Photography in Amsterdam, Leiden and around

Photography in Amsterdam, Leiden and around


Every year or so I try to plan a European trip. The problem with Europe is that there are too many cities and places to experience ūüôā

The Netherlands had to be in this year tour.  I was so looking forward to some photography in Amsterdam and Leiden.

Ops, have you never heard of Leiden? Sure you did of Amsterdam. Well, Leiden is a little gem, a secret town just 20 minutes from Amsterdam

I originally planned to join an Amsterdam photography tour, as a start, and than spend a week free wheel. I wanted also to explore some unusual areas of the capital as well as visiting the outskirts of the capital.

I had few photography galleries, museums and exhibitions on my must-see list and sure enough Leiden (getting curious now?) and Rotterdam, for the unusual architecture.

The amazing thing about the Netherlands is that the transportation system is everywhere, anytime and very reliable.

Living in Australia, when I think to go from city to city I have to plan a day trip at least.

In the Netherlands you can book your accommodation in Amsterdam, take a quick train to visit Rotterdam, stop on the way back in The Hague for a coffee and a walk and spend the night listening live music at one of the many student pub in Leiden, before heading back to Amsterdam for a sleep.

Stopping by Leiden for some night photography on my way back from Rotterdam

Stopping by Leiden for some night photography on my way back from Rotterdam (30 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 50mm)

Photography in Amsterdam

I took¬†the Amsterdam Central station as the main starting point¬†for this photography trip. If you have planned to¬†sleep in the central area of Amsterdam, you will reach the station in just few hundreds meters ūüėČ

Where to start

For a panoramic view of the city head straight to the cafe on the top of the Science Center NEMO. It is just a 15 minutes walk (see map below) and a 2 minutes climb on the stairs outside the museum.

View of Amsterdam from the rooftop cafe at the Science Center NEMO

View of Amsterdam from the rooftop cafe at the Science Center NEMO

Amsterdam is such a photogenic city. It’s really hard to give any suggestion on which canal or bridge or corner is better.

However, the city is not that small, if walking is your way of transportation.

I wanted to see the most of it and I decided to organise my days exploring the East South of Amsterdam centre on the first day and the West South on the second day. I allocated the third day to the NDSM exploration and some biking in the city.

Walking along the canals during the day is the best way to explore the city and also to do some great photos

It’s actually hard to stop making photos. I had to push myself to focus on few things and not just shoot left and right.

What to look for

I personally suggest to include one or more of these 4 components in a photo of Amsterdam:

  1. water, one or more canals
  2. bridges, I love the old ones and they do fit great in any photo of this country, better if drawbridge
  3. a typical Dutch boat, it’s actually impressive to see how many Dutch people live in the boats
  4. city architecture, this can include one of the old docks or some of the typical Amsterdam narrow houses
The four Amsterdam components, all in one photo   (1/320 sec at f/16, ISO 400, 35mm)

The four Amsterdam components, all in one photo   (1/320 sec at f/16, ISO 400, 35mm)

By the way, do you know why the houses are so narrow (the narrowest house in the world is in Amsterdam, just one meter wide)?

Surprise surprise…because of a 16th century tax, based on the width the house

My favourite area, Jordaan

One area not to miss is called Jordaan.

Formerly a working class area, Jordaan has become the arty place to be. It is located west of the central station, just a 15 minutes walk, and it is a maze of small lanes and alleys delimited by few canals.

The small narrow houses are everywhere, a fantastic subject for any photography, street photography included.

Street photography in Jordaan, Amsterdam

Street photography in Jordaan, Amsterdam

Some of the most important design shops and studios are in this area too. Just in case you need a break¬†from an intense day of photography ūüôā

Jordaan old working class building

Jordaan old working class buildings

If you see a nice corner of the city and you are thinking to visit it again with a better light (sunrise or sunset) have first a look at the Suncalc website. It will suggest you the best time and sun direction.

How frustrating is to wake up early in the morning to find the site covered by the shadow of the next building. Remember that the sun direction changes based on the month you visit a place.

NDSM docklands

A visit to the capital of the Netherlands should also include a trip to the NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij).

You can easily reach it embarking on a ferry at the dock of the central station (rear/canal exit), at no extra cost.

It is an old shipping area that in the 80s had some difficult days. The shipping industry was not anymore such a convenient business to be and suddenly the area got almost deserted, after 100 years of busy life.

As sometime happens in these cases, the art community recycled this area, building one of the most vibrant cultural space in the world. I had a great interview with Eva de Klerk, the community builder of the NDSM, very inspirational.

What did I learn? That yes, we can change and improve the world.

Docks at NDSM, Amsterdam

Docks at NDSM, Amsterdam

I was quite unlucky as I missed the yearly NDSM cultural party for just 1 day!! I should have checked before on the NDSM website.

