The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival


A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. In this article, Healy shares her photos of the latest edition of the tulip festival in Skagit Valley, Washington State.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, an opportunity for Western Washington photographers to shoot with everything they have. Left: Fuji 645zi camera shot with Fuji Velvia 50; center: Sprocket Rocket and Fuji Velvia 100; right: Olympus Trip 35 and Lomography Color Negative 400 film.

One of the first things you learn as a photographer living on Washington State is the existence of a 30-day-long event that is so color-saturated, so vividly photographic that it defies the imagination. It happens every year in April, although nature’s cycles can accelerate or delay the moment of “full blast.” This event is the Tulip Festival of Skagit Valley, in the midst of the towns of La Conner and Mount Vernon, some 60 miles north of Seattle.

Two different days, two different cameras and types of film, same tulip field. Left: Olympic Trip 35 shot with Fuji 200 that had gotten wet before I had shot it. Right: Vivitar 480 zoom series and Lomography Color Negative 100 film.

This year, the festival’s 34th, the blooms were about 10 days late, compared to the average. But you could see fields and fields of daffodils from the 3rd week of March. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival website) has a Bloom Map that makes it easy to plan a trip to photograph the flowers at their most breathtaking. Combine that with a cell phone’s weather forecast app, and you can pretty much choose the kind of light you want for your photographs. Weekends tend to be very crowded, with busloads of people visiting from 93 countries and all 50 states.

The barns of Skagit Valley also make for great photographing opportunities.

Year to year, the “best places” to find the tulips change because of crop rotations. The idea is for people to drive around, stopping when they see an interesting field. Or, in the case of the tourist busloads, the two main destinations are the showcase locations for the two main companies devoted to the cultivation of tulips and bulbs in general in Skagit Valley: RoozenGarde and Tulip Town. In these two special locations, there are clustered examples of every possible variety of tulip one can imagine, plus a reconstruction of a Dutch windmill for added kitschy charm.

Trying out two films new to me: Adox Implosion on the left and Lomography Color Negative Film F²/400.

For me, the festival is an opportunity to test new cameras or films, as well as to push my own personal limits in trying to find a new or different way of shooting these landscapes that I have been photographing for over 20 years. Because I live a little over an hour away by car, I have a lot of flexibility in choosing when to go (usually mid-week and starting very early morning), what kind of light I want (sometimes I want the early mist that burns away and leaves a bright sunny day, sometimes I want dark moody clouds hanging over the fields of tulips), what equipment to bring (everything but the kitchen sink, most years! Since I’m driving, I don’t have to worry about the weight of equipment, the amount of cameras, the variety of film). Year to year, and I don’t always manage to go, I find that my interest changes and I might decide to just photograph the fields with the workers spread through the rows, picking the tulips that have gone beyond the perfect stage; or I might decide to go to RoozenGarde or Tulip Town, pay the modest entry fee, and spend the day concentrating on more macro shots of the flowers. I have practiced shooting “Holgaclics” (Holga panoramas achieved by advancing the film only one or two “clics” of the film-advance wheel), I have ignored the flowers completely and shot the beautiful barns in the area, I have gotten Skagit Valley muddy clay almost to the top of my rubber boots as well as helped little kids stuck in the light-gray mud, screaming their heads off!

A Holgarama using an unusual choice of Fuji Provia 100—by the time the afternoon rolled on, it was so bright that even the Holga N could do 100 slide film without problems.
Holga N using the Lomo Splitzer and Fuji Reala 100 expired a long, long, long time ago.

This past April, I went to photograph the tulip fields twice, two different days in mid-April. Both days started heavily clouded and promising rain, only to become sunny and very, very bright. Both days I went to the same field, on Best Road between the towns of Mount Vernon and La Conner, parked the car and proceeded to spend the next 8 hours shooting non stop. I kept going back to the car to look for more film and change cameras, then back to the fields where the workers were carefully picking dark red tulips from lighter red rows, piling these tons of flowers on a truck that would take them to one of the companies’ composting areas a few miles away. Heavily dressed and with their faces always covered with bandannas because of the presence of pesticides and fertilizers, the workers of the tulip fields have always impressed me by their stamina and keen eye on finding those particular specimens that have gone a day or two beyond perfection. They are always bused in old yellow school buses, and this year I made use of it in my images, as well as the truck with the picked flowers and the tractors that are kept around.

Trying to find new ways of photographing an event I go to practically every year, this time I made sure I used the tractor, discarded-flowers truck, and the old school bus that transports the pickers to the different fields.

A huge part of my delight in going back to the tulip fields most years is in the possibilities for experimentation in every way. I had read Lomo (and Instagram) friend @alienmeatstack’s article on the Lomography magazine about hacking a home-made splitzer for the Sprocket Rocket, and I promptly made my own. What better place to try it out than the tulip fields? If you like my results, I encourage you to read @alienmeatstack’s great article and go create out your very own home-made Sprocket Rocket splitzer.

Sprocket Rocket doubles done with a home-made splitzer.

Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from

written by Lorraine Healy on 2017-05-17 #lifestyle #travel #medium-format #35mm #color #pentax-k1000 #holga-135bc #holga-n #us #washington-state #olympustrip35 #skagit #fuji645zi #sprocket-rocket-120 #superhedz-slim-wide #lomo-splitzer

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Lomography Sprocket Rocket

Lomography Sprocket Rocket

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  1. metaluna
    metaluna ·

    I love the color in the wood on the side of barn

  2. lomodesbro
    lomodesbro ·

    Me too

  3. jonkersey
    jonkersey ·

    Lorraine! Thanks for an informative article and outstanding photos!

  4. lorrainehealy
    lorrainehealy ·

    @metaluna just got more shots of that barn (which i have loved for over 20 years!) from our mutual friend Steve, so I'll be posting them! @lomodesbro @jonkersey thank you guys, and thank you too Marc, for taking the time to write something nice, always appreciated !!!

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