Paris, France is the “City of Lights,” but it might as well be the city of classic beauty. Photographing Paris is a delight for photographers, as the city has so much variety and incredible architecture, among other things, that it’s almost difficult to capture a bad photo. If you’re considering a trip to Paris, this article will help you figure out where you should go to capture some great photos. If you’re not planning a trip to Paris, well…consider it an interesting gallery and inspiration for a future trip, maybe?
The purpose of this article is to give a list a handful of photography spots that I liked in Paris, France and to list some resources that I found helpful when “scouting” my shots in Paris. In no way should this be construed as a comprehensive list–quite the contrary as I highly recommend that you consult other resources when planning as there is simply too much ground to cover for one person to create a comprehensive list. Instead, I’m writing this article because it seems like information on Paris photo spots is all over the place, with no single resource that provides its own suggestions plus a list of where it found its inspiration. (Photographers and bloggers are both isolationists, and both seem so hesitant to credit/link to others who assisted them for some odd reason.)
My photo spots are below, but here are a few resources that will help. The best resource I found in planning was A.G. Photographe’s photostream on Flickr. Clearly a Parisian, the breadth and quality of this guy’s work is actually a bit intimidating. Just remember, he lives there…so he has an unfair advantage (at least that’s what I told myself! ;)). Along those same lines, Ramelli Serge has a great list of his favorite photo spots in Paris on 500px. Trey Ratcliff has a lot of photos from Paris–I found the shots of the details he captured inspiring in tone, even if I didn’t find those same locations (I also like his “Stuck on Earth” crowd-sourcing app, but it’s a bit bulky). This one has some locations (most of which are repeats from the previous links), but also offers some general advice for shooting in Paris along with a day plan. Finally, the best thing you can do is checking out a Paris coffee table book from your local library (or buying one if you have the funds). I checked out several coffee table books, such as this one, and their beauty was really inspiring. I can’t say that I sought out any of the locations in these books, but sometimes great inspiration is the best thing for photography.
Most of the above are just “raw” photo spots info. To fill in the gaps (and figure out what you might actually do at these places), we recommend a couple of guidebooks. Our go-to book was Rick Steves’ Paris, and if you only purchase one book, this one should be it. This man knows his stuff. We also liked National Geographic’s Walking Paris. We borrowed about a dozen other books from the library (from Lonely Planet to Frommer’s), but these were our two favorites. Most of the time we just wandered around and saw what we saw, anyway.
After seeing the beautiful work of the photographers above, my list seems fairly meager by comparison. Just remember, I’ve spent less than a week in Paris, so “score” my work at a handicap…or something. These are in no particular order. The locations are described with enough particularity to find them on Google (and really, these are all pretty common spots). You wouldn’t want me to navigate you anyway.
Once you get past the spinning windmill, the facade of the Moulin Rouge isn’t all that pretty. Still, it’s iconic, and if you get creative, there are a number of other things to photograph in Quartier Pigalle, which is known as Paris’ tourist district. Granted, some of these things are on the salacious side (sex shops, adult movie theaters, etc.), but it’s a departure from the normal “romantic” side of Paris. Although I suppose maybe it is romantic…in a different sort of way!
With as big of a Disney fan as I am, it should be no surprise to see this on the list. Disneyland Paris was designed to be a picturesque location, and while some may scoff at this engineered beauty, it’s not the only location on this list that could be described as “engineered beauty.” This pick bucks the trend of this list in two ways: 1) despite its name, it’s the only location on this list that’s not in Paris, and 2) even though I’ve spent only a little time there, I think I know a fair amount about photographing Disneyland Paris. While every location on this list can be photographed in multiple ways, Disneyland Paris differs in that it’s multiple locations, each of which can be photographed in multiple ways. The most iconic photo to take at Disneyland Paris is of Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, but if you want other ideas, check out my Disneyland Paris photo gallery, which contains hundreds of Disneyland Paris photos, most of which are beyond just simple castle shots.
This is a pretty obvious one. However, one thing worth noting here is that the Eiffel Tower is pretty tall and dominates the Parisian skyline (save for the controversial Tour Montparnasse), meaning that interesting photos of the Eiffel Tower can be captured a good distance away. Also, there are adjacent parks and streets, meaning that you can take nice photos of it without standing directly under or by the Eiffel Tower itself. This is a good thing, as pesky panhandlers and purveyors of useless trinkets will mob you as you try to photograph the Eiffel Tower directly under it.
The Louvre is well known for the beautiful art on the inside of its galleries (that would supposedly take months to fully explore), but it’s also quite beautiful on the outside, especially late at night when it’s not crowded with tourists. There’s this main glass pyramid, plus a couple smaller ones and some pretty reflecting pools. Add to that a nice variety of architecture ranging from Gothic to Renaissance, and it’s a nice photography subject in the evening or early morning hours.
Arc de Triomphe
There are plenty of safe locations from which to photograph the Arc de Triomphe, including the outer circle across from the Arc and the inner circle, but my favorite spot was from a good distance, in the middle of the Champs Elysees, with streaks of traffic blurring past. Probably not the safest location, but I think it makes for a more compelling photo.
Cafes & Shops
While not an actual location, per se, I thought it important to deviate from the norm here. Paris is a beautiful city, but a big part of what makes it so beautiful is the people. I found the best way to capture the atmosphere of the city was to photograph its many busy streets and restaurants, both of which seem to be alive at all hours of the day. One of my favorite locations was here, near the apartment we rented, on Victor Hugo Place. There were a number of cafes, plus cars zipping by, and a fountain, all of which created a pretty scene, I thought.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral is a beautiful building, both outside and inside. The best time of day to photograph it is during the day (this photo was taken at night) when the light shines through the stained glass, but it can be quite crowded during the day. Note that tripods aren’t allowed and the inside of the cathedral is very dark. I’ve heard of some photographers breaking the no-tripod rule without any real negative consequences, and I don’t begrudge them for it (you’ll likely get away with it if you’re quick), but I couldn’t bring myself to do that in someone else’s place of worship. Whether you use a tripod is up to you–with advances in low light technology (this photo was shot at only ISO 320 thanks to a 1/15 shutter speed and f/2.8 aperture), it’s not a matter of strict necessity.
Galeries Lafayette is an upscale mall in Paris, France. It goes all out for Christmas (see the giant Swarovski Christmas tree suspended in mid-air in the center of the mall?) but it’s lavish and has interesting architecture year-round. In fact, the whole 9th arrondissement in Paris has some interesting architecture (the Paris Opera is also there) aside from the normal locales you’ll probably visit as a tourist.
Although this just scratches the surface of what you can photograph in Paris, there you have some of my favorite spots–again, this is a very incomplete list based on my first visit to Paris. I’ve since been back to France twice (you can see other spots visited in my France category of posts) and will try to do a follow-up to this photo spots post in the near future.
For the photos in this post, I primarily used my a Nikon D600, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens, and the Nikon 24-105mm f/4 lens plus a tripod. I carried other gear (and don’t regret doing so), but I like to overpack. At some points, it was a little awkward having my camera bag. Some cafes are quite small, which meant that I had to basically rest my camera bag on top of my feet throughout the meal. To get some more Paris, France photo ideas, check out my Paris photo gallery.
Where are your favorite places for photography in Paris? Which of these would you most like to photograph? Any questions? Share any thoughts you have in the comments!