Shooting Amsterdam: Planning for Rain

© Matt Peyton

Early on, my fixer, Jonathan, and I, decided, much to his great sadness, that scooters offered us the best chance to move around the city at the speed we needed to go. Amsterdam sports a remarkable and completely singular network of bicycle lanes on every sidewalk and back street in the city—a parallel universe for cyclists and small scooters, which jet around Amsterdam 24 hours day, rain or shine, day or night. A good scooter is a handy thing. You can lock it and walk away just by turning one key, in comparison to a bicycle that needs a chain and lock system. You can tuck a camera wrapped in a raincoat under the seat and scoot to your next setup faster than you can say “Bitterball.” Team Scooterazi was born.

Like any working photographer, I bring all my own gear to a shoot. So naturally, I arrived with a full-face helmet, armored jacket, boots, etc. Turns out that people don’t wear helmets on scooters in Amsterdam. In fact, people don’t tend to wear helmets at all, for any cycling or light power-sport! It’s amazing to watch – these Dutch children, raised from infants on the front of their mums bicycle, texting each other about their day as they wiz through traffic, on the sidewalk, inches from more pedestrian traffic. What could go wrong? In fact, we saw zero accidents or issues with the hive-mind buzz that is Amsterdam cycle traffic. We, ourselves, as helmeted interlopers, were the “known-unknown.”  

Rain. It rains a lot in July in Amsterdam. In fact, the city of Tulips enjoys three to four inches of rain a month; 36 inches a year. Quite damp! How many hours a day could we shoot, enjoying some semblance of daylight, without getting our lens elements wet? Amsterdam boasts almost 17 hours of daylight during July. If it rains half of the time, I can still work a ”union half-day” and be home to catch the Benny Hill show…. But alas, rain is unpredictable. The North Atlantic feeds Amsterdam a mix of daily weather so diverse as make the word ”unpredictable” moot. As Mark Twain said of North Atlantic weather: “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

Stamina. Will I have enough of it to function as a documentarian 16 hours a day and still be able to make sane production decisions, avoiding the obvious temptations of the Venice of the North (Belgian Ale)? I’m a sound middle-aged man. I work out daily, skate, bicycle, so on. But, my feet are not what they used to be – blame track running, and my lower back can be grumpy after a day with a heavy pack. Could I function well 16 hours a day, present a sound image edit of the previous day’s work, mount up and shoot from the hip thereafter, and not burn myself out to the point where the work suffered?  

These were the questions that plagued my mind as I packed my two HEAVY suitcases, checked them half a dozen times the Sunday before I flew, checked my passport obsessively, and boarded the plane to meet the old world—a new world for me.  - Matt Peyton

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