Photographing Tulips

– Posted in: Garden Photography

It is almost July and I am only now editing my April shoot from the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Editing in the digital world is, hands down, the hardest thing about my work these days. I often shoot hundreds of photos on a shoot and spend at least two days editing for every one shooting. I have been shooting a lot so it is no wonder I am behind on my editing – and behind on my blogging.

There are so many photo opps from the Tulip Festival I thought I might share my thought process on what I shoot. My first day was a weekend and the fields were crowded with people. As a garden photographer I wanted beautiful flower scenes but as a journalist I was inspired by what I saw.

tulip field child pink blouse

Everyone was being photographed ! That is a story in itself and makes for a much more human interest than boring views of rows of tulips. Though the “boring views” are wonderful to behold. I loved the little girl in the pink blouse in the pink tulips mugging for her mom. I took about 6 photos of this scene to get this keeper. I imagine the photo that mom got will be a lifetime keeper too.

I hope she composed her photo tightly so that there are no distracting elements as I did in the photo below. I wanted to envelop my subjects in a sea of red tulips:

field of red tulips woman being photographed

I imagine the final portrait of the woman should be wonderful, her blue shirt being a fine complement to the red tulips. I guess this is as good a place as any to remind my readers “the camera always lies” and it is up to the photographer to create the “lie” we want. Careful composition is the first rule.

Note the camera angle of the photographer and the subject in the next two photos:

tulip field family looking at horizontulip field looking down on subject

The blond photographer will get a photo of her family with the horizon and mountains, and the brunette will get her kids in long rows of tulips. Simple composition tricks go a long way in deciding what message we put in our photos.

Two more photographers carefully composing their photos:

man composing tulip photo

child composing tulip photo

I just loved this little guy so intently studying his scene with childlike simplicity. One day he will learn to get a little lower down, stack up rows and rows of contrasting tulips, use a little selective focus, and see what I see from this very same spot (over his shoulder):

row of red tulips in field

What fun to take these photos, what a great tool the camera is. The computer and the editing process ? !@#*! Back to work. The sooner I get things edited the sooner I can sell the photos. Now that is incentive!

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Zoë June 30, 2008, 5:38 am

I particularly liked the sea of red tulips, and the last image of the harmonised yellows, oranges and red. Beautiful.

In a way its lovely to see them now out of their season context, as in they had become just a memory, and you have brought their beauty back to the fore of my mind so beautifully.

Thanks for sharing them.


Glad you were reminded of spring, I hadn’t really realized that might be the effect on the viewer. When I am editing I am so engrossed in the photos I forget how long ago they were taken. – Saxon

Sylvia June 30, 2008, 7:14 am

What a lovely post, people taking photos of their families and some tips thrown in. That little boy is really cute! Thank you for taking time out from your editing to share with us.

Best wishes Sylvia (England)

Thanks Sylvia – It is hard not to be warmed by the families posing for photos. What you don’t see are the field monitors who periodically passed by asking people to stay out of the rows. – Saxon

Lisa at Greenbow June 30, 2008, 7:16 am

A nice lesson on perspective and composition. Lovely photos. It must be an awesome sight to see a field of tulips in varying colors blooming all at once.

Thanks Lisa. It is really an overwhelming thing to see so much color at once and I confess I was glad to be distracted by the families on my first day so that I could let the scene soak in. – Saxon

Les June 30, 2008, 7:25 am

Beautiful shots, and I appreciate the pointers too.

Thanks Les. Watching the amateur photogs at work gave me the idea. – Saxon

Nancy Bond June 30, 2008, 9:33 am

I love the image of the little girl in the pink shirt…she blends into that beautiful field as though she’s become one with the tulips herself. Wonderful shots! (The shot of the little guy with the camera is priceless and precious.)

Nancy – Thanks for commenting. We should all be so lucky to find great locations to photograph our families. I took very few photos of my kids growing up because I seldom took my family on shoots and seldom took my camera on family holidays. I get so caught up in taking the perfect photo that it was no fun taking pictures of my own kids. Oh well. – Saxon

Robin June 30, 2008, 10:38 am

This is a fun post from a photography perspective and also fun to see tulips in the summer! What a treat! All of the pictures are wonderful I love the last one and the one of the boy IS priceless!

Is it summer now ?! As I edit my work in the dark of my office, I lose track and get caught up in the season of my photos. I am still editing things from my meadows shoot last fall…

And that little boy IS priceless. His mom was standing next to him and had to tell him how to hold the camera. It was upside down to start with; which come to think about it, is a tip I once gave beginner photogs – look through the camera upside down. It helps you realize the camera is a framing tool first, before we ever snap the shutter. – Saxon

Katie June 30, 2008, 3:21 pm

I love all of these photos. The story behind each is just as beautiful as the tulips themselves.

Where are you located, because in my neck of the woods, tulips bloomed 5 months ago!

Great pictures, thanks for sharing!

Your tulips bloomed 5 months ago ? End of January ? My daffodils are coming on strong then, here in Northern California, but tulips tend to be late March. These photos were taken in Skagit Valley Washington in late April but I am only now editing them.. Glad you liked the stories… – Saxon

fran sorin June 30, 2008, 5:04 pm

Am just loving these photos. I almost feel as if I’ve entered the technicolor world of Disney while viewing. How much did you control the intensity of the color when editing? Thanks for sharing! Fran

Hey Fran – Glad you liked the photos – only the tip of the iceberg from an overwhelming shoot. I try not to intensify or saturate the colors in processing – it is hard enough to bring out the real color. I use a photographer’s ‘gray card’ in the field as a control for the digital camera and balance my files based on the neutral gray. The colors look intense because, well, they are; and it was an overcast day which always allows you to see all the subtle shadings within any color spectrum. – Saxon

Layanee July 11, 2008, 8:47 am

Wonderful photos and inspiration as far as booking a trip to the Skagit Valley.

Pam/Digging July 19, 2008, 1:34 am

I absolutely love these photos of people enjoying the flowers. So often our garden blogs are devoid of people, though obviously people and gardens are made for each other. Thanks for bringing the human element back in.

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