The author has travelled extensively and writes illustrated articles about his experiences, with advice on must-see sights.
ORNAMENTATIONS, CEILING PAINTINGS, STAINED GLASS AND GLITTERING LIGHTS
This is a photographic record in 3 pages of a 3 day vacation in Paris, focusing on the main tourist sites, and the challenges and possibilities for photographers. This is Page 3.
In September 2011 I spent three days in the city of Paris, Capital of France and regarded by many as the most romantic city on Earth. It was, as I say, only three days, so for me it became something of a whistle-stop tour, cramming as much into the time available, with my eye pressed too often to the viewfinder of my camera, when perhaps I should have been taking in the whole city panorama, and cementing memories of Paris in my mind. (But then, photography is my hobby, so that's what I do).
The first two pages are a brief record of the major attractions - the world famous landmarks to be found in the heart of the city around the River Seine, and further afield towards the outskirts of the city. This third page is a little different. Think of Notre Dame and you may think of a great stone cathedral. Think of the Eiffel Tower and you may think of a mass of iron girders held together with nuts and bolts. But these buildings are not simply the product of stone masons and metal workers - they are also the product of architects and designers and artists.
In this third page I look at the details which make buildings like this, not just great constructions, but great works of art. I look at the engravings, adornments, statues and internal decorations which make excellent subjects for photography. And - as in the other two pages - I also include accompanying notes on a few of the challenges involved in taking these photographs as seen from the point of view of an amateur with limited technical skills, but hopefully some compositional ability.
Using the example of Paris, the aim of all three pages is to encourage everyone to try a fresh approach to their photography when on vacation, and make the most of their holiday time in creating a lasting memory of the experience.
- All photos on this page were taken by the author between 5th and 7th Sept 2011
Page 1: Sites to be seen in the centre of Paris, within one kilometre of the River Seine - Notre Dame, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, the Arc De Triomphe, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, Palais du Luxembourg and others
Page 3: The artistry and architecture of Paris - Decorative ornamentations, wall paintings, stained glass and statues, modern artists at work, and glittering lights
PHOTOGRAPHING ARCHITECTURAL DETAIL
Every tourist in Paris takes photos of the famous buildings, and most of the photos end up looking the same. So try to be just a bit different and look beyond the whole building. Look at the detail as well.
When taking photos of great buildings, never confine yourself to the whole of the edifice. Of course the building in its entirety is what makes it great, but if it's a famous palace or a monument or a tower, everybody already knows what it looks like in the whole. Look just a bit closer. And use a telephoto lens and look upwards. The beauty of many historic buildings is not in the building blocks of which it is made; it is more often in the fine craftmanship and artistry of sculptors and carvers.
Consider the attention to detail that went into the creating of these works of art, some of which are virtually invisible to the naked eye at ground level - some of which, indeed, were intended only for the eyes of God. And consider the peril to which the artists and artisans subjected themselves in the days before proper scaffolding and safety harnesses.
One simple tip when taking pictures of sculptures and engravings - capturing detail in these kinds of works of art is best done not with the sun lighting them directly, but slightly from the side to create shadow and to show textures in the work.
Whatever the craft work which goes into creating the exterior of a building, it has to weather the elements of rain, wind and possibly ice. Therefore the finery can never quite match that which is possible in the sheltered interior.
Of all the subject matter on this page, photographing the internal architecture and décor of buildings probably seems like the easiest, but in fact is the most difficult. The reason is light. Rooms simply are not as well lit as the great outdoors, and that means using flash (the effects of which are difficult to predict and control) or a slow shutter speed (in which case camera shake becomes a big problem; a tripod is not always practical for a tourist to carry). For some of these shots I increased the ISO setting (equivalent to film speed) from 100 to 400 or 800, which can make the shot grainy, but does allow for faster shutter speeds in low light.
All of the images here feature the galleries, bedrooms and chapel of the Palace of Versailles.
WALL AND CEILING ART
Whilst on the subject of the Palace of Versailles, the building is of course, noted for its artwork in the many rooms of the palace, and people go to view the paintings and sculptures. But particularly attractive - and a part of the real fabric of the building rather than a mere painting which could be detached and hung up in any other palace at a moment’s notice - is the wall and ceiling art.
This section features further art from the Palace of Versailles, and in this case all of these photos show ceiling art. As with the previous section, light is the problem. In these particular rooms the windows are large, and allow in a reasonable amount of natural light, so with a high ISO setting, it really wasn't too difficult to take photos like this without flash, and without a very long exposure which induces camera shake. The biggest problem might be to avoid getting a cricked neck!
One tip is to take short notes of the descriptive panels, or better still take photos as this is a quicker option. Then at a later date you can easily access the information about the history of the works of art you have imaged. Almost any photograph of any subject, is so much more interesting if you have the data to go with it.
