Note: This post is part four of a five part series on photographing Paris:
- Part 1 – The Beauty of Paris
- Part 2 – The People of Paris
- Part 3 – Paris at Night
- Part 4 – A Study of Notre Dame
- Part 5 – Shoot the Details
In the first three parts of this series we talked about photographing the iconic sites of Paris, meeting and photographing its people, and we discussed how beautiful the city is at night. For this post I’d like to slow things down a little and talk about just one place: Notre Dame Cathedral. I highly recommend spending time shooting one place thoroughly when you are traveling. Slow down, learn its history, shoot the details. It can be a very rewarding experience.
I love old churches and cathedrals. The architecture fascinates me and, even though I am not deeply religious, I find them to be incredibly peaceful places to spend time in. Our favourite hotel in Paris happens to be 2 blocks from Notre Dame, which gave me ample opportunity over the 9 days we were last there to photograph it from a variety of angles, and on a variety of days.
Traveling in Europe also provides me with a sense of perspective. My home country, Canada, was formed in 1867. Conversely, construction on Notre Dame began in 1163, and was completed by 1345. Notre Dame Cathedral was built 522 years before my country existed. It is hard not to feel a sense of awe when you stand in a place like that.
Both of the photos above look at Notre Dame from roughly the same angle, showing it at midday and at sunset. It is an iconic building, and these are classic perspectives on it. You can also go from street level down to the river Seine, walking along the water and underneath many of the bridges. This helps you get a different perspective, and I love this shot looking back at the cathedral on a stormy day:
Later on the trip I used the same framing concept, but waited for blue hour to shoot this:
As stunning as Notre Dame is on the outside, it is even more amazing inside. The interior of Notre Dame is beautiful and spacious, taking you back to another time and place:
Visitors are welcome 7 days per week, 365 days of the year. I was told that mass is conducted 3 times per day, and that there are both guided tours and audio tours. Notre Dame is an incredibly busy place to visit, and I recommend arriving early for the 8am mass. You beat most of the crowds, and can easily get to the front of the the line to go up the towers.
Mass at Notre Dame is a quiet and solemn experience, as you can imagine:
One of my favourite parts of visiting Notre Dame Cathedral is climbing the 387 steps up to the top of the south tower, and emerging from the stairwell to look out across the rooftops of Paris. It was a cloudy day when I visited, but the morning sunrise trying to push through the clouds was casting a slight golden hue on everything:
For those who don’t mind a few more steps, you can climb up into the bell tower and view the largest bell, the Emmanuel Bell. This bell was cast over 300 years ago, and was named by Louis XIV.
I spent my final few minutes at Notre Dame looking past one of the Chimeras towards the Eiffel Tower as the sun burst through. It was very quiet, and one of my favourite moments from this trip.
Some people expressed surprise that we would spend 9 days in Paris, and not use some of that time to travel to other parts of France. For me it is the difference between staying long enough to actually experience the culture, versus just vacationing for a few days somewhere. Spending an extended period of time in the same place lets you experience it more authentically, wander through areas off of the tourist paths, and re-visit places you love. If I could spend a month in Paris I would do it in a heartbeat.