Zoom Academy met Harmen Piekema @ Wadden + Video

In part two of this blog series, I take you along with the filming days for the Zoom Academy course: “Landscapes in the Netherlands”. Together with camerawoman Michelle Ruwen, I’ve made an extensive series of videos in two days at various beautiful locations. In this part we are at the Wadden coast during sunset.

Filming and photography on the Wadden Sea bottom brings an extra dimension; Water and mud make moving difficult and you can get stuck easily. Therefore you must know what you are doing!

Untamable excitement

As we arrive at the Wadden Sea at 20:00, there is still a lot of water. It is not long past high tide, so we have to wait until the water has subsided a little further. In addition, there is a strong wind; something that is almost always the case at the Wadden coast. While we wait, we see the light slowly turn golden. The sun doesn’t set until 21.33, but thanks to the clouds, the light is already beautiful and diffuse. I can no longer contain my excitement and want to go up the mud flats. No sooner said than done, we walk through the mud to a small island to prepare our stuff before stepping into the water.

When the water has retreated enough, we step onto the mud flats. This is Michelle’s first time, so it certainly takes some time getting used to.


Before we start preparing our gear, we first discuss the safety aspects. Taking photographs at this location is not entirely without danger and there are a number of things you have to take into account. The most important factor is the tide. During high tide the mud flats are under water. Apart from the fact that there is nothing to photograph, this is potentially dangerous. That is why it is always advisable to photograph during outgoing tide. That way you will never be faced with surprises. I know from experience how quickly the water rises. You can’t keep up with it. Therefore, always keep a close eye on your surroundings, especially when you are going to photograph with a rising tide and you’ve crossed a channel.

While the water still flows past us on all sides, I explain the safety aspects; hence the serious face 😀


When photographing on the Wadden Sea floor, it is important to remember that it is impossible to put down your bag. That is why you have to prepare your gear on shore. Also take any filters and lenses you might want to use and put them in your jacket. At the Wadden Sea, I almost always shoot with my Tamron SP 24-70 f / 2.8 G2. So that is what goes on my camera and on the tripod in combination with a NiSi CPL & Medium GND8. I also put a NiSi 6 stops ND filter in my jacket so it is easily accessibel.

On the small island I can put my bag down to get everything ready before we step into the water. On the mud flats, putting the bag down is impossible. My camera has the Tamron SP 24-70 G2 and a NiSi S5 filter holder with polarization filter.

Onto the mudflats

It is time to get into the mud!! There is still a lot of water where we want to go, but because the light is already very beautiful, we persist anyway. First we follow the waterline through the mud. It is Michelle’s first time and she is very impressed by the landscape. Her fashionable boots are not really suitable for this environment though (sorry Michelle :-P) and she has wet feet in no time. But it doesn’t seem to matter her at all. She is completely absorbed with filming, and in no time she is in knee deep water (while the boots reach the bottom of the ankles hahaha).

First we follow the waterline so that Michelle can get used to walking on the super slippery mud but the spot is at the end of the line of poles, so getting into the water is unavoidable.

Abstract image

Because the sun is still relatively high in the sky, and there is still a lot of water around the poles, I think of making an abstract image but there are lots of tiny distracting waves. This offers a great opportunity to explain a few things about the use of an ND filter. With the help of this filter, creating abstract images becomes a lot easier.

The beautiful golden light, in combination with the abstract shapes of the posts and the silvery color of the water, just demand the use of a NiSi ND filter.

Before I put the ND filter on the camera, I make sure that my composition is correct, the settings are correct and I have focused on the poles. As soon as this filter is on the camera, the latter is no longer possible. In addition, I need the settings to know what the new settings (shutter speed) will be. While doing this, I try to explain to the camera what steps to follow when taking such a photo.

The beautiful golden light emphasizes the details on the posts. Thanks to a shutter speed of 25 seconds, the water is nice and smooth. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 G2 @ 53 mm | f/11 | 25 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi cpl, gnd8 & ND64.

