“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f***ing thing?” Ralph Fiennes’ character from ‘In Bruges‘ may not have been particularly eloquent in his description but he was right. Bruges is like a fairytale. This medieval city criss-crossed with canals lined with gorgeous Flemish architecture is jaw droppingly gorgeous! Today, tourism is the main game in town but this wasn’t always the case.
Bruges was once the one of the main centres of the medieval wool and cloth trade. Weaving and spinning were big business in Bruges in the middle ages. Although I’ve got nothing against fine cloth goods per se, I am rather glad that Bruges has shifted more towards the beer and chocolate industries in more recent times.
Bruges is an extremely busy and conjested place. As one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, it can be difficult to get away from the crowds and find a more peaceful location to explore and take photographs. I found that getting up early and heading out from the centre were the best ways to achieve this. During the day, the area around the Markt Square and Rozenhoedkaai is usually thronged with tourists in matching shell suits munching on fries and chocolate and asking aloud whats in a fricadel.
I took this photo along one of the quieter canals a short trip from the main tourist area. This particular spot is only a ten minute walk from the celebrated belfry and is well worth a visit as part of a leisurely stroll along the less central canals of Bruges. This handsome triple arched stone bridge can be found on the pretty residential street of Langestraat. The cobbled street is lined by colourful brick houses with the elegant crow stepped gables that are so typical of this part of Europe.
There are also plenty of restaurants in this area that are less packed and slightly cheaper than the ones in the centre of town. A big pot of delectable local mussels washed down with a delicious Belgian beer is a must. I’d highly recommend a local brew called Steen Brugge. I’d also recommend keeping some Alka Seltzer handy. This is not some wimpy mass produced lager in a can!
I awoke on my second morning in Bruges to a city shrouded in a thick mist. Misty conditions offer a fantastic opportunity to capture a location in a very different way. Black and white tends to work best in these conditions and allows you to create atmospheric images with a minimalist feel. I feel lucky as being able to shoot in these conditions is a very rare treat for a photographer. The perfectly windless surroundings also created pleasing reflections in the water, an added bonus.
Exposing photos in these conditions is actually technically quite easy as the contrast is low. Misty conditions also tend to fade the background areas of the photos letting the foreground really stand out. This was certainly the case here and helps to create a sense of depth. One of my favourite elements of this photo is actually in the background: the bare leafed mist shrouded trees to the right
Henri Cartier-Bresson often spoke about capturing “the decisive moment” and this is what I had in my mind when making this photograph. I noticed that cyclists would cross the bridge every so often and capturing one of them seemed to be the best way of creating an interesting composition. This was easier said than done as it proved to be difficult to capture a single cyclist crossing the bridge. Often a car would cross at the same time or the cyclist would look too modern for the type of image I was trying to create (very inconsiderate I thought).
Finally, after about 45 minutes waiting crouched by the wall along the canal I saw the man you see in the photo approaching the bridge and I knew he was the perfect subject. I had to time the shot carefully as I wanted to capture him at the exact point you see in the photo. This was because the white building in the background behind him would make him stand out more. Thankfully, no cars crossed the bridge and I managed to take the shot at exactly the right moment. A lot of photography is about waiting, waiting for that “decisive moment”.