Photographing Paris – Shoot the Details!

DSCF3937(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

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

So far in this series we’ve taken a look at the amazing beauty that is Paris, we’ve talked about photographing people on the streets of Paris, and we’ve talked about completing a photo study of just one place over time (in this case Notre Dame).

Recently, I have had multiple conversations about the importance of detail shots.  The first was while I was teaching a workshop on travel photography, and the second was during a  conversation I had with one of my favourite photographers, Valérie Jardin.

It can be difficult to remember to shoot detail shots when you are surrounded by epic beauty, when you are in a new and exciting locale, or when you are surrounded by amazing people.  These detail shots, however,  help you tell your story.  They fill in the gaps and give a sense of place.  This blog post will be a small, random collection of some of my detail shots from Paris.

The photograph at the top of this post is the ceiling of the Galeries Lafayette.  Paris is known for its iconic architecture;  for places like Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc De Triomphe.  When you see a ceiling like the photo above you instantly think about places like these… at least I do.  The Galeries Lafayette, however, is a department store.  Yes, that is the ceiling of a shopping mall.  How can you not include that as a detail shot?

Paris is often referred to as the City of Love, and nothing is more iconic then the love locks on the different bridges around the city:

DSCF2978(Fuji X100t)

If you are not familiar with the love locks, there is a tradition in Paris that couples in love will write their names (or initials) and the date on a lock, secure it to the bridge, then throw the key into the river…. thus sealing their love in Paris.   This is a detail shot that to me is instantly recognizable with Paris.

There are many amazing museums in Paris, and my favourite experience was definitely at the Musée de l’Orangerie.  While there are many beautiful works of art in this museum, by far the most impressive are the two oval shaped rooms that house Monet’s Water Lilies:

DSCF3213(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

You can sit in these rooms for long periods of time, and honestly to properly view these paintings you need to… you could look at them for hours.

In part one of this series there are several photographs from the day we visited Père Lachaise Cemetery.  The close up detail shots, in many ways, are almost more compelling to me than the pull back images seen in that post:

DSCF3232(Fuji X100t)

We also spent time on this day at the Catacombes de Paris, where the remains of 6 million people are buried.  Walking through cold, damp tunnels lined with the bones of millions of people is a surreal experience, but one that offers many detail shots:

DSCF3147(Fuji X100t)

I have said in previous posts how much I love the architecture in Paris.  Coming from a modern city like Vancouver it truly gives you a sense of history, time and place.

DSCF2968(Fuji X100t)

 It is the detail shots of these buildings, however, that I love the most.  Colourful curtains, colourful flowers… to me these are the things I think of when I think of buildings in Paris:

DSCF3761(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens)

 The same can be said for a famous place like the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which has a long and proud literary history:

DSCF3135(Fuji X100t)

And, when you have descended from watching the sun go down across the rooftops of Paris, from the top of an iconic structure like the Arc De Triomphe, don’t forget to photograph the amazing detail of the structure itself:

DSCF3359(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

 It is often said that Paris is a walkable city, which I completely agree with.  The Metro system is also fabulous, but what I was intrigued the most by was the number of people who rode bicycles around the city, and the bicycle rental system in place to encourage this.  I tried for 9 days to photograph an iconic shot of a Parisian cycling down the city streets but never captured the “right person”.  I did, however, remember to grab a detail shot of the bicycles themselves:

DSCF3313(Fuji X100t)

And finally, of course, you can’t think of Paris without thinking of the food.  I have to admit to a photography fail in this regard.  Over our 9 days in the city we ate many beautiful meals, and without fail my wife and I would think about photographing the meal once we were half way through it.  🙂

I did manage to grab a few, however, including this detail shot of my wife’s Escargot:

DSCF3254(Fuji x100t)

And, one evening (and one evening only) our desserts lasted long enough to capture one photograph of them:

DSCF3398(Fuji X100t)

And so, this ends the 5th and final post in my series on Paris.

Paris is truly a city of beauty.  The people were friendly, the food was excellent, and it is a photographer’s playground in terms of subject matter to shoot.  If you love travel it needs to be on your to-do list for sure.  When you are there give yourself time to shoot the iconic images, give yourself time to interact with and photograph the amazing people, but don’t forget (as I occasionally do) to slow down and photograph the details.   You will come home with a true feeling of what the Parisian culture is like, and you will have a complete selection of images to create an album or book that will help you remember your trip.



6 thoughts on “Photographing Paris – Shoot the Details!

  1. Antony says:

    Hi Ian, I will be spending 10 days in Paris in May and while I have all my pro gear I’m thinking about just taking the X100T plus the 2 conversion lenses (and a GF670, but that’s another matter). Will 28/35/50 be enough do you think, or am I crazy not to take the 10-24 and a longer lens?

    • Ian says:

      Good morning!

      10 days in Paris sounds just about perfect. Regarding your question, my personal opinion: Travel light, even if it means missing a shot or two. The most gear I have ever traveled with is one X series body and 3 small lenses. Now, if I was to return to Paris the only place I would want a telephoto is if I was going up to the top of Montparnasse Tower again. A wide angle was very nice inside of some of the buildings, but otherwise I could have done without it when I was there. Honestly, the next time I return to Paris it will be with the X100F only.

      Now, having said that, a couple of other thoughts:

      1) You could bring something wider and longer, but leave it in the safe in your hotel room for most of the trip so you don’t ruin your day by carrying everything around with you all the time.

      2) This is the biggest one for me: I am at peace with missing a few shots. When I travel ultra light I just grab the shots I can make with whatever gear I have with me, and I don’t worry anymore about the ones “I missed” because I didn’t bring everything. It took a while for me to think like this, but it is very liberating. I also think it makes you more creative because you are forced to work with the limitations of whatever you have at the time.

      Have a great trip!



  2. Antony says:

    Thanks Ian, I was hoping you would say that. I had planned just to keep it simple and it was after I say all of your images with the 10-24mm that I started double-thinking myself.

    Cheers and thanks again!


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