Summer photography in Paris – Sunsets and City lights! – Part 1

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Summer is one of my favorite times to photograph sunsets. Sunrise is too early and not always my cup of tea being the late sleeper that I am. But, summer sunsets are a different story altogether.

The golden hour lasts for more than 2 hours and there is still colour in the sky after that, going way into the blue hour, which when combined with the city lights can create absolute magic.

In the summer of 2017 we spent 5 days photographing in Paris, trying to capture the beauty of this “City of lights”. Aim was not to capture the traditional cityscape shots with the city all lit up, but to give the pictures a landscapy touch (I am sure that’s not a word, but what the hell, I claim ownership of a new genre of photography – “Landscapy Cityscape”).

The Louvre

The Louvre is one of the must photograph locations in Paris. It was our first location due to the fact that by the time we finished checking in to our hotel, we were well in the later half of the Golden hour and The Louvre was a 10 min walk from our hotel. Perfect location to welcome us to Paris and to salvage whatever light was left in the day.

An evening at Louvre – Paris, France – 16mm | f/16 | 20s | ISO 100

An evening at Louvre - Paris, France
Dusk colours at the Louvre! The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 60,600 square metres. The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d’art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds. It is the world’s most visited museum, averaging 15,000 visitors per day, 65 percent of whom are foreign tourists.

As dusk turned into the blue hour, moon rose right over the Louvre and all the city lights came on. One can clearly see why Paris is refered to as the city of lights.  Blue hour is another time I love to shoot cityscapes, specially with the city lights. Traditionally most city nightscapes are shot when the sky is black. This can cause the picture to lose depth and look kind of two-dimensional. A little blue in the sky adds depth to the image and brings out the contrast  in the lights without loosing too much detail in the architecture itself.

We continued to shoot at the Louvre for the night. The place has photo opportunities lurking around every corner.

Symmetry – Pyramide du Louvre, Paris – 16mm | f/11 | 30s | ISO 100

Symmetry - Pyramide du Louvre, Paris
The large pyramid is surrounded by three smaller pyramids and serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. It is constructed of glass and metal and was designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. It has been claimed by some that the glass panes in the Louvre Pyramid number exactly 666, “the number of the beast”, often associated with Satan. Actually, it consists of 603 rhombus-shaped and 70 triangular glass segments, so 673 in all.

The sky finally went black and lost all colour, so I decided to shoot closer to the subject and minimise the amount of sky in the frame.

When you get up close to the main Louvre pyramid, it is then that you realise how big it really is. And the reflection of the pyramid in the still pool next to it is to die for. certainly too big to fit in the frame especially with the reflection, even with a 16 mm lens. So what do you do? Take a panorama of course.

City of Love – The Louvre, Paris – 5-shot Pano | 16mm | f/9 | 5s | ISO 100

City of Love - The Louvre, Paris
A 5 shot Panorama to get the Louvre Pyramid with its reflection. I decided to keep the couple in the shot as I think they add to the whole atmosphere. It’s the city of love after all.

Top of the Eiffel Tower

The next day we had tickets to climb the Eiffel tower. A must do if it’s your first time visiting Paris, but not much to be had in terms of photography.  You do get some pretty amazing aerial views of the city, especially if you take the lift to the very top (the summit) and its a marvellous piece of engineering. But what makes a true Paris cityscape is having the Eiffel tower in the frame, which of course cannot be done if you are on the tower itself.

I did get a good shot of Montmartre from the second level of the tower with the Sacré-Cœur standing above the Parisian neighbourhood of Montmartre. Using a long lens to compress the image, I managed to replicate a shot I had seen a while back on one of the Paris postcards.

Looking Over – Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, Paris – 300 mm | f/11 | 1/400 s | ISO 250

Watching Over - Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, Paris
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica. it is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Montmartre is primarily known for its artistic history, and as a nightclub district. Near the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the twentieth, during the Belle Époque (1872 – 1914), many artists had studios in or around Montmartre, including Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh.

