Greetings from Belgium! Before I arrived, the impression I’d gathered from popular culture was that Belgium was all about chocolate, waffles, fries and beer.
I can now confirm that a large part of Belgian culture – or at least, Belgian tourism – revolves around chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. It is joyous. We took a food tour to learn a little more about the history of these various delicacies, which was eye opening. We visited Bruges’ chocolate museum and the world’s only fry museum. And, of course, we ate. A lot.
There will be more posts coming up in the next week about these various experiences, along with everything I learned about the role of Bruges in starting the financial sector as we know it, but today, as per usual for a Get Snappy post, I’m going to talk about photography.
Firstly, we were really lucky with the weather. There was mostly sun and blue skies with only a few clouds coming in toward the end of the day. This is a blessing for photography and has resulted in much better pictures than if the sky had been overcast the whole time. I know I bang on about the negative impact of thick clouds but it honestly drives me nuts despite being entirely out of my control and therefore not worth stressing about.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with that problem, for the most part. I’m now going to be colossally annoying and say that I was mainly dealing with exact opposite issue – it was too bright. There’s a reason most photographers only shoot around sunrise and sunset. Taking photos during the day when the sun was extremely bright meant that either the sky was clear but the buildings were dark or the sky was blown out but you could see all the cracks and details of Bruges’ picturesque little houses. If I have to choose, I err toward seeing the city and losing some sky definition, but the pictures I took around 6pm were definitely the sweet spot for good light.
Aside from dealing with the sun rudely interrupting my art, one of the biggest challenges about photographing Bruges was the narrow streets and how they affected the light and shadows, a similar problem I have in the narrow streets close to my office. The problem is similar to my previous issue, as the sharp contrast between the parts in shadow and the parts in the sun means that the brighter spots get washed out.
However, learning to take better photos is all about figuring these things out, so I did my best to work around the city and find some good angles.
Aside from the various challenges, Bruges is a true delight to photograph. I was blown away by how ornate, beautiful, detailed and clean all the buildings were. There are three enormous towers that provide great perspective above the average level of the city, plus each building is covered in some combination of crenellations, shutters, ironwork and various religious figures. It is still looks remarkably similar to medieval Bruges and, given that Bruges was one of the wealthiest cities in the world during the fifteenth century, you can tell that there was money in the mix when the city was originally built. There are beautiful canals, winding streets and a huge variety of bricks, patterns and plants built into the architecture. I didn’t know what to expect from Bruges and it ended up being the most stunning, fairytale-like surprise. This is the Europe I imagine Americans see when they conjure up a mental image of this continent.
I was mainly worried that I wouldn’t do it justice. It can feel like some places are so pretty than any idiot with a camera could take some beautiful photos, but that’s often a gross simplification. I think my pictures are good, but not great. I don’t think they really communicate Bruges’ charm.
And make no mistake, it was amazingly charming. Anywhere with that high a density of chocolate shops is obviously going to worm its way into my heart. I mean, there’s a chocolate museum, with free all-you-can-eat dispensers. This is the kind of place where you feel understood.
Let me know in the comments which of this week’s photos is your favourite!