Countdown: The Best Photos of 2023

Just like every year, I am once again making a selection from my photos of the past twelve months. The choice was somewhat more limited than in other years. As I am now also working as a city guide, I have less time for photography, so less beauties to choose from. But I think I have managed to put together an interesting and varied overview of the year 2023.

10 – The bridge across the Watering

Very ramshackle wooden bridge for hikers across a creek on the Dutch island of Voorne
You’ve got the bridge, number One!

I have hiked a lot in 2023, estimating around a thousand kilometers, based on the number of walks and the average distance covered. Most of it in the company of travel companions A., A., A., I., C., N., K., R., the gentlemen van D., van D., and van D., and some fellow travelers. The routes sometimes took us over beautifully laid out paths and tracks, but we also encountered some surprises. This bridge, over a 20 metre wide creek named Strypse Watering near the village of Rockanje, is one such surprise.

I crossed this bridge ten years ago as well. Even then, it was already a somewhat eerie and unsteady construction. And in the meantime, it hasn’t gotten any better. A part of the railing, on the front left, is missing; that’s troublesome because you need the railing for balance on such a narrow walkway. Midway through the bridge awaits the biggest challenge: the railing is warped, positioned not beside but above the walkway.

Travel companion Van D. and I managed to reach the other side unharmed. But I wonder how many hikers plunge into the waters of the Watering each year. Or, perhaps worse, don’t even dare to attempt the crossing. So, if someone from the province of South Holland or the municipality of Voorne aan Zee is reading this: please allocate a budget for repairs. Because this route is too beautiful to let it fade away.

9 – Under a dramatic sky

Wooden bench on a beach near a lake in the vicinity of Tilburg, The Netherlands, in the sunshine but under a dramatic sky
All kinds of weather

2023 was the wettest year since Dutch weather service KNMI started keeping track of such things. And it showed: there were many rain-soaked walks this year. My weekend in Tilburg with travel companion A., for example, in mid-January. Due to the harsh weather conditions, there is no decent visual material left from Saturday. Of course, it did show our character that we still walked about twenty kilometers despite the challenging circumstances.

Sunday was fortunately much better. Although the fallen water was now generously spread over the paths, to the extent that we encountered a small inland sea that made it impossible to continue. Another type of liquid, at the La Trappe tasting room, made up for it.

This photo dates from that afternoon and captures the changing weather conditions well. The sun has now broken through, but the clouds are still very dramatic. The waves on the pond indicate that it is also windy.

The wooden bench, saturated with previously fallen precipitation, is there purely for decorative purposes in these conditions. Yet, it adds scale and tranquility to the image; a reason why benches are often featured in my photos.

8 – You’ll never walk alone

Beautifully curved dirt road between rows of birch trees, between Zoetermeer and delft in the Netherlands
Fields and roads

In addition to benches, there is another recurring theme in my photography: paths, roads, and lanes. Besides providing structure to the landscape, and therefore to the photo, it is impossible not to see their symbolism. They are like life itself: sometimes beautiful, sometimes less so, sometimes easily navigable, sometimes with obstacles, bumps, or puddles on the route.

The birch lane in this photo stands for a very pleasant life. The slight curve makes the future a bit uncertain, but what we see still makes us optimistic. I didn’t have to travel far to capture this shot: the lane is located in urbanized South Holland, between Zoetermeer and Delft.

The thing with birch trees: their white trunks have a kind of eyes on them. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it: dozens of eyes staring at you. But perhaps that is also symbolic: it’s preferable not to walk the path of life alone.

7 – Open door

Detail of the mirroring Depot building of the Boymans museum in Rotterdam: the service entrance
Artist entrance

And once again, a photo of the Depot of the Boymans museum makes it to the top 10, just like in 2020 and 2022. Not entirely illogical, as it is probably the most frequently photographed building in Rotterdam. This photo is a bit more zoomed in than the other two; here, we see the “artist entrance” at the back of the Pot. If you can speak of a backside with such a round shape.

It is a beautiful illustration of the fact that architecture entails more than just coming up with a nice idea. It also involves years of struggle to actually get that idea built without all the quality being cut for budget reasons. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes one doesn’t.

At the Depot, MVRDV definitely succeeded in realizing the idea, a reflective bowl with a forest on the roof. The main shape may look simple, but each row of mirrors has different dimensions and curvature. And thanks to these specially designed airplane doors, the shape remains uncompromized even at the entrances. Well, at least after closing time.

Furthermore, I like the photo because of the play of light and the beautiful curved lines. And because, for a change, the building reflects not the skyline but the surrounding pavement and planting. And finally, because the photographer, me, has made an effort to stay out of the frame. An effort that’s almost successful.

6 – The flood

Historic farm in the Noordwaard region in the Netherlands, protected by a little dike against the rising water
The banks of the Bevert

The wet year culminated in late December with high water levels in our major rivers in the Netherlands. Because all that moisture has to go somewhere, and we also have to guide a considerable amount of water from our neighbors through our country to the sea.

