It’s known as the City of Light, one of the most photogenic cities on the planet. It is also one of the world’s most cliched, expensive and Instagrammed cities. Although not huge by the standards of London and New York, packed into its central districts are some of the most iconic locations known.
Like many beautiful and photogenic cities, Paris can be surprisingly hard to photograph. Tourists, a varied climate, and the sheer numbers of beautiful locations can conspire to make it difficult for photographers to capture the true spirit of the city.
Today we are going guide you around the city of Paris, trying to avoid the cliches, shooting different genres and capturing the beautiful light the city is often capable of.
As a truly global city, Paris is served by airlines from every part of the planet. The majority fly into Charles de Gaulle, to the northeast of the centre. From there its a 30-40 minute train ride to the centre.
Much of Paris is covered by an extensive and efficient metro system making getting to the significant locations reasonably easy. A word of warning though, for those that are physically challenged, a lot of stations do not have escalators making accessibility less than ideal.
There are also plenty of taxis, Uber and bus services for those that cannot use the Metro. It’s worth noting too that Paris is now regarded as one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, if you plan well, and take accommodation a little out from the centre, your money will go much further.
Avoiding the Cliches
All you need to know about photographic cliches in Paris can be found out by typing Paris into the search bar of Instagram. It is an Instagrammer’s paradise, yet if you wander a hundred meters either side of the beaten Instagram path, you will find equally stunning locations that most seem to ignore.
A classic example of this is the Trocadero Park. The platform overlooking the park was made famous, perhaps infamous by a picture of Adolf Hitler admiring the view of the Eiffel Tower. Today that same platform is full of people all taking the same cliched shots of the Tower and themselves with the Tower. A few meters away, in the trees of the park, equally great views can be shot.
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe is full of cliches. We visited on a rainy afternoon when the Champs Elysee had been closed off by protestors. This pretty much eliminated any possibility of shooting the stereotypical long shots with lots of traffic.
Here I decided to incorporate Paris’s most recent form of transport into one of it’s most infamous traffic locations. The shot includes all the cliches of the area without necessarily being a cliched shot.
Many of the most famous scenes of Paris involve the bridges over the River Seine. You can get some equally great shots by stepping back from the bridges and walking the paths beside the river or the embankments back from them. The bridges themselves can also make great shots, particularly in the details.
Bridges such as Pont Des Artes and Pont Alexandre III are fantastic locations for shooting. The former is particularly pretty in the early morning before the madding crowd arrives. If you shoot it early enough, you can also walk to the Louvre, before the crowds start snaking around the square.
Of course, being a beautiful city, there is the urge to restrict your photography to urban/cityscape photography. However, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you did not embrace some other photographic genres while in Paris.
The city is, of course, one of the birthplaces of modern street photography. The beauty of its avenues and diversity of its people make it a fantastic place to shoot this genre. This shot, for example, seems to sum up Paris, a smoking musician crossing the Seine with a misty Eiffel Tower behind.
The multitude of beautiful parks is a haven for macro photography, especially in the spring. While the famous gardens such as Tuileries have plenty of flowers, some of the best displays can be seen in lesser know gardens such as the smaller ones alongside the Champs-Elysees.
For those with a bent for modern architectural photography, La Defence is a must visit location.
This large business district at the western edge of the city is chock full of interesting modern buildings, none more so than the huge Grand Arche de la Defense.
Golden Hours, Blue Hours
To me, the morning golden hour in Paris is the very best time to shoot. In spring, it's not so early that you need to get up before you went to bed, but it’s early enough to avoid the morning rush hour.
The golden light of dawn seems to make the city glow with subtle hues of yellows. The lack of people and traffic make shooting a relaxed and enjoyable experience.
During the evening golden hour, there will be many more people around but pick your shots carefully, and you will still be able to get great shots.
The blue hour comes from the French l'heure bleue, and Paris is the perfect place to shoot it. The City of Light is spectacularly illuminated in the evening. Most of the major landmarks are very well light and combine that with the deep blue sky of the evening; you can get some wonderful shots. Be aware though, as spectacularly lit as the Eiffel Tower is at night, you cannot sell any night images of it. The light show is copyright protected.
Paris is an incredible city for photographers, but without a little forethought and planning, you will be chasing your tail trying to get good shots. Pick several good locations and concentrate on them rather than trust your photography to random wanderings. Be prepared for varied weather and adjust your plans accordingly.
The sheer diversity of Paris as a photographer’s destination could never be fully covered in a short article such as this. Hopefully some of the above will give you some hints and tips as to places to shoot. If you have any favourite locations in Paris, let us know in the comments below.