Get a new perspective on the French capital
There’s no doubting that Paris is one of the most photo-friendly cities in Europe, but getting a shot that hasn’t been taken by every camera-wielding tourist isn’t always easy. However, all it takes is a bit of forward planning, some experimentation, and a touch of trial and error to capture the true beauty, spirit, and energy of this magnificent city.
From framing the iconic structures to capturing the bustling street life of Montmartre, we look at how you can bring an extra je ne sais quoi to your Insta grid.
Capture the icons
The cobbled streets, winding river, bustling street life, and famous architecture make the French capital a very photogenic destination—especially in the early morning light. A trip to Paris is incomplete without making your way along one of the most historic avenues in the world, the Champs-Élysées, to take a triumphant photograph of the Arc de Triomphe. At the intersection of 12 busy roads, getting a shot without traffic isn’t easy, so we recommend arriving as early as possible and taking your shot from the corner of the Avenue Hoche, so you catch the morning light glowing off the intricately carved limestone.
From here, make the 300-stair climb to the entrance of the Sacré-Cœur to capture an iconic panoramic shot across Paris’ rooftops, with the colorful Pompidou Centre and the Eifel Tower piercing the skyline. To get an interesting shot of the basillica itself, head to the northeast corner of Montmartre’s cobbled Place du Tertre and frame the dome between the center of Rue Norvins. Again, arrive early to avoid the crowds and for the perfect light, or arrive just after sunrise to get a fully backlit shot.
Of course, you’ll also want a snap of Notre Dame while you’re in town. For a picture without the crowds in the foreground, get some distance and take your shot from the Left Bank. The two towering spires poking out from above the ramshackle book stalls make for a much more interesting composition than most tourists will aim for.
Putting something of interest in the foreground is a well-worn photography technique and if you get the focus right on, it works every time. Another shot that’s worth trying is of the mighty Eiffel Tower popping out from behind the historical carousel in the Promenade Quai Branly. The curves and the color of the fairground ride juxtapose with the angular tower of the Iron Lady and a slow exposure can even add a bit of movement. The ultimate shot is after night fall when both are lit-up with thousands of lights; however, to get it right this will require a tripod, an SLR camera or high-def phone with a low f-stop and a bit of patience.
At sundown, head to The Louvre to get a shot of those famous pyramids. If you time your shoot for sunset, the palace surrounding the courtyard will glow with a warm honey light and the glass structures will shimmer with the pinks and purples of the sky—you’ll also have the benefit of fewer tourists since the museum closes at 6pm on most days. If you really want to limit the number of people in the shot, arrive on a Tuesday when the galleries are closed and shoot from the southwest corner by the Place du Carousel.
Street life and café culture
So, you’ve got the shots of the big five, now it’s time to add a bit of detail to your photo album. For shots at street level, there’s no better place to look than the winding streets of Montmartre. It’s here that you’ll get pictures of ivy-clad cafes, bustling restaurant terraces, and squares alive with movement.
The bohemian 18th arrondissement does get busy with tourists, but you should see the crowds as a photographic challenge—how do you see beyond them to get the shot you want? In the Place du Tertre, for example, focus on close-up shots of the caricaturists and their work; in the narrow streets, look up and capture the crumbling grandeur of the historic buildings that have stood here since the area’s Belle Epoque heyday.
Few people know about—or visit— Le Clos Montmartre vineyard tucked away behind the Sacré-Coeur and if you wander to the top of the hill, you can get a very interesting shot across the vines surrounded by pretty apartments. It’s a rare opportunity to capture a clash of rural scenes with urban structures and this is one of the more surprising compositions you’ll capture in Paris.
From here, it’s less than a minute’s walk from your next picture. Head downhill along Rue Saint-Vincent onto Place Constantine Pecqueur until you reach the steps. From here, you can identify the iconic Art Nouveau entrance of the Lamarck-Caulaincourt Metro station. With the steps tumbling away in the foreground and a burst of color from Le Refuge restaurant’s red and white awning in the center of the shot, it’s a busy, lively composition that perfectly sums up the area’s unique architecture, history, and hillside position.
The key to shooting in Montmartre—and every other arrondissement—is to look beyond the crowds and capture the detail. Paris really is an amateur photographer’s paradise, you just have to think outside the box. Whether that’s snapping a close-up shot of your morning coffee and croissant, or a wind-angle shot of pigeons fluttering across the water during a stroll on the Seine, the key is being ready to try new angles, interesting compositions, and play around with the depth of field. You won’t regret it when you’re editing your collection when you get back home.
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