Everyone has seen countless photos of the great City of Lights, so with this in mind, I set out last summer to try and capture Paris from a different angle. My “angle” was simple: Look Up, and down, and sideways. Anything that will give people another perspective.
There are the standard photo clichés of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the bridges, the Moulin Rouge. They are clichés for a reason — They are beautiful to see, and carry a certain cache of “landmark status”.
I wanted to try to capture something in a different way. I like to find that shot from either far away, or up close, or from an unexpected POV. It’s not often, for example, that one sees the Eiffel Tower from close up, or Sacre Coeur just after a rainstorm on a roof a few miles away. I took full advantage of the crazy weather in Paris last summer and its magnificent light shows.
Sacre Coeur Skies: Embrace the Accidents
These two images were taken 20 minutes or so of each other. As the sun was setting, the sky turned bright orange, gold and a deep blue gray. Because there was ample light peaking through the dramatic clouds, that light bounced off my camera’s lens, and (bonus in the top pic) lens flare!
Instead of taking “postcard” pics, try this next time you set off to get that perfect shot: Hop off the Metro a stop or two before and walk around. Get a feel for the neighborhood where the landmark “lives”. In this way you will add something new to the lexicon of storied Parisian photos.
Fiddle With It
I alter most every photograph I shoot. I compose “in-camera” but invariably, especially in a big city like Paris, you will have to content with atmospheric interference, glare or even a glassed-in observation deck in between you and that perfect shot. With just a few clicks, you can adjust contrast and tweak color (here, just the blues have been augmented). NOTE: Don’t go crazy! You want to enhance, not alter beyond the original scene.
BASTILLE DAY July 14, 2014: Paris illuminated
I was excited to be in Paris for Bastille Day and I knew there would be plenty of amazing photo opportunities and so, I set off with my camera, a bottle of Rosé (drinking in public is not only legal here, but seemingly encouraged) and headed out to the general area of the festivities.
Look for Things to Enhance Your Photos
Near the Eiffel Tower there was a building construction site. Unlike in New York, the entire site had a several-stories-high glass facade. I was lucky enough to capture the fireworks, or feux d’artifice as the French call them, reflected in the glass.
Try moving your camera as you shoot, ever so slightly. You can get some pretty cool motion blur effects .
I see beauty in the everyday, the ordinary, and things most people don’t give a second glance to. I’m especially interested in combinations of planes and how they intersect.
I think what makes this shot interesting is not just the wedding photo shoot, but that it’s “just another day along the Seine”. To me, the graffiti and the car makes it a much cooler photograph.
The Cliché Re-thought: Day, Night, Weather
Try shooting a favorite subject at all times of day, night, and in different weather conditions. You may be surprised at how different the same basic shot can turn out.
Get a Little (or a lot) Closer
Most people shoot the Eiffel Tower from a distance – which is still amazing – but try capturing it from directly below.
God is in the Details
The Eiffel Tower was originally intended solely for the 1889 Paris Exposition, but it remained, despite some initial, intense criticism. Can you imagine a more iconic symbol of Paris? Note the intricate, almost delicate iron work. It’s simultaneously ornate and yet completely modern.
Situated on the Ile-de-la-Cité in the heart of Paris, is The Consiergerie. It’s a huge Gothic structure that for several centuries was the main palace for French royalty, later used as a prison and then the center for justice.
This is also where Mari Antoinette was incarcerated. There’s a great museum in the old prison and you can see just how differently someone like Marie Antoinette lived versus the typical Parisian prisoner. I love the way all these elegant, curved and vaulted planes intersect.
Look Beyond Standard Landmarks
Gare du Nord, the station at which one arrives if coming from the north, is not a typical tourist shot, but with stunning architecture everywhere in Paris, I think it’s a worthy subject.
And, it’s only one of seven. For more information, check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railway_stations_in_Paris
Les Petites Enfants au Zoo!
There is nothing like seeing an adorable group of tiny (and well behaved) children out and about on a field trip!
Take a Boat Ride on the Seine
Despite what you’ve heard, Parisians are not cold and unfriendly. When on a boat cruise, the thing to do is WAVE. Somehow, it’s universal. A boat cruise will also give you access to perspectives not possible from the streets.
There is life all along the Seine.
Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is probably one of the greatest collections of (dead) human talent in the world. Père Lachaise is claimed to be the most visited graveyard in the world, and with so many famous people interred there it may well be true. Posted at the entrances are maps pointing visitors towards the most famous graves, but on every path there are monuments which make you stop and stare. It might seem a bit of a macabre way to spend an afternoon, but because there are so many famous tombs, and such artistry in the graves, it becomes something like a visit to a museum. Here are ten of the most famous graves in Père Lachaise, and the traditions which they have inspired.1
There’s a certain reverence I feel when seeing the grave site of someone I admire. And there’s also something so democratic about even the most celebrated figures in time: despite the ornate etchings of a particular tomb, everyone here is basically on the same level.
The Elegance of Time
The patina of time seems nature’s most elegant way to mark time, especially when it embellishes a monument erected to honor the dead.
The man is so loved, even to this day, that the family had to erect a plexiglass barrier, at their own expense, to stop the millions of revelers from “defiling” his grave.
The cemetery has really well-designed maps so one can navigate the immensity. Unfortunately for me, I misread the “lane” number for the “plot” number, and walked around endlessly for a few hours to find the two plots I was most interested in seeing: Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison.
When I finally found Morrison’s grave, I was so happy (and exhausted) that I braced against a tree and took a few deep breaths. This was not a matter of life or death I told myself, but I was determined to document this particular site. I decided to shoot the grave from an acute angle, to the left, rather than straight-on where the handful of revelers gathered – and it afforded me a better shot.
To my great surprise, as I was composing my shots, there was another man just to my left. I heard him humming, ever so slightly, “Come on Baby, Light My Fire.”
It was the most moving experience of the whole day.
Black & White vs Color
A shot taken at night, or even during the day may appear “muddy”. If you’ve tried the aforementioned contrast and color adjustments, and the image still doesn’t POP, try converting it into black and white. This will immediately give the shot more contrast, which can be further tweaked. Most importantly, it helps focus the viewers’ attention (based on your direction) to see what you want them to see.
In these two examples, I wanted the architecture of the bridges to be the focus, not the people or traffic.
My Paris Obsession: ROOFTOPS!
I have a particular fondness for rooftops – any rooftops, anywhere – but especially in Paris. There is a beauty in the fine craftsmanship of several different types of materials: stone, concrete, metal, slate, and how masterfully they are shaped and fitted together. This is done, of course, to keep out the elements, but it’s all so beautifully done.
Street Life, Parisian Style
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities, and also one of the most walkable ones. You can easily traverse the city center in a few hours. Go beyond that to the outer areas, and you’ll discover how true Parisians live. Whether it’s the cafe culture, the buskers, the odd Viking bike racers or a bee apiary in the Luxembourg Gardens, the city awaits. On y va!
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