Beside the party, this is a great area for some Industrial Photography. Imagine big spaces, huge installations and new architecture mixing  with the old docks in an awesome cocktail. Definitely a vibrant area.

Street photography in Amsterdam

When I go out for some city photography in Melbourne, I usually spend lots of time at the train stations using the Fishing Technique. There are always unusual situations to document.

When I travelled to Guangzhou, I went straight to the huge market area. I had so much fun in the fish market. People were super busy and they did not bother about me with my camera.

For my street photography in Amsterdam, I concentrated on the cycling life. Believe it or not, there are more bicycles in the capital than people. There is a cycling path to go from any place to any destination. Even the bars and cafes have a thematic interior.

Street photography in Amsterdam

Street photography in Amsterdam

And guess what, you can rent a bike as well to visit not only the city but the entire country. Distances are not prohibitive.

Cycling lane, Amsterdam  (30 sec at f/20, ISO 100, 24mm)

Cycling lane, Amsterdam  (30 sec at f/20, ISO 100, 24mm)

Another great subject is the canals life, another traditional route used by the locals for the own transportation.


Photography in Leiden

Leiden is a small university town, 20-30 minutes by train from Amsterdam.

I was suggested a visit to this gem by my cousin that was working on a European Project closed to Haarlem. I thought I could spare a short visit and I ended up spending most of my sunsets and sunrises there, beside some night photography as well.

A lovely sunset in Leiden

A lovely sunset in Leiden (1/6 sec at f/20, ISO 100, 24mm)

The issue¬†I have experienced in Amsterdam with my photography was that there are¬†lots of tourists around (and yes, I am one of them ūüôā ). I tried to shoot there on sunset and, between cars and crowd,¬†was never happy with the result.

When I arrived to Leiden during the day I noticed that a good part of the town was closed to the traffic, which is already a bonus.

Canals are all around, as in Amsterdam, with some nice old bridges, as you can experience in the capital. Moreover, Leiden, is enclosed by a medieval wall. Basically it has all of the components you are looking for some great photography.

Bridges are an easy find for some sunset photography in Leiden

Bridges are an easy find for some sunset photography in Leiden (1.6 sec at f/20, ISO 100, 120mm)

In the map below I enlisted some great¬†spots. Check first on¬†Suncalc to see where the sunset, or sunrise, is. I visited Leiden end of May but it may completely different in October or January, beside having some snow maybe ūüėÄ

Photography in Rotterdam

If you are passionate about architecture you have to visit Rotterdam, if not only for a single building, the Cube Houses

Architect Piet Blom based his design on two concepts:

  • “living as an urban roof”, on an elevated position
  • common yard to play¬†and grow together
Cube houses in Rotterdam, great subject for sum Architectural Photography

Cube houses in Rotterdam, great subject for Architectural Photography

I had the possibility to visit the inside and certainly you need to get used to it. Really interesting. Because of the shape, the interior had to be all customised.

My feeling was more to be in a sailing boat than in a house.

There are few other interesting building around and, if you are interested in Architecture Photography, I would not hesitate a single second to suggest a visit to the city.


Another easy excuse for a trip to Rotterdam is the Netherlands Photo Museum, more on this later.

Night photography in Amsterdam and Leiden

I am a huge lover of night photography, even more in Amsterdam and Leiden.

The main reason is that both places, with the street lights, become magical. A night walk is like a step back to the medieval era.

There are few trick with night photography. Beside using a tripod, I always suggest to use an aperture in the range of f/9 to f/13. I usually shoot for the highlights, sometime underexposing for 1/2 stop (exposure compensation setting is the easy way to do it)

In the Netherlands I also wanted to have some nice star lights. This means that from the street lights you will see more and longer rays of lights. I could do that using an aperture of f/13 and even more with a setting of f/16

Night photography in the Netherlands. So many canals to take inspiration from

Night photography in the Netherlands. So many canals to take inspiration from (30 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 24mm)

With a shutter speed of 20-30 seconds usually you will not see any moving person in your photo, however you may experience some ghosting effect. This is caused by people that are stationary for at least a quarter of your shutter speed.

If you do not like to have people into your frame I highly suggest to spend a night in Leiden with similar canals, bridges and corners as you can see in Amsterdam.

There are few amazing locations I suggest in Leiden. Have a look to the photos and the map below, at the end of the post.

Night Photography in Leiden (30 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 24mm)

Night Photography in Leiden (30 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 24mm)

Leiden canals (25 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 24mm - 2 stitched photos)

Leiden canals (25 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 24mm – 2 stitched photos)


For my night photography I tend to use a Tungsten white balance (WB). If you want to give a warmer effect you may try a day light setting. The other possibility is to set a color temperature in the range of 3100k-3500k.

