Paris at Night

DSCF4053-Edit(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

Note:  This post is part three of a five part series on photographing Paris:

Paris is often called The City of Light or, in Fench, “La Ville Lumière”.  Many people think this is related to the way the city is lit up at night, which could be partially true as Paris was one of the first cities to adopt gas lamp street lighting in the 1860s.   Others say, however, that Paris is called The City of Light because it had a leading role in the Age of Enlightenment.  Either way, Paris lit up at night is amazingly beautiful.  I have long been a night-owl, and there are few things I love more than being in a city after the sun goes down.  Cities change at night, and I was out on the streets every chance I could get in Paris.

The photo above was taken from Pont Alexandre III (a beautiful bridge) looking out towards the Eiffel Tower.   This is one of my favourite pictures from Paris, and is a constant reminder of the magic I felt each evening I was there.  Photos can be misleading, however.  Paris is a busy city, the most visited in the world, and while this photo looks peaceful you can’t see the hundreds of people around us… many of whom I (and my lovely wife) had to ask repeatedly to move so I could get this shot.   A photographer named David Allen Harvey once said “Don’t shoot what it looks, shoot what it feels like”.  If you were on that bridge you would have been surrounded by people, but at the same time you get lost in the beauty of the city and it feels like you are the only one there.  That is how I tried to shoot it.

Once the sun goes down the light changes quickly.  Just a few minutes later there was no magenta left in the sky, and as I was leaving I shot this image of the bridge looking towards Les Invalides.

DSCF4056-Edit(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

When shooting cityscapes and landscapes the trick to shooting at night is to shoot BEFORE it gets dark.  I think having that rich blue in the sky looks so much better than a black abyss, and blue hour is when the colours are more pronounced and saturated.  This blue light will only last for a short period of time after the sun goes down, so get to your location before sunset and shoot through the changes.

I spent an evening shooting atop Montparnasse Tower, a 59 floor tower that has an observation deck on the roof .  My original plan was to shoot a sunset, but as I arrived and made my way to the top it clouded over unfortunately.  While I didn’t get my sunset photo, I did have an amazing time looking down onto Paris through blue hour:

DSCF3183(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

DSCF3163(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

A quick note on Montparnasse Tower:  They do allow tripods, however it gets VERY busy and you will be shoulder to shoulder with people.  They have cut slits in the glass to shoot through, however, and if you rest your lens on these slits (and don’t drink a lot of coffee that day) you can actually handhold at quite slow shutter speeds up there.

You don’t have to stop shooting in Paris when blue hour is gone.   The city streets are well lit, and even more beautiful at night than they are during the day:

DSCF3060(Fuji X100t)

Parisians, and of course the tourists that visit Paris, are night-owls too it seems.  It was not uncommon to walk past cafes and pubs at 10pm, 11pm, or even midnight and see the patios packed:

DSCF3064(Fuji X100t)

DSCF3065(Fuji X100t)

DSCF3044(Fuji X100t)

And, never, ever let rain stop you from shooting at night.  On the contrary, grab an umbrella and go out shooting because the reflections add so much to your photographs:

DSCF3479(Fuji X-T1 and the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

Paris has many iconic landmarks, and besides the Eiffel Tower perhaps none is more famous than the Arc de Triomphe which honours those who fought for France (and died) in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath its vault.

DSCF3363(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

This is a classic nighttime shot of the Arc.  One of the beautiful thing about shooting in cities at night is that the long shutter speeds required for night photographs (shooting from a tripod of course)  also allow you to capture car trails, which give a sense of motion and place to your photographs.  This is particularly easy at the Arc as it sits along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a busy boulevard in Paris.

It is a 284 step climb to the top of the Arc, but once you are on the top this is your view looking along the Champs-Elysées:

DSCF3335(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

Tripods are not allowed on top of the Arc De Triomphe, so image stabilization and a steady hand are the name of the game here.  As with your spot on the bridges to view the sunsets, and with the Montparnasse Tower, you need to get here early to ensure you get the view you want to shoot.

No evening of nighttime shooting in Paris would be complete without a shot of the famous Moulin Rouge:

DSCF3113(Fuji X100t)

The theatre is right at a busy intersection, and there are few good places available to put down a tripod and get the right viewing angle for a classic pic of the theatre.  I ended up shooting this with my X100t, bracing it against a lamp pole to stabilize it during the long exposure.

Finally for this blog post, I’d like to leave you with this shot of the Eiffel Tower at night:

DSCF3349(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

I truly believe that Paris is a city that needs to be experienced at night.  It is more beautiful, more iconic, even more romantic when the lights come on and the sky darkens.