STATUE PHOTOGRAPHY (1)
Statues can make good subjects for photography, and Paris has more than its fair share. They are not always the easiest of subjects however. The problem, more often than not, is the backdrop. A grey stone statue against a grey stone building just doesn’t look good. Nor does an ancient historical figure look right if the family Citroen or Renault is parked behind it or in front. The solution is often to get down low and point the camera upwards. This can more often than not remove the unwanted intrusion of 21st century society, or the camouflaging effects of the surrounding buildings. It can also give the subject of the statue a more imposing and dynamic appearance. The downside of such an approach is that the sky may be rather boring - nothing kills a good photographic subject more than a blank white sky behind it. So try to ensure there is some colour to the sky. Also, contrast between a light sky and a dark statue can play havoc with the camera’s exposure readings.
STATUE PHOTOGRAPHY (2)
In the previous section I mentioned some of the problems with statue photography. In the examples here, I think some of these issues have been addressed, though not all are really satisfactory. Perhaps the biggest issue is contrast, and the related matter of detail. Statues of people or animals inevitably do not have quite so much detail or subtle variation in colour as the real thing, and when exposure problems resulting from a contrasty background - particularly a dark statue against a pale sky - are thrown into the mix, then all detail can be lost.
So when photographing statues, think about the background and whether a different shooting position can improve it. Think about whether a different angle can also make the statue appear more dramatic or imposing. A different angle, or a different time of day, may also allow the light to show more detail in the statue. Think about whether flash will lighten the statue, and allow you to throw a distracting background into shadow. And maybe work on the image in a photo editing programme to fine-tune what you've produced.
I'm far from happy with all these images, though I think I can highlight where they work, and where they can be improved. Do try statue photography however, because when done well, such images can be striking and imposing expressions of the power, the emotion or the action which the original artist was trying to convey, and they can certainly add something to any record of a visit to a historic site.
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
To anyone who has not yet attempted it, I would suggest the art of medieval stained glass is one of the most beautiful of all photographic subjects. It is also a surprisingly easy subject for photography. Focusing is not really a problem, because there is no depth of field in a stained glass window. And exposure is also less of a problem than one might expect in what may well be the darkened interior of a church. Best imaged with the sun shining through the window to show off the intensity of colour to the greatest effect, one can just expose off the glass - the sunlight will give a slightly false reading leading to underexposure, but underexposure in this case only serves to enhance the colours of the glass even more.
But if you have the facility, do bracket the exposures to ensure a good image. And as usual, think about composition. Pick out details from the glass, rather than trying to image the whole window.
STAINED GLASS AT NOTRE DAME
As for beauty, well, the hard work there has already been done for you by the artist who created the work all those centuries ago; all the photographer has to do is reproduce it.
All of these pictures were taken in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, though the stained glass at the nearby Sainte-Chappelle is reputedly even better.
'MODERN' ART ON SHOW IN MONTMARTRE
And now a few photos, not of art, but of artists at work. The artist’s quarter of Montmartre is famous as the one time haunt of Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Van Gogh, and many others. Today, the area may be better described as the 'tourist’s quarter', because that’s why the artists are there today, not to create immortal works of beauty, but to sell to the foreigners. That may sound a bit cynical, and maybe it is, though I’m sure some of the folk applying paint to canvas are here not just to make money but to feel inspired by the legendary artists of the heyday of Montmartre. And the art which some produce, at least to my untutored eye, looks every bit as accomplished as some of the work of the great masters.
THE ART OF THE EIFFEL TOWER
The Eiffel Tower at night puts on a display which has to be seen. Many thousands of bulbs light up the famous tower, and every hour, additional 'fairy lights' burst into twinkling action to create a beautiful effect. Photography at night, of course, is not so easy. A tripod is ideal, but without a tripod, just steady the camera as best you can, maybe employing a car roof or railings for support, and then use the shortest exposure you can, to minimise camera shake.
Some would question whether this is art - it is, after all, just a bunch of light bulbs put together by electricians - but it’s beautiful and it’s original, and it’s created by man; so as far as I am concerned that makes it art.
And romantic too; if I had a girl on my arm, I could sit all night on the grass just staring at this glittering sight (the girl would probably walk off bored silly after an hour, but I could sit all night!)
This concludes the third of my three pages about photography in the City of Paris.
I have been at pains throughout these three pages not to make great claims. The images are only the product of an amateur with limited opportunity and some limitations on equipment (no tripod / no wide angle lens). I did only have 3 days in Paris, and the weather, and the needs of the tour party I was with, were not always kind to me. (Well, that gets my excuses out of the way).
But I would hope that some of the images are attractive and competently taken. The intention is not to inform serious photographers; the intention is to encourage the vast majority of ordinary tourists to try to get something more out of their vacations. To look beyond the simple 'take-one-shot-and-hope-it's-not-too-bad' mentality. To train the eye to seek out the detail and appreciate beauty in that detail which others overlook. To aim for a record of a once in a lifetime holiday which truly reflects what you have seen and experienced on the holiday. To return home, not with a few snapshots of someone's head in front of the Eiffel Tower, but with images which really tell you something about the places you went, and images which you can feel proud to have taken. Thank you for reading.