Category Archives: Paris

Blast from the Past: Sacré Coeur Passage

Originally published June 26, 2013:

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre sits high on a hill overlooking Paris. Controversial from long before the start of construction, the design of Sacré Coeur was a response to the supposed “moral decline” of France in the century following the French revolution, with the more proximate cause the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

If this defeat represented divine punishment, as asserted by Bishop Fournier, then Sacré Coeur was an iconic response by the hard right-wing allied with monarchists and the Catholic church to the democratic rabble of Paris and the commune. This was not the first, nor the last, time that the forces of repression and the church were on the same side against their common enemy, the people when empowered—but it still was a bitter pill for some to swallow standing tall above the city of light.

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Visited by millions of people a year, Sacré Coeur gets surprisingly little traffic up in the passage that circles the grand dome.  Perhaps the narrow and twisting stairs—all 280 of them—inhibit guests. The views are superb, as you can see in another image of mine from the dome that includes that other Parisian icon, the Eiffel tower.

Up in the passage around the dome of Sacré Coeur, the “rabble” has had its revenge. On the one hand, it is sad to see the elegant surfaces defaced by layer upon layer of graffiti and a general patina of neglect over time. On the other hand, this defilement—at least in part a deliberate statement—stands as mute testament to the true sentiments of many of those who visit: as much as a holy temple, Sacré Coeur is a political symbol created by those who would keep the people in their place.

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Exposure data, Sacré Coeur Passage: 22mm, eight exposures at shutter speeds between 1/20 of a second and 3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro; Patina of Time: 82mm, seven exposures at shutter speeds between 1/30 of a second and 1.3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro

Also posted in France, Monochrome, Photography

Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris

I am particularly fond of the patterns of buildings and rooftops you see in European towns and cities. Above, the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy, photographed this year (2015); below, the rooftops of Paris, France, photographed in 2013.

Manarola © Harold Davis

Manarola © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Italy, Patterns

Paris in the Spring

Click here to download the Reservation Form. A $500 early-registration discount applies before October 31, 2015.

There’s nothing like photographing Paris in the spring! Let’s spend a week together this May making photos in Paris, and having a great time.

Photography begins with the medium of light, which the artist captures and applies to the canvas in endlessly surprising ways. And what better place to explore this medium than Paris, the City of Light?

Join acclaimed photographer Harold Davis for the experience of a lifetime in Paris, the birthplace of photography. There you’ll have the opportunity to experience firsthand the places and sights that have inspired artists for centuries.

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

We’ll focus our lenses on Paris in bloom, Paris at night, and Paris in black & white, reinterpreting for ourselves some of the images that have been captured in paint and on film by many great artists, including Daguerre, Monet, Atget, Picasso, and Erwitt. We’ll have a grand time photographing and we’ll return home with many priceless shots to treasure!

Photo tour includes an excursion to Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny, with exclusive after-hours artist access.

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

Harold’s photographs of Paris have appeared in books, exhibitions, and been published worldwide on travel sites.

Here’s what some participants in past Photograph Paris with Harold Davis Workshops had to say:

Eiffel Tower from Sacré Coeur © Harold Davis

Eiffel Tower from Sacré Coeur © Harold Davis

  • “Had an awesome time with Harold and the workshop participants.  Itching to go back.  If you’re a photographer, Paris at night is a ‘Must Do!’.  Put it on your bucket list ‘cause you may not see this in Heaven.”
  • “Photographing Paris at night in the company of a group of fellow photographers had instant appeal.  Inspired by the scenes of Brassai, I imagined myself at the top of the steps at Montmartre, taking wonderful black-and-white images.  I already admired Harold Davis, and had confidence that he would lead us to fantastic places – and he did!  What came as a delightful surprise was the level of talent and variety of approaches that my fellow travelers employed to capture the marvelous churches, gardens, and people of Paris, Giverny, and Fontainebleau.  I learned from every one of them.  And what an agreeable group of travel companions they were! A once-in-a-lifetime experience that I plan to repeat next spring!”
  • “Harold has great skill, without the ego of most master photographers. Travel arrangements were perfect.”
  • “One thing I really liked about the photo tour that Harold set up is that we had plenty of time to photograph in the best locations, and really prioritized when the light would be good.”

Where: The group will be based out of a centrally located, elegant and comfortable 4-star centrally located Parisian hotel, such as the Hôtel d’Aubusson (or similar). The Hôtel d’Aubusson is on the left bank of the Seine, in the heart of the 5th Arondissment, and is located near many of the prime photographic locations.

When: Sunday May 1, 2016 (leave US April 30) to Saturday May 7, 2016 (six nights and seven days).

Group Size: This exclusive, small photo workshop tour is limited to ten photographers (non-photographer significant others are also welcome).

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Click here for Day-by-day itinerary and registration details!

