Category Archives: Paris

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).

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!

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

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.

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

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.

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!

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.

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

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.

Looking back and thinking forward

I’ve been looking through my archives from last year in Paris—and finding many images that I want to process! Looking back at the crop from the spring of last year helps me to understand what I did right, and what I didn’t get to do. I am using the inventory to check plan my photography this year. Both the images below are essentially unmodified (other than RAW processing) from the straight shots—these were about being there and getting it right in the exposure, not about post-production.

Paris Carousel © Harold Davis

Paris Carousel © Harold Davis

About the image: I used a moderate wide angle focal length, and stopped down enough (to f/18) to get both the carousel and the Eiffel tower in focus. Since this was at night, a moderately long exposure was required (3 seconds) to be able to stop the lens down and get the depth-of-field I needed.

Exposure data: Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens at 18mm, 3 seconds at f/18 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

Arc de Triomphe © Harold Davis

Arc de Triomphe © Harold Davis

About the image: Cars, trucks and busses whiz around the Arc de Triomphe endlessly. I wanted to show these cars as streaks, but with the sunset in the sky there was insufficient light for a long enough exposure. I added a polarizer and a +4 ND filter to cut down the light reaching the sensor so I could adjust the exposure proportionately to allow a longish (30 second) shutter speed.

Exposure data: Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens at 18mm, polarizer and neutral density filter, 30 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussman

I was struck by the regularity in this apartment building. Nobody had planters out, no bikes were stored, and old shoes weren’t resting in the window embrasures.  This kind of tidiness is what you might expect from the haute bourgeoisie along the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. I photographed the facade to emphasize its evident symmetry, and processed it using the same set of techniques I used with Room with a View (where there were old sneakers outside the windows!) to make the image look as much like an etching as a black & white photo.

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussmann © Harold Davis

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussmann © Harold Davis

With the image I had pre-visualized, and in this kind of situation, in both shooting and processing I am very glad to have the monochromatic HDR toolkit at my beck and call!

Exposure data: Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens at 130mm, five combined exposures at shutter speeds between 1/13 of a second and 1/800 of a second, each exposure at f/8 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

Banks of the Seine

Using the same lens (my Zeiss 35mm) and the same camera-in-motion technique as In a Paris Park creates a moody and atmospheric image in monochrome of the banks of the Seine River and the Ile St-Louis in Paris. This could be an image from the dawn of photography—when long exposures were the norm, and it was difficult to get a crisp image in twilight—rather than a capture made with a state-of-the-art sophisticated DSLR.

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/8, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.
Related image: Ile de la Cite from Ile St-Louis.

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George. “George” in this case was my Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens. The park is Square Jean XXIII, just behind Notre Dame in Paris, on a cold November day near twilight.

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

The most typical goal of photography is to render crisp images where camera motion is not an issue. This can be achieved by using a fast shutter speed—usually a shorter duration of time than 1/125 of a second—or by putting the camera on a solid support, such as a tripod.

What fun to turn this on its head by intentionally moving the camera during exposure. The results often don’t look very photographic, and it takes a good bit of trial and error to find the right exposure combination. It’s also easier when there is some light, but not too much light. Try this technique in the middle of the day, and even with loads of neutral density filters it is hard to get decent results.

As with the light, so with the motion—you want to move the camera in a consistent way, with enough movement to create an attractive effect but not so much as to turn the image to mush! In this case, “George” and I consistently panned slowly from left to right, pausing on the couple on the bench briefly, and going up and down at the right end of the exposure.

I feel lucky when shooting this way to get one out of a hundred shots turning out decently. Even a few seconds can seem like a very long time when one does it over and over again!

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/4.5, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.

Louvre Reflection

I shot this image last year during a night photography session with my Paris photography workshop. Paris is a great city to photograph at night, with many opportunities for dramatic image making!

Louvre Refections © Harold Davis

Louvre Refections © Harold Davis