Bridges of Paris

Paris is full of extremely ornate bridges which go across the river Seine. The city shares a beautiful relationship with its bridges where the bridges act as small tourist centres with the best restaurants, bars and shops built around them. They also offers some of the best views in the city and hence make excellent photographic subjects giving you the opportunity of combining city lights with beautiful reflections in the river.

And, you always have the option to keep the Eiffel tower in your frame to give the shot that Parisian feeling.

All Lit Up – Pont Alexandre III, Paris, France – 35 mm | f/9 | 8 s | ISO 100

All Lit Up - Pont Alexandre III, Paris, France
The Pont Alexandre III is a deck arch bridge across the river Seine in Paris. It connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower. The bridge is the most ornate, extravagant bridge in the city and is classified as a French Monument historique. The Beaux-Arts style bridge, has exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at both ends.

Or, photograph the bridge up-close to show the beautiful and intricate decorative work done on it. Combine it with a long exposure during sunset and you get simplistic and colourful composition.

Pont Alexandre III at Sunset, Paris, France – 16 mm | f/8 | 30 s | ISO 100

Pont Alexandre III at Sunset, Paris, France
The summer sun sets at the right position to cast a beautiful glow on the bridge just before it dips below the horizon. The construction of this bridge is a marvel of 19th century engineering, consisting of a 6 metres (20 ft) high single span steel arch. It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who had concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. His son Nicholas II laid the foundation stone in October 1896. It was inaugurated in 1900 for the Exposition Universelle.

Pont Alexandre III has these lamps on either side along the bridge which apart from being extremely beautiful, are a great compositional element to use as leading lines or for framing your subject like I have done in the picture below. Adding a human element helps in showing the scale of the place and make the picture more relatable for your viewers.

The Parisian Dream – Paris, France – 16 mm | f/11 | 1/200 s | ISO 100

The Parisian Dream - Paris, France
A shot from Pont Alexandre III bridge at sunset looking towards the Eiffel Tower. I love how the lamps catch the golden light from the setting sun. The Beaux-Arts style bridge, with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at either end, was built between 1896 and 1900.

Pont Neuf is another marvellous bridge with some rather scary faces carved on either side of it. The architect or the artist responsible for the faces was certainly a little troubled in life. Just my opinion, not a historical fact. Nonetheless, the bridge is beautiful, really old and has a mystical feeling to it. Maybe that’s what the architect had in mind while designing it.

Under the Bridge – Pont Neuf, Paris – 80 mm | f/20 | 8 s | ISO 100

Under the Bridge - Pont Neuf, Paris
Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”) is ironically the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris, France. It’s famous for its mascarons. The mascarons are stone masks, 381 in number, each being different and which decorate the sides of the bridge. They represent the heads of forest and field divinities from ancient mythology, as well as satyrs and sylvains. The mascarons remained in place until 1851-1854, when the bridge was completely rebuilt. At the time of the reconstruction, the Renaissance masks were replaced with copies made by noted 19th century sculptors, including Hippolyte Maindron, Hubert Lavigne, Antoine-Louis Barye and Fontenelle.

Standing on one of these bridges also offers some breathtaking views of the city. In the summer months, the sun sets very close to the river, at least in the central part of Paris. If you are lucky enough to not have a thick cloud cover on the horizon, you are sure to be rewarded with a golden sunset which reflects in the river turning the Seine into liquid gold. Combine that with the beautiful historic buildings on the bank of the river and you can create a beautiful golden cityscape.

Golden Paris! – Le Conciergerie from Pont Notre Dame – 16 mm | f/11 | 15 s | ISO 100

Golden Paris! - Le Conciergerie from Pont Notre Dame
A long exposure shot of the river Seine. As we left Ile de la Cité (the small island in the middle of river Seine on which Notre Dame is located), we were greeted with one of the most beautiful post sunset sky I have seen. The colours were just exploding in the sky.

This concludes part 1 of the “Summer photography in Paris” blog. Stay tuned for part 2 where we explore the fabled Notre-Dame and some roof tops of Paris which offer panoramic views of the city for those iconic sweeping shots of Paris (aka the best spots to photograph Paris with the Eiffel tower as part of your cityscape.)

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