Also posted in Workshops

Lumiere Fillagree

Lumiere Fillagree © Harold Davis

Lumiere Fillagree © Harold Davis

This is a combination of two hand-held shots. The carousel in the foreground was photographed at 3 seconds and f/22 at ISO 64. The three second exposure produced the filigree effect. The Eiffel Tower in the background was shot at a relatively stable and sober 1/5 of a second and f/8 at ISO 200. The two exposures were combined in Photoshop.

By the way, I’ve been asked if I am in Paris because of the Paris photos that are appearing on my blog such as Beneath the Pont de la Concorde. No, I am home in California, and just working through and processing some images from the last few years. With the press of the things going on right now in my life, it does sometimes take me a while to get around to post-processing my work!

Also posted in France

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

The modernism of the underpinnings of this bridge over the Seine River in Paris, France belies the ornate fancifulness of the bridge from above. This is one of the joys of photographing in Paris—styles with huge inherent differences are cheek and jowl together, and somehow work in harmony.

From a formal viewpoint, this is a photo with a great deal of symmetry in lines and construction. But for me the composition works because of the unusual negative space cut-out, across to the opposite bank of the river.

Exif data: Nikon D800, 35mm, six exposures at shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/8 of a second, each exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 50, tripod mounted; combined and converted from RAW in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, processed in Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, and Topaz Simplify; converted to black and white using the LAB color space in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Stairway to Heaven

On a rainy spring day I was photographing under the bridges in Paris, trying to keep my camera dry. The bridge shown in this image is the Pont Solferino, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. My position is with the Tuilleries at my back, looking across the river at the Musee D’Orsay on the left.

Pont Solferino (Black & White)  © Harold Davis

Pont Solferino (Black & White) © Harold Davis

The image shown here in black and white (above) and color (below) is composed from a bracketed sequence of five shots at exposures from 6 seconds to 1/60 of a second. I used my 15mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens, with a little post-production work to correct the perspective distortion. The HDR blending caused the people climbing the stairs to “ghost”—an effect that adds to what one person viewing my images has called a “stairway to heaven.”

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Pont Solferino © Harold Davis

Want to learn more about how I convert to black and white? The recording of my webinar Converting to Black & White with Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex is now available for unlimited access ($19.95).

Also posted in France, Photography

Photographing the Paris Skyline

Photographing the Paris skyline at dusk would seem to be pretty straightforward. The rooftop observatory on top of the Tour Montparnasse is open late, and there are gaps in the plexiglass allowing one to shoot without worrying about reflections. With a camera on a tripod, what then could be the big technical issue?

Paris Sunset 2 © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset 2 © Harold Davis

Not so much if all you need to do is display your images at a small size, but plenty it turns out if a large reproduction (print size 60″ X 40″ or 150cm X 40cm and up) is the requirement.

In the spring of 2013 I shot Paris City of Light and Les Lumières de Paris from the top of the Tour Montparnasse. By the way, the Tour Monparnasse is a hideous high-rise built in the 1970s that doesn’t fit in with the elegant Paris skyline in the slightest. The joke is that the best thing about the Tour Monparnasse observatory is that you can’t see the Tour Montparnasse from it. Bus loads of Chinese, Korean and Japanese tourists ride the elevators up to the Tour Montparnasse observatory, but most of them stay on the floor below the plein air top deck.

Anyhow, my 2013 shots were good enough for a couple of publications, but there was “trouble in Paradise” when an art publishing client of mine ran some really large test prints. These images just weren’t sharp enough.

What can cause lack of sharpness under these conditions? First, in any landscape shot that includes a distant vista diffusion due to atmospheric conditions is always a factor, and there isn’t much you can do about it except wait for a really clear day (not always possible). Paris is often moist, and has some pollution from cars and other sources, so this limiting factor is a real consideration.

From the viewpoint of photographic gear and the craft of photography, the issues are camera motion, optical sharpness, resolution (sensor size) and sensitivity settings.

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

As I’ve noted, my camera was on a tripod. But my observation and analysis was that the real problem was slight camera motion, caused by the wind coming through the gaps in the plexi, even using my tripod. Absent the ability to come back with a heavier tripod, which wasn’t possible, the fix in 2014 seemed to be to use a faster shutter speed.

So in the two images of Paris Sunset (far above, above and also shown here) I shot at 1/100 of a second for a relatively short duration shutter speed. This implied bumping the ISO, to 1250 in each case.

The good news: my files this time stand up to the blow-up that is required!

Also posted in France, Photography

Paris Sunset

Towards the end of April, on top of Tour Montparnasse in Paris, France, I watched late afternoon fade into dusk and night. As the sun set, the lights of the City of Light came on. A spectacular view, and best of all because, being shot from the Tour Montparnasse, the view does not include the Tour Montparnasse: a truly ugly building from the 1970s that spoils the symmetry of the classical Paris skyline.

