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Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

I knew it was a good opportunity to take photos; I didn’t know just how good though. Despite how challenging it is for me to wake up this early, I headed down to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival at 4:30 in the morning. I wanted to get there before sunrise. For $15, photographers can enter the tulip farm 1 hour before sunrise and take advantage of golden hour and it was well worth the hour drive south from Portland.

The Tulip Festival

Each year, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm hosts a tulip festival in spring when the Tulips are blooming. The festival has a county fair feel and offers hay rides, a children’s play area, food, gift shop, a tulip market, and more.

If you follow any photo feeds from the Pacific Northwest or the Portland area you will probably see images from the festival this time of year. It is hugely popular with photographers. It was still very dark when I arrived so I had no idea just how many people were in the fields until the sun started coming up necessitating some Photoshop work when I got home.

I will admit I did not attend any of the day time festivities, but for $5 per person (13 or older) or $20 per car full, it’s not a bad deal for a family. I addition, dogs are allowed to accompany you which is always nice though bring something to wash them off when you leave.

What to bring

Aside from the obvious, a camera, here are things you should have with you if you are going to photography the farm during sunrise.

A Tripod: I cannot stress this enough, bring a tripod. To get proper exposure, aperture, and ISO, you are going to need longer shutter times. Too long to hand hold.

And that’s it! Seriously! Sure, you can bring a few other things, but if you have a camera, even a smart phone (and a way to mount it) and a tripod you can get some great shots. You don’t need expensive equipment to take great photos. Some of the photos in my gallery are from my iPhone.

If you want to step it up a little, then using a lens that can get down to wide apertures will allow you to get some nice bokeh shots. I used a Nikkor 24-120mm f4 for most of these (I brought my Nikkor 50mm f1.4 but didn’t use it).

A couple other things, wear some shoes and pants you don’t mind getting a little dirty. The field can get muddy and you will be doing a lot of kneeling if you want to get some unique angles.


The tulip field has a clear line of sight to Mt. Hood and this time of year the sun rises just to the right of the mountain from the perspective of the field. The challenge with getting a sunrise photo in the tulip field is exposing the tulips without overexposing the sky. There are a couple of ways to do this but how ever you do it, and I can’t stress this enough, shoot in RAW format (and probably manual mode).

Single Shot

The way I captured the photo above is probably the easiest way if you have a camera with enough dynamic range. This was shot in manual mode and I split the exposure for the sky and the field (1/80 sec. f14 ISO 250). My Nikon has enough dynamic range in the RAW files that I was able to balance it while editing.

Could I have exposed the field a little more, sure, but this is closer to how it looked when I was there. I like how well you can see the sun beams and exposing the field more would take away from that. This was my choice, you do you.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Another way to shoot this is by using a HDR technique. I wont go into a tutorial on HDR (check this one out) but the basics are you take several photos at different exposures and combine them to properly expose each part of the photo. Take a look at Trey Ratcliffe (Stuck in Customs) if you want to see some great HDR photography and learn more about the technique.

If you have an iPhone, you can take advantage of its built-in HDR. You wont have the same quality as using a true HDR method but it is a LOT easier and you can still get some god results. Most advanced cameras have a bracketing function to help with the process. By using the bracketing function, you camera will automatically take several photos for you. You can usually set how many and how many exposure stops between.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

The third way to get the shot, and probably the best way to get a really natural look, is to use a graduated neutral density filter. This is a piece of glass with a graduated filter on it. There are a lot of different filters to choose from but this one allows you to darken the sky to balance it with the field before the light ever hits the sensor. If you do a lot of landscape photography, these are a good thing to have.

Golden Hour

After sunrise, the light was amazing. I was lucky there was a hot air balloon taking off the day I was there. To be honest, you probably need several mornings to get all the shots you want as with any sunrise the light is always changing. About an hour after sunrise, the shadows create too much contrast. Go with a plan; I planned shots that I would have more than enough time to get so that I could fill out the rest of the time exploring others.

Surprisingly to me, I stuck with the 24-120mm lens the whole time I was there with the exception of the shots I got with my iPhone. Often, I’ll switch to my 50mm for some shots but I’m really like the 24-120mm for its flexibility.

