our expectations. Instead of being let down if it doesn’t measure up or only seeing one side of a city, we
That’s why I love the London City Airport #NoFilter campaign. They’re encouraging travelers to document their holidays without editing or filters. Rather than forcing your photos to look a certain way for Instagram, you can capture a place as you really saw and experienced it.
- Use natural light to your advantage. You’ll take your best photos first thing in the morning or a couple of hours before the sun sets. But if it’s midday, just try not to position your subject in direct sunlight as this will create harsh shadows. If you’re indoors, try to take photos near a window.
- Get familiar with the manual settings on your camera (this isn’t overly complicated, and I’ve provided some tips here). Then be intentional about how you can use your exposure and aperture to create the visual effect you’re looking for.
- Take a moment to carefully compose your shot. Think about how a particular angle or framing might make it more visually interesting.
- Take a variety of photos. Especially if you’re photographing people, as it can be difficult to notice if someone is squinting or making a wonky face.
- Photograph details. We often focus solely on photographing landmarks or big attractions but sometimes the best photos are of the small things you loved about a place. Perfect latte art in a cosy cafe. A friendly cat on someone’s font step. A pile of tangled necklaces at a flea market. You can find amazing photos of a city’s most famous spots anywhere, but no one else can capture the small moments that defined your trip.
If you visit, by all means, take advantage of its wonderful sights. Give remembrance at the Anne Frank House. Marvel at creative genius of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and the Dutch masters. Visit the floating flower markets and marvel at the expanse of technicoloured blooms.
But save time to let Amsterstamd take you by surprise. Hop on a bike or set out on foot and wander the curved paths of the canals. Turn down a street when you feel the urge to. Stop and explore anything you feel drawn to.
It might be a vibrant red eyeglasses museum. Or a cuppa and vintage clothes shopping at The Darling. Maybe you’ll want a strong brew at the lovely Two for Joy or to stop for a beer under a windmill. If you’ve got time, you could see a film at this independent cinema or shop the ceiling high stacks of magazines at Athenaeum. Spend a day exploring aimlessly. Let your intuition guide you. Allow your story to weave with the city’s. And be sure to tell me what treasures you stumble on.
What kind of traveler are you: do you prefer to plan every detail or go with the flow?