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Also posted in France

What’s new is old again in Paris

Les Deux Magots © Harold Davis

Les Deux Magots © Harold Davis

Paris is a city with a tremendous and varied historical legacy from many eras. But after you are here for a while you realize that it is also constantly changing. Construction and renovation is continual. There’s scaffolding on almost every block.

With some notable exceptions, retail decors change quickly to keep up with fashion. The laundromat I tried to go to this morning has disappeared in the year since I last washed clothes there, replaced by an upscale boutique.

With this continual reinvention against a backdrop of history in mind, it is fun to use a new technology (my iPhone camera in the image shown to the left) to capture an old landmark, Les Deux Magots—the Saint-Germain-des-Prés watering hole of Hemingway and a whole cavalcade of literary and artistic types of yore (today it is more the touristic types!). Likely the waiter dressed in much the same way back when Hemingway frequented the joint.

Shot with my iPhone camera and processed on the spot with Filterstorm, Lo-Mob and Plastic Bullet as I was out “flaneuring” today.

Also posted in iPhone, Monochrome

Night at the Louvre

Photographing after dark in the grand courtyard of the Louvre is always great fun. The pyramid becomes an abstraction, and is an interesting contrast in its modernity with the ornate structure of the grand old palace.

Pyramide © Harold Davis

Pyramide © Harold Davis

Do you prefer this image in color or black and white? I started with the color version (above), then thought that the lines and shapes of the diamonds within the pyramid, and the triangular-shaped reflecting pool, would make a strong composition in monochrome (below).

Pyramide in Black and White © Harold Davis

Pyramide in Black and White © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Under the Pont de la Concorde

A pedestrian esplanade runs from the Musée d’Orsay to the Tour Eiffel along the left bank of the Seine River. This walk way has been reclaimed from vehicular traffic only fairly recently, and it is the scene of art exhibitions, music, and much general festivity.

Under the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Under the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Wandering with my camera on this esplanade I was caught in a heavy spring downpour. Along with a crowd, I took refuge under the Pont de la Concorde. There was no place to put my tripod, so I  placed my camera on the stone railing. I added a neutral density filter, and shot this six minute exposure to soften the water while keeping the detail in the stone work that supports the bridge.

Also posted in Monochrome

Spirals at the Hotel D’Orsay

If you know me, you know that I am nuts about photographing spiral staircases. The Hotel D’Orsay in Paris has two, one with an elevator running up the middle, and the main stairs, which has five flights in a narrow spiral formation.

Stairs at the Hotel D'Orsay © Harold Davis

Stairs at the Hotel D’Orsay © Harold Davis

This kind of staircase tends to be harder to photograph than meets the eye. First, they are rarely well lit. This means a long exposure if you are stopping the lens down to get enough depth-of-field for most of the spiral to be in focus. The problem with a long exposure is that this kind of old staircase is usually they are rickety and transmit vibrations. If anyone comes up or down the stairs, they are likely to spoil your exposure just by walking past.

Spiral Stair at the D'Orsay via iPhone © Harold Davis

Spiral Stair at the D’Orsay via iPhone © Harold Davis

Another issue is holding the camera steadily above the stair for a straight shot down. You need a good tripod and steady nerve, but you can usually brace the tripod against the railing to make this possible. To make life easier and avoid all the trouble, simply shoot the spiral staircase with your iPhone!

Also posted in France, iPhone, Monochrome

Double Rainbow over Paris

In the afternoon the rain started to come down hard, with a lush, almost tropical sound as it fell hard on the rooftops of Paris. I went upstairs because I had left my window open. I stuck my head out the window before I shut it. Around the corner was a hint of a rainbow.

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

I grabbed my camera, dashed downstairs in my t-shirt and jeans, took an umbrella from the bin next to the front desk, and ran the two blocks to the Seine River. A double rainbow was forming, upstream in the direction of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. Precariously balancing my camera and using the umbrella to shelter it from the wind and rain I snapped a few photos.

Sometimes you get lucky.

Also posted in France, Landscape, Photography

Rain in Rodin’s Garden

One of my favorite places in Paris is the garden behind the Rodin Museum, where I went this morning. Of course, a Rodin garden would not be complete without Rodin’s sculpture. It was fun photographing the famous sculptures in the rain, which added to the textures and feeling of the place. The face of “The Thinker” is shown here, overexposed and processed for high-key.

Thinker © Harold Davis

Thinker © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Pont Royal

Spring in Paris means that sometimes it rains, which can make it all the more romantic. I took advantage of the moody light today to photograph along the Seine River. From time to time rain squalls hit, and my camera and I went for cover under one of the bridges. I used a long exposure (two minutes) to flatten the moving water and give and old-fashioned appeal to this shot of the Pont Royal.

Pont Royal © Harold Davis

Pont Royal © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, 35mm Zeiss lens, circular polarizer, +4 ND filter, 120 seconds at f/13 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Also posted in France, Monochrome, Photography