If you find too hard to set the colours right remember that, when shooting in RAW, you can always change the WB in post-production. The alternative is to shoot in black and white.


If you are photography enthusiast, a trip to a major city is never complete without a visit to one or more photography museums and/or exhibitions.

The good news is that the Netherlands is a country which has a long history of art, artists and inspirational work.

I would definitely suggest a visit to the below museums. They will all help to understand and improve the own photography

FOAM Museum in Amsterdam 

This is a big museum and you should plan probably a 2 hours visit. It may be actually more with an interesting exhibition (check the FOAM website for more information on the present and future plan). The¬†Helmut Newton’s retrospective has been very popular, as an example.

I highly suggest to pick up a map that will guide you through the different rooms because the FOAM museum is really a multilevel maze.

You will go through a big archive, from the less to the more famous photographers. There is also the possibility to buy some prints at the museum shop

What I liked the most was the exhibition, very well curated.

The great thing is that access is¬†free, if you have a¬†Museumkaart or a I Amsterdam Card, and it is really well located in the city center, therefore easy to find a time slot for a visit ūüėČ

Netherlands Photo Museum in Rotterdam

I could have not left the country without a visit to the Nederlands Fotomuseum.

It is located in a refurbished dock, with a huge multilevel space dedicated to exhibitions and photography history.

As for the FOAM Museum, I suggest to check the program of the exhibitions. If not interesting to your like I would probably avoid a visit to the Netherlands Photo Museum, especially if you have already visited the FOAM.

The main reason is that the remaining part of the museum is similar to the FOAM, although different in some details.

I was very very lucky with my visit. I was there for the opening of the exhibition of photographer Robert Doisneau. I could not ask for more.

I originally planned to spend 1-2hours. I ended up staying for almost 3 hours.

It was just a pity that the opening speech was in Dutch, but I had the possibility at least to have a bit of a talk with one person of the Netherlands Photo Museum team which¬†gave me a quick summary and more info as well. Awesome¬†team ūüėČ

Van Gogh Museum

This is strictly not a photography museum, I know. However I do highly suggest a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.

We all know Van Gogh as THE painter he was, however I was not really aware about his studies on composition and use of the colours in his paints.

Technically speaking there are quite a number of similarities between painting and photographing.

Of course, as photographers, we can only document what we have in front of us, however the composition of one photo can be sometime decided by just moving few meters on the right, or the left. Just few meters can make a big difference on the framing.

I like to call Van Gogh a technical painter. Someone that would spend hours on any detail. His study on the colours amazed me and helped me to understand more on how should I use them to my advantage.

You may like Van Gogh work or not, however the technical side of it is most definitely a great source of inspiration.

Other Photography galleries in Amsterdam

This is a growing list.

I have not visited all of them but I hope I will next time in Amsterdam ūüôā

In case you know any I have missed here, please, add a comment below

  • Torch Galley, internationally renowned and¬†recommended as one of the top 10 photography galleries in the world (Lauriergracht 94, 1016 RN Amsterdam)
  • Rockarchive Gallery Jordaan, dedicated to the rock and jazz¬†lovers. It displays images from the Rockarchive (110 Prinsengracht bg,¬†Jordaan,¬†1015 EA Amsterdam)
  • Huis Marseille Photography Museum, quarterly new exhibitions and retrospectives (Keizersgracht 401,¬†1016 EK Amsterdam)
  • LUX Photo Gallery, it was closed till further notice when I was in Amsterdam. Have a check to the website. Usually the gallery is used for the¬†World Press Photo exhibition (Zwanebloemlaan 318, Amsterdam)
  • EYE Filmmuseum, more of a cinematic museum than photography (IJpromenade 1)
  • Eduard Planting Gallery, located right in the Amsterdam center (Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat 2 links)




For the full size interactive Google map click here

Final thinking

I was really blown away by the old beauty of Amsterdam and even more by Leiden.

Certainly Amsterdam is a big city and it has all you need for a weekend or a week away, however it can be quite crowded.

Leiden is a little gem. To my eyes, it is an Amsterdam in miniature, with a young university crowd. It is a great location for some photography of the typical canals, bridges and boats, without lots of people around.

Rent a bike to explore the outskirts of the city where, especially on the weekend, when the Dutch people navigate though the maze of canals to find a spot for a picnic.

Explore the city of Rotterdam for the unusual architecture and the Netherlands Photo Museum. Just wonder around the streets. Half a day will do, if running out of time.

Overall I had a great time. I spent a week in Amsterdan and Leiden but I could easily go there for a month without getting bored a single day.

So many things to do and see. So accessible. So many photography opportunities.

For my trip I used a Nikon D600 and a standard-range 24-120 zoom Nikkor 1:4G


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Stefano Ferro
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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