De Wadden: Het vasteland
When you think of photography at the Waddensea, you probably don’t think of the mainland. That is a pity because true photography gems can be found here too! The coastal area of the mainland has mud plains, salt marshes, sleeper dikes, quiet villages and so on. Each area has its own unique characteristics. And perhaps more importantly; the Wadden coast on the mainland is almost always accessible by car. Perfect if you have little time, but still want to photograph at the Wadden Sea.
The Waddensea is the only real wilderness in the Netherlands; it is the largest tidal marsh of its kind in the world. A wild and dynamic area. Twice a day, large parts of the sea become dry, creating a unique landscape. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an area full of life, and it is an invaluable resource for millions of birds that visit this area during migration, or call this home. Common and gray seals live here too. This makes the area, not only attractive for photographers, but also for nature lovers and bird watchers.
The best period for photography along most of the Wadden coast is roughly from March till October, later the sun disappears behind the seawalls at sunset, and from November also at sunrise. To determine the exact position of the sun during sunrise and sunset you can use various apps such as Photopills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris. With this you can make a perfect plan for your Wadden photography session. Make sure to be in time prior to sunset to have plenty of time to search for different compositions. Don’t think too much and keep it simple; Let your senses run wild! A pole, a bunch of samphire, some shells or simply the sun reflected on the mud. Preferably use a polarization filter and a gray gradient filter.
Before jumping in the car, check whether it is low tide, for example via Windfinder.com or with the help of the many tide apps for your smartphone, such as Tides. During high tide you have little chance of finding great compositions. In addition, it is wise to bring boots. Prepare everything before you step onto the mud, because putting your bag down is impossible. Keep a close eye on the tide while photographing and preferably photograph during receding tide. Then you won’t be surprised by the rapidly rising water.
The Wadden area is a vulnerable nature reserve, respect this and leave no waste behind. If you come across waste, take it with you! Waste, even small, is deadly for the many animals that live here. Flying a drone can produce great images, but don’t fly too close to birds and follow the guidelines and rules.
The mud plains
Due to the dynamics of the tides, the landscape is ever changeable and the creative possibilities are enormous. For a long time, man has been trying to reclaim the land. Fortunately, this has now stopped, but there are still many dams, or remnants thereof, that are very photogenic.
The most famous is without a doubt at Paesens-Moddergat. The posts you see here provide a beautiful subject for photographing sunset. Nearby Wierum also has a coast full of dams, and to top it off, a beautiful shipwreck. On the other side of the dike you will find a photogenic church.
These hotspots are a perfect starting point and great for photography. But also look for other options yourself. There is a lot to be found here. Let yourself be guided by shapes, structures and the wide landscape with the open sea.
The Salt marsh
This is the transition area from water to land. With the exception of the low part of the salt marsh, this area is only submerged during storms and spring tide. It has unique vegetation because of the salty soil. Here you will find beautiful flowers, and plants, and endless views. Many birds also forage and breed here, so be sure to bring a telephoto lens! Especially in spring, summer and autumn you will find a colorful world with meandering channels in between.
You’ll find salt marshes along the entire Wadden coast, but the largest contiguous salt marsh is Noard-Fryslân Bûtendyks. Here you will find beautiful brushwood screens and drainage channels, as silent remnants of land reclamation. Here you can photograph endless plains with beautiful skies. When it is very dry for a long time, the sludge dries out and starts to burst. This creates fantastic patterns in the mud. Preferably photograph these patterns with a large wide-angle lens in combination with a dramatic sky. By applying the technique focus stacking, taking multiple photos with different focus points, you get a photo that is razor-sharp from front to back. This will dramatically increase the impact of the photo.
On the Wadden coast you’ll find various harbor cities, such as Den Helder, Harlingen and Lauwersoog, each with its own character, but the best one is the smallest tidal port in the Netherlands in Noordpolderzijl. Driving here, you find yourself at the end of the world; from the dike you have a beautiful view across the harbor, the channel, the surrounding salt marshes and the Wadden Sea. Visit this port during high tide on a windless day around sunrise or sunset. You can’t get any better!
The Dollard is a sea arm between the Netherlands and Germany. The mix of fresh and salt water creates a unique landscape. Most of the Dollard is a protected nature reserve. The whole area is great, but one of the biggest attractions is the iconic hut: “Kiekkaaste” at Nieuwe Statenzijl. This bird hide is exactly on the German-Dutch border. Yet it is not the view from this cabin that attracts most photographers. It’s the cabin itself! Especially during sunset, this spectacular birdwatching hut forms a beautiful backdrop for a perfect landscape photo. In addition to your wide-angle lens, be sure to bring a telephoto lens. The view from the cabin is great too because, in addition to the many species of birds, seals and porpoises are regularly spotted.
For centuries, man has fought a tough battle against the raging waters of the Wadden Sea. With every storm, large parts of the country were flooded and the inhabitants had to flee. Yet people wanted to live here at all costs because of the nutrient-rich soil (as a result of the many floods). That’s why villages were built on hills with the church at the center. There used to be thousands of such villages, but the construction of dikes and the reclamation of land made them redundant and many of these mounds have disappeared. Fortunately, there are about 1300 left, including two very nice ones!
This is the highest mound in the Netherlands and definitely worth a visit! If you have a drone, take it with you because the characteristic round shape of these types of villages is clearly visible from the air. If you want to experience the peace and quiet of the countryside, plan a sunrise session here in spring, for example.
This is a beautiful mound in Groningen, with a very photogenic church. The perfect place for a beautiful sunrise. The best time to visit is early spring or late autumn and winter. In the summer many flowers bloom along the avenue, which is beautiful, but the church is partly hidden behind the trees in front of it.
Go out and explore!
The Wadden region on the mainland is a very diverse area with many photographic possibilities. Too much to describe in one article, you need a whole book for that. With this article I want to motivate you to go out and explore, with a number of iconic areas as a guide. The Waddensea is enchanting, once she has you in her power, don’t let go!
Thanks for reading!
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