As the light became brighter, I stopped using the tripod and shot hand-held. A good rule of thumb for shooting hand-held is the shutter speed should be twice that of the focal length. For example, shooting at 50mm means you should have a least a 1/100 sec shutter speed. Of course, this is a guideline and things such as stabilization, the weight of the lens, and crop sensor vs. full frame play a factor. Remember that a crop sensor will multiple your focal length by 1.5 or 1.6 depending on your camera. Get to know your gear and what you can get a stable image at.

The fields, with so much color, came alive in the light of golden hour. There is an old tractor in the field that makes a great subject for photos as well as several benches if you want to do some portraits. If you are looking at doing portraits, don’t forget a flash for fill light and/or some reflectors to help balance the light as it will be coming from one direction.

Look for something unique

Look around for subjects that are unique or unusual. I usually take a look at photos that are taken of a location to get an idea of what I want to get and what equipment I will need but I also want to know what do most of the photos look like. Yes, I’m going to get the iconic photos but I also want to look for photos that are different from what everyone else is getting.

There was a horse in an adjacent field that I thought looked fantastic in the morning light. He apparently was a little tired and I got a comical shot of him yawning. If you get too focused on what you planned, you might lose sight of something unique and interesting. photography is a good exercise in patience and flexibility.

Editing the Photos

Some challenges you will have with editing these photos are people and contrast. I’m going to do a future post on my workflow but I use Lightroom CC for organizing and the vast majority of my editing. I also use Photoshop CC for a few things such as removing people from my photos. For reference, here is the above photo before editing.

Before editing

Editing Sunrise Photos

After importing all the photos into Lightroom CC, I started by selecting the Adobe Landscape profile. Profiles were recently added to Lightroom CC and I’m really liking them. Next, and I’m not kidding, I just select auto edit. I have been surprised at how good Adobe has made their auto edit. Most of the time, it gets me pretty close, or at least in the ball park.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t like to spend a ton of time editing, but I will do what is necessary to get the look I’m going for. For these sunrise photos, that meant sending them over to Photoshop CC to remove people from the image. Before you do that though, get your photo color corrected to your preference either in Lightroom or Photoshop. If you have never tried the “Dehaze” slider, check it out. It is great for mid range contrast and will help a lot with these photos.

As someone who takes a photojournalistic approach to photography, I don’t usually edit things out, at least not on a large-scale (I’ll of course remove dust spots). For these sunrise photos, however, there are just so many people there that it really does make a difference. That combined with how ridiculously easy it is to do in Photoshop means that I get a better photo for not a lot of extra effort.

Use the lasso tool and select each person or object you want to remove, then just hit delete and let the content aware filter do the work. Watch this video for a quick walk through of how to do this. Once you are done, save and it will create a new photo stacked with the original. Note that it will be a tiff file and probably pretty large.

Editing Golden Hour Photos

The photos I got from after sunrise have a lot of contrast so that was my focus with these shots. As with the sunrise photos, I started with a landscape profile in Lightroom and hitting the auto edit; If the auto edit wasn’t even close it’s easy enough to reset.

Normally I bump the contrast slider some but for a lot of these photos, I had to bring it down. I used the Dehaze slider to make up for some contrast in the mid tones and bring out the sky a little. Play around with the clarity slider but I didn’t go too crazy with these as the contrast was already pretty punchy. I used the brush on some photos to bring out specific shadowed areas to compensate for the fact I wasn’t using a fill flash.

This is where some of the iPhone photos struggled. I was shooting in jpg and the compression can sometimes over saturate and add too much contrast. It wasn’t on everyone but with the compression happening in phone, I didn’t have as much information to work with while editing. There are apps you can get to shoot in RAW, Lightroom on the phone will do it, I just chose not to use them as I was already shooting with my Nikon.

Getting to the Tulip Festival

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm is about an hour south of Portland near Woodburn. If you are going for sunrise, it can get really dark on the country roads and they tend to curve a lot so mind your speed. Due to the dark, I almost missed the entrance. After I was done at the farm, I took a quick drive to Mt. Angel and sat in Old Stone Coffee and Collectables while importing the photos. Mt. Angel has great Oktoberfest from what I understand so expect a post about that later this year.

View the Photo Gallery


I was born and raised in Florida then moved to Portland, OR in January of 2015. I take photos, I post stuff, this is my blog.

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