Use your senses if you stay out late, just like you should in any city.  The tourist areas are very crowded, have a heavy police presence, and felt very safe.  If you are concerned about taking the Metro at night just take a cab:  All of the major tourist spots had a row of cabs lined up, and we found you could get anywhere for 10-15 Euros.  This is also the beauty of traveling light with smaller cameras:  Once you are done shooting, just put it away.  Timing your day so you can shoot through sunset, into blue hour, and into the evening can be a little extra work, but your photos will be so much better for it.  Just remember, after you are done shooting, to put your camera away and enjoy Paris with your eyes.

Cheers,

Ian

Paris Street Photography

DSCF3361(Fuji X100t)

Note:  This post is part two of a five part series on photographing Paris:

When you think about Paris you often think about the many beautiful and iconic landmarks:  The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, the bridges… the list goes on and on.    It is the people, however, that give a city its soul.  Wandering the streets of Paris with a camera was a true joy as a street photographer because you never knew who, or what, was around the next corner.

Take the gentleman in the image at the top of this post.  So distinguished.  So timeless.  So Paris.

This next picture truly sums up the experience of shooting street in Paris:   There is iconic architecture.  There is a young couple in love.  There is an artist painting.  They are along the river.  There is a timeless feel in Paris… was this picture taken in 2015, or 1945?

DSCF2970-Edit(Fuji X100t)

The Seine runs through the city and is an amazing place to spend a day shooting street.  There are the little book vendors:

DSCF3030-Edit(Fuji X100t)

And of course, people in love:

DSCF3785(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

DSCF3772(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

DSCF4012(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

Leaving the river and shooting people on the streets of Paris is just as rewarding.  Every twist and turn of a street or lane brings a new opportunity to grab a photo that is classically Parisian:

DSCF3279(Fuji X100t)

With one or two exceptions, the people I met in Paris were overwhelmingly friendly and inviting.  I think this is something people often forget when shooting street photography:  Sure it’s great to capture a candid moment, but don’t forget to stop and meet the people… you will rarely be disappointed.  I sat listening to this gentleman play, and speaking with him in my broken French, for 15-20 minutes:

DSCF3312(Fuji X100t)

As I was preparing for this trip I read that Paris is the most visited city in the world, and of course it is known as the city of love.  Everywhere I turned I saw people getting wedding and engagement photos done in front of the iconic landmarks of Paris.  The city of love indeed!

DSCF4025(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

DSCF3464(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

Paris is famous for its museums and historic artwork, and it is expected that you will see cultural icons like the Mona Lisa.  What I was completely blown away by, however, was the quality of the street performers.  We sat for a long time at Sacre Coeur and watched amazing performances worthy of the largest stages:

DSCF3979(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

DSCF3986(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

And, one final photo for this blog post:   Paris is a very walkable city (and the metro is extremely efficient), but you often see people on bicycles and scooters.  If you wait long enough one of these people will be sure to give you a “moment”:

DSCF2859(Fuji X100t)

You don’t need a lot to do street photography in Paris:   A good camera, a good pair of shoes, and enough time to wander.  It doesn’t really even matter where you go:  Along the river, down the side streets, in the parks… Paris is a street photographer’s paradise.   Be sure not to just shoot candids though, take the time to get to know the people.  They are fabulous and you will have a much better appreciation for the culture of Paris.

Cheers,

Ian

Photographing Paris – Part One

DSCF3469-Edit(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

I recently returned from a 9 day trip to Paris with my lovely wife, where I shot actively every day:  beautiful sunrises, street photography during the day, going out every night to catch sunsets and the blue hour light… it was an amazing trip.

It has taken a while for me to decide how to organize my Paris photographs, and even longer to find the right words to describe the city.  To be honest, I still can’t.  Paris is beautiful, the people are amazing, and the lifestyle is so very different than the hustle and bustle I find myself in, here in Vancouver.  I fell in love instantly.  I need to go back.

This post is part one of a five part series, which is going to break down as follows:

This first post, The Beauty of Paris,  is going to show you some of my favourite photographs from the trip.  Consider it a conscious stream of thought… a lot of  photographs, a little historical background, and some links where you can learn more about the places I shot.

If you are curious about my gear pack for this trip, everything was shot on Fuji gear as always.  You can read more about my gear selection here:

https://ianmacdonaldphotography.com/2015/08/23/travelling-with-fuji-cameras/

Alright, let’s talk about some photos…

The photo at the top of this post is of the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa, shortly after sunset and deep into blue hour.  It was pouring rain on this night, and when I saw the rain I grabbed an umbrella, a plastic bag for my camera, my travel tripod, and I ran to the Louvre.  I knew the lights and the reflections on the wet ground would combine to make a gorgeous image… and the rain drove away the crowds of people that normally would have been there.