And then it got hectic!

Just out of nowhere, the sky cracks open, while the sun is about to set. This creates very dramatic light. Suddenly the whole scene changes and we go from an abstract calm image, to a super dramatic image! We can’t believe our eyes. On the spot, I make up the term “reactive photography”. This is just epic! However, there is a little problem; I want to use a different filter (NiSi GND16), but it is still in my bag. Fortunately, my F-Stop backpack has a very handy trick for that. Simply by loosening the hip belt a touch, you can turn the bag towards your belly. Then you can let it hang (yes, the band is strong enough) and get the necessary stuff out. However, it remains a scary thing to do with this amount of water and mud!

Thanks to the sturdy hip belt of my F-Stop Tilopa, I am able to get something out of my backpack, but it remains scary with this amount of mud.

The light is getting more beautiful and powerful sun rays blast through the clouds. The light is so amazing and intense that I almost forget to talk to the camera. Still, I manage to keep telling what I’m doing, and I explain, among other things, how to apply an exposure stack and why I still apply this, despite the use of a gradient filter.

It is hard to imagine that just before, we were doing a long exposure abstract. The light is incredibly beautiful as can be seen on the back of my camera!

In the video, I am talking about the choice to use an ND filter to get rid of the tiny waves, but my final choice is an image without this filter. In my opinion, the details in the water and the current fit perfectly with the dramatic circumstances of that moment.

This photo consists of a merge (HDR) of a stack of 3 exposures: 1/10, 1/6 and 0.4 seconds. I did this to be able to control the enormous difference between light and dark. Tamron SP 24-70 f/2.8 G2 @ 53 mm | f/11 | 1/10 – 1/6 – 0,4 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi landscape CPL & GND16.

Know your body and limits

After shooting this photo, the light remained beautiful but not as dramatic as before. However, this light was perfect for filming a bit more about safety and knowing your own body and stamina. Photographing on the Wadden Sea can be very heavy and tiring, depending on the water and the depth of the mud. That is why it is very important to know your limits so you never get into trouble. I know quite a few stories of people that needed rescuing or were about to call for help, and I pulled some people out of the mud myself. That is why this is a very important aspect of photography on the mudflats.

Photographing on the mudflats can be quite tiring. It is important to keep moving (also while behind the camera) so that you do not sink-in too deep and get stuck.

The end of the session

After filming this item, it’s time to go back to shore. The sun has set but it is still incredibly beautiful. The clouds and sky have a beautiful deep orange color that is reflected by the wet mud. It looks really beautiful! We were really lucky with these epic conditions. Perhaps one of the most beautiful I have seen on the Wadden Sea.

Even with the sun gone, the sky is still very beautiful! So it is a pleasure to walk back.

Enthusiastic, happy and a bit tired, we get into the car after a day of filming. It was a very long but fun day with an early start in Ezinge, and it is at least an hour’s drive home. The alarm is scheduled for 4:00 am, so it is going to be a short night 🙂 But more about that in next week’s blog!

As promised

Because we are very proud of the results, and because we would like to give you a nice preview of the course material, we give away this part of the course with the beautiful sunset for free. Have fun watching (Sorry it is in Dutch)!!

Thanks for reading

Thanks for reading the second part of this series! In the next part we will be shooting panoramas early so don’t forget to watch again next week!

If you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema and Facebook. Check out my YouTube channel to see behind the scene vlogs, learn how to use certain gear and follow me on my adventures. If you want you can check out my webshop. Your support means a lot!


2 responses to “Zoom Academy met Harmen Piekema @ Wadden + Video”

  1. […] zijn kan Michelle in alle rust B-roll schieten, een totaal verschil met de avond er voor zoals je hier kunt lezen. We hebben erg veel lol en genieten van de rust en het mooie […]

  2. […] vind je de behind the scenes blogs en video’s van de Zoom Academy filmdagen: Zonsopkomst | Waddenzee | De Rat | […]

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