The author has travelled extensively and writes illustrated articles about his experiences, with advice on must-see sights.
PALACE OF VERSAILLES, SACRE-COEUR, AND AERIAL VIEWS OF THE CITY
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 2.
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).
These pages are not an in-depth guide to the city (not possible after such a brief personal experience). The first two pages are a record of major attractions to be found in the heart of the city around the River Seine, and further afield towards the outskirts of the city. The pages also include accompanying notes on a few of the challenges involved in photographing these sites as seen from the point of view of an amateur with limited technical skills, but hopefully some compositional ability. The third page looks at some of the finer details of these attractions as these can also make excellent subjects for photography. 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.
This page looks at two historic sites to be found towards the outskirts of Paris.
- 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 2: Sites to be seen beyond the banks of the river - the Palace of Versailles and Sacré-Coeur. Also aerial views of Paris and additional notes
THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES
On the outskirts of southwest Paris stands the great Palace of Versailles, one of the most powerful expressions of regal indulgence and excess to be found anywhere on Earth. It was the 'Sun King' Louis XIV who decreed that the palace should be built - a place of splendour and glorification of himself. Built during the final decades of the 17th century and the early decades of the 18th, Versailles was to be his private home, as well as the court and administrative centre for all of France.
The Palace was barely completed by the time of Louis's death in 1715, and would remain the royal residence for just 74 years till the downfall of the monarchy during the French revolution of 1789. Then it was abandoned and many of the internal furnishings and works of art were sold off or rehoused in the Louvre. At this time Versailles could well have faced demolition, but eventually the building was reopened as an art museum, and restoration work in the 20th century returned the Palace to its former glory.
THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES
The gardens of Versailles are almost as famous as the Palace itself and were developed in tandem with the Palace under the direction of Louis XIV. Today the gardens range over 4 square kilometres and include a number of outbuildings and estates. The majority of tourists probably lack the time to explore too far away - a full day at least should be allowed for a tour - but there is plenty to see in the formalised statue adorned gardens, pools and fountains immediately behind the Palace.
PHOTOGRAPHING THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES
The Palace of Versailles is, from a photographer's standpoint, an ideal subject, where one could easily spend a day recording all aspects of this building and its grounds. The buildings are attractive, and the grounds are of course well maintained, and at the right time of year, extremely colourful. It's easy to photograph too, because the grounds are spacious and uncluttered, though of course it's not so easy to avoid a myriad of visitors getting in the way at the height of the tourist season. (More of my time is sometimes spent waiting for people to move out of the way than taking photos!)
The interior, however, is where the greatest and most personal history of the kings and queens of France is to be found. One thing for which we must be grateful is that photography is allowed inside the Palace as well as outside, as far too many museums and historic buildings seem to ban photography of their interiors these days. Inside the Palace of Versailles is one of the great collections of furnishings, paintings and decorative wall art in the world, and it's well worth spending as great much time as you can recording these.
Several photos of the internal décor and art of Versailles are to be found on Page 3 of this series.
Sited nearly 3 km to the north of the River Seine, the second great building on this page is every bit as much a symbol of modern Paris as the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. The hill of Montmartre rises130m above the surrounding city, and perched upon the top of it, utterly distinctive in its white travertine limestone glory, is the pimply multi-domed basilica of Sacré-Coeur - the Sacred Heart Church. Construction of the Catholic church began in 1875, and ever since its completion in 1914, Sacré-Coeur has been - with the Eiffel Tower - the most visible of all Paris's landmarks.
Indubitably one of the most distinctive churches in the world, Sacré-Coeur unsurprisingly polarises opinion into those who love it and those who loathe it. It is, however, one of the must-see sights of Paris, deserving at least half a day to take in the church and also the legendary artists’ quarter of Paris which is to be found around the base of the church on Montmartre.
It's not difficult to take photos of Sacré-Coeur, but we can use the building as an example of how to think about your images. Take a look at all the images here (and there's 7 or 8 which show most or all of the domes and the bulk of the building). All are different. Some are taken in relative close-up, some are more panoramic, the sky varies in tone, and some use the presence of trees to frame the building or obscure part of the background that I didn't want to include.
I'm not making any claim for any of these pictures - there are plenty of better pics on the Internet. The point is - there's 7 or 8 - and a whole lot more I discarded. In these days of digital imaging, taking pictures is cheap. You don't have to be satisfied with one shot. Take lots, from different angles with different lenses. Make sure you make the most of that once in a lifetime opportunity when travelling. (I didn't, because I left my wide-angle lens at home which was a stupid mistake). You can always chuck the rubbish once you're back in your hotel room. Take as many images as you can and keep thinking as you take them about alternative perspectives you could try.
AERIAL VIEWS OF PARIS
We will conclude this page with some aerial views of Paris.But from where to take them? Well, from a high-rise tower of course. But perhaps not the obvious one. Thousands of people ascend the Eiffel Tower each day, and those with the energy and a good heart can walk up much of the way. But there's three problems - there's a long long queue, it's expensive, and there's one building you can't see from the top - the Eiffel Tower itself.
2 km south is a big black office block which caused some controversy when it was built in the early 1970s. The Montparnasse Tower, was considered by some an eyesore, and a very big one - at 210m (689 ft) high, it is Paris's third tallest building. But there is an indoor viewing platform on the 56th floor (with a gift shop and a restaurant), and an outdoor platform on the 59th - ideal for photographing the city.
THE CITY OF PARIS - WHAT CAN YOU SEE IN 3 DAYS ?
This concludes my review of the major historic buildings and photographic attractions of Paris, though in Page 3, I will write about and illustrate some of the other aspects of architectural photography, with examples from Paris.
My visit to Paris was brief - just 3 days - and inevitably something has to suffer. As I don't have a deep, consuming interest in paintings and art forms other than photography, the interior of the Louvre had to be sacrificed for another day, as did the Musée d'Orsay and other museums. Indeed the Palace of Versailles was the only centre for art that I ventured into. However, I could not spend so long in the gardens of Versailles as I would have liked. Some other attractions also received scant attention. In Page 3 I include images of stained glass taken at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but the Church of Sainte-Chappelle, also on the Ile de la Cite, reputably has some of the best stained glass windows to be seen anywhere. The Paris Opera House is also worthy of a visit.
The other problem with a short visit is that one is at the mercy of the weather. I was, for the most part, lucky, but at times such as during a visit to the Eiffel Tower, the sky was less than kind to photographers. Try to plan your trip but be flexible, according to the weather - if you can, pick sunny days for walking the streets, and save the dreary days for the museums and galleries.