Fortunately, billions have been invested in the region of the big rivers in recent decades to manage the water properly. It costs a pretty penny, but without the Room for the River program, the city center of Deventer would probably have been flooded.

In my years working for Royal HaskoningDHV, I was able to make a tiny contribution to the program. So, I wanted to see the high water levels with my own eyes. With travel companion I., I went to a Room for the River project that is not too far from Rotterdam: the Noordwaard.

The water in the rivers Waal and Merwede turned out not to be as high as in the IJssel. It just flowed over the threshold from the floodplains into the Noordwaard. Nevertheless, this resulted in spectacular pictures.

Here, we see a monumental farmhouse (with a somewhat less monumental cottage-style addition) protected by a little ring dike against the rising water. In the foreground, there’s a stream called the Bevert; the bundles of reeds show that it has overflowed its banks. The threatening clouds, bringing more rain, complete the story.

5 – Bestseller

Close up of a relatively large sedum plant between smaller ones, both red and green
Primus inter pares

I earn a small part of my income from stock photography. Actually, the amounts involved make a grown man cry; it actually costs more than it yields, and so I probably shouldn’t do it. But still, if those photos are just sitting on my hard drive, they don’t yield thing.

Moreover, it is very amusing to see which pictures do well on the sites and which photos go unnoticed in the mass. My photos of sedum roofs are remarkably popular. The reason could be that I take very good photos of them, but more likely, not many people think of photographing sedum and uploading it to Shutterstock.

I took this photo in early September on a walk from Delft to The Hague. We immediately see that the term “green roof” is beside the truth. There is almost as much red as green in the photo, and that’s what makes those sedum roofs so interesting. It’s nice that there’s a primus inter pares right in the focus zone: a relatively giant little succulent amidst much smaller counterparts. I also like the dewdrops that are so clearly visible.

4 – Dare to be different

Quirky pink mailbox next to twenty average ones

Some photos invent their own title. This battery of conformist green mailboxes with one bright pink outsider naturally becomes an ode to individuality. Dare to be different. Although, to be fair, it could also be a slogan of an American computer brand. Because the ones who… etcetera.

For privacy reasons, I will of course not reveal the location of these mailboxes. But I will certainly give the photo a place in the top 10. As long as it is, for some people, not self-evident that everyone should be able to be themselves, it is necessary to occasionally point this out in words and/or images.

3 – Gold at Wine Harbour

Modern highrise along Wijnhaven harbour in downtown Rotterdam during the golden hour before sunset
The golden hour

Photographers generally have two favorite moments: the blue hour and the golden hour. Both last more like 30 minutes rather than a full hour, by the way.

The blue hour is the period, some time before sunrise and some time after sunset, when there is a perfect mix of daylight and artificial light.

The golden hour is a bit trickier, especially when it comes to city photography. During the golden hour, the sun is already, or still, above the horizon. In the best case, buildings are bathed in, indeed, golden sunlight. But the annoying thing about cities is that there are often other buildings that block those sun rays. I want to write a blog post about it, but I still haven’t managed to shoot enough presentable pictures.

On this evening in February though, the conditions were just right. The sky was completely cloudless, and the sun illuminated the facades along the Wijnhaven in downtown Rotterdam at exactly the right angle. In the new year, I will continue to keep an eye on the weather conditions; that blog post will come out someday.

2 – Rust never sleeps

Rusty sign with the text, in Dutch "high voltage mortal danger"
Extremely dangerous

My love for rust patterns and other signs of aging will not be news to the faithful reader of my blog. So, I was ecstatic when I came across this sign at an old barn, on a hike from Delft to Rotterdam. High voltage, life-threatening.

But it was travel companion A. who had to point out the double meaning to me. A double meaning that’s, unfortunately, lost in translation. “Hoge spanning” means not only high voltage but also high tension. And as we all know, being constantly under stress can make you seriously ill. So, it’s a good idea to look at this photo now and then. Well, if you understand some Dutch, that is.

1 – Black Water Mondrian

Photo of somewhat delipidated industrial heritage on the banks of the river Zwarte Water in Zwolle, The Netherlands, featuring two geese
Industrial heritage

Taking photos from a moving vehicle, whether on land or water, is something you shouldn’t even try. Focusing may be no problem for today’s cameras with their autofocus. But for creating a good composition, you really need to take the time. And there is no time when you are constantly in motion relative to your subject.

But when I was in a boat on the river Zwarte Water (Black Water) in the town of Zwolle and I saw all the beautiful industrial heritage along the banks, I couldn’t resist. And miraculously, there was one lucky shot among those photos.

This image has an almost Mondrian-like composition. All those materials: concrete, steel, wood, corrugated iron, brick; they all have their place. We see beautiful textures of lichen and rust. There are many small details: damage, lichen, a drainage hole, a bend in the rain pipe. And in exactly the right place, those two geese. If I’d been given an hour to do it, it wouldn’t have fit together so perfectly. In my opinion, a well-deserved number 1.

Top 10s from other years: 2016201720182019202020212022

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