As beautiful as blue hour is in Paris, I think dawn is even better.  This is a shot of my favourite bridge, Pont Neuf, shot from the Pont Des Arts bridge:

DSCF3060-HDR(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

 It isn’t just the morning light that is so beautiful in Paris, it is watching the city come to life.  Before  I left on this trip I reached out to Official Fuji X and Vancouver based fashion photographer Kale Friesen, who lived in Paris for several years.  One of the things that Kale told me was how exciting it was to be out early and feel the city come to life in the morning.  As early as 5:30am I was out amongst the street cleaners, the bakers getting ready for the day,  the owners getting their cafes ready.  Like many cities Paris has a soul, and you can feel it early in the morning.

Beauty is everywhere in Paris.  From the image above I literally just turned 90 degrees to my right and saw this:

DSCF3063(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

This is Le Institut de France.  It is a beautiful building, made even more beautiful by the golden morning light hitting it.  The black walls with the writing on them used to hold the famous love locks, which were removed this year due to the damage they were causing the bridge.

Let’s get back to Pont Neuf for a second and look at it from a different angle.  Construction on Point Neuf began in 1578, and was completed in 1607.  The bridge has a beautiful and timeless look which drew me in:

DSCF3070(Fuji X100t)

As you walk through the streets of Paris you are struck by how well they have melded today’s world with years gone by.  Sure the modern businesses are there, but you’d never know it as you walk down the tiny streets that curve and twist:

DSCF2905-Edit(Fuji X100t)

Paris offers many opportunities to shoot the city from places other than street level.  In The Traveling Photographer David Hobby has a segment on the Montparnasse Tower, where you can go to the 59th floor and shoot from an observation deck.  Here is a shot of Les Invalides from that observation deck:

DSCF3095(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 55-200mm lens)

I have many gorgeous sunset and blue hour photographs from here, which I will be sharing in the blog post on Paris at night.

In the heart of downtown Paris you will find the tiny but beautiful Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg), a fenced and gated park that houses the Luxembourg Palace,  home of the French Senate:

DSCF3300-Edit(Fuji X100t)

No first time visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the Palace of Versailles, the former  royal residence.  The court of Versailles was the centre of power in France from 1682 until 1789 and the French Revolution, which brought the royal family back to Paris.  If you have never been in the Palace before you are instantly struck by the detail that the builders put in:

DSCF3593-HDR-Edit(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

It can be difficult shooting inside the Palace due to the large throngs of people that are also visiting, but thankfully they curate the experience a little by blocking off certain areas:

DSCF3501-HDR(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

The grounds of the Palace are vast, taking hours to walk if you want to see the whole thing.  For my wife and I one of the most beautiful parts  was the Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet), a small hamlet tucked away in the back of the grounds where the queen, Marie Antoinette, could go to escape palace life:

DSCF3614(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

Every day it felt like each new location we visited in Paris was more beautiful than the previous one.   We visited Le Palais Garner,  the Paris Opera House, where I made this photograph of Le Grand Foyer.  Patience was key here, as it took many requests to other visitors to stand behind me so I could get a proper shot of this beautiful hall:

DSCF3875-HDR(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

There is something so compelling and beautiful about these places.  It was never just “click the shutter and go”… you linger, you look, you take the time to breath it in.

By fluke of planning we ended up having a “day of death”, which started with a morning visit to the Paris Catacombs (Catacombes de Paris):

DSCF3161(Fuji X100t)

If you aren’t familiar with the Catacombs:  Up until the 18th century many of the cemeteries in Paris were in largely populated, central areas of the city.  This led to overcrowding and health risks.  Beginning in 1810, the bones of 6,000,000 people (yes, 6 million) were relocated into the series of tunnels that ran under Paris.  It is a solemn, yet strangely beautiful, place to walk through.

Following our trip to the Catacombs, we took the Metro to the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

DSCF3229(Fuji X100t)

Père Lachaise Cemetery, established in 1804, is the largest cemetery in Paris and was the final resting place for Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison and countless other famous people.  According to official records over 1,000,000 people have been interned there.

DSCF3246(Fuji X100t)

The grounds are beautiful and well kept, yet at the same time many memorials are crumbling and broken.  We had a peaceful afternoon walking there for a few hours, and I have to give a shout out to Kale for recommending a visit… it was well worth it.

Finally for this post, here is a sunset behind Notre Dame from my first night in the city:

DSCF2943-HDR-Edit(Fuji X-T10 and the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

In my life I have had so many amazing experiences as a photographer and traveler.  I’ve met new  people, photographed people in love, captured moments on the street, visited beautiful places… but nothing has compared to the night I spent on that bridge watching the sun go down behind Notre Dame.  The bridge was packed, but I was alone in my own world.  I can’t wait to share 4 more blog posts with you and talk more about Paris, a city that has captured my heart as an artist.

Cheers,

Ian