April 22, 2015 4:01 AM EDT

It’s that time of the year, when large parts of The Netherlands become a striking patchwork of colors.

The country is a leader in the export of cut flowers, with a 52% share of the global market. And tulips are especially popular.

So, when photographer George Steinmetz was offered a ride over the country’s largest fields, he didn’t hesitate. “I’ve been doing aerial photos for a long time,” he tells TIME. “I had a friend in Holland who saw that I was in Stuttgart, Germany, for an exhibition, and he said, ‘You should come to Amsterdam, I’m going to fly over fields of tulips, if you want a ride in a helicopter.’ It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Sitting in the front seat, Steinmetz felt like an aerial paparazzo, he says: “When you’re that low in the sky, it’s kind of like street photography. It’s kind of instinctive. If you think too much, you screw things up.”

In fact, he adds, “it’s good not to have too many rules when you go up. You just want to look around. Generally for that subject matter it’s nice to have people to give a sense of scale and activity. Otherwise, you don’t know if you’re looking at a close up of a carpet or a sweater. You try to look for patterns. The best way to shoot this, I think, is with a telephoto lens. You go up and you respond to what you’re seeing.”

In the end, Steinmetz is the first to admit that his images are “chroma-porn,” he says. “The colors are so bright, and that kind of thing works very well on Instagram.”

George Steinmetz is an independent photographer and a frequent contributor to National Geographic and GEO.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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