Versailles Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors is the most famous room in the opulent Palace of Versailles (or the Château de Versailles) in the Île-de-France region of France. Judging by all of the Asian tourists (seriously–if you don’t believe me, read the first few lines of this article) taking photos of this room with iPads, this is one of the most photographed rooms in all of Versailles. While “opulence” may not be the word that comes to mind to describe mirrors, in typical Versailles fashion, mirrors were incredibly expensive at the time of this hall’s construction because of a monopoly held on their manufacture. So, of course, much like Will Ferrell demanding more cowbell, King Louis XIV of France demanded a hall filled with more mirrors!

Although the room looks empty here, the only reason I got this area completely empty was because I managed to break-through a bottleneck before hordes of other tourists could enter this area. If we ever go to Versailles again, I’m making sure we arrive early in the morning next time!

Versailles is really a sight to behold. For more info and advice concerning Versailles, check out our Palace of Versailles Tips post!

Please click the photo for best viewing (larger and in lightbox mode). From there, you can purchase prints by clicking the shopping cart at the top of the screen. You can also navigate to the 1,000+ other images in my photo galleries from there! 


Photographed with a Nikon D600 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. More importantly, this photo is most first foray into the world of tone-mapped HDR in a few years. It’s odd…when I first started on my photographic journey, I thought tonemapped HDR was the coolest thing ever. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and could make a photo come alive. Then I came to dislike it, mostly because I saw poor applications of HDR being highly praised by non-photographers simply because it was “unreal” to them–something they could easily see that they couldn’t replicate themselves. Admittedly, it was sort of silly to dislike something simply because I didn’t like the way others did or consumed it.

In the last year or so, I’ve come full circle, really enjoying the work of a lot of people who specialize in fine art HDR. In this time that I’ve come full circle, tonemapped HDR has become more common. So common, in fact, that it’s probably not unreal to most people. I mean, iPhones can do HDR these days! I know HDR is very divisive, and I know a lot of people view it as a gimmick or don’t like it for whatever reason, but I think it gives some subjects an ethereal beauty that just works. It’s certainly not for every subject, and there are bad ways to do it (perhaps this is one such “bad way,” I am more than a little rusty), but I have come to realize that I like certain applications of it. Not only do I now appreciate the style, but I also feel that photographers as artists should use any tool they can to produce the best image they can…

One of the reasons I started this blog was to push myself and to try new things creatively. My Disney photography has developed a distinctive “look” (or so I’m told), and I don’t really want to mess with that by experimenting with other processing techniques. BUT, here on this travel blog, I’m free to behave like a photographic nomad, and try all sorts of new stuff. It’s like my own little testing ground. Who knows…if I can refine certain methods to the point where I’m happy with them here, I might try them on the Disney stuff, too!

Your Thoughts…

I know some of you photographers are probably dying to share your two cents on this, so HONESTLY, where do you stand on this photo? Along with that, where do you stand on HDR in general? (Just so I have some frame of reference to weigh your comments.) Share your thoughts on this topic of the day…or anything else…in the comments. One lucky commenter might become the ultimate fighting champion!

34 replies
  1. Alfred H
    Alfred H says:

    Hi Tom! I just wanted to say I love your site and this photo. I literally spent hours looking for pictures of Versailles with no one in them and found your site. Is there any way I could download the pictures and use them as a wallpaper for my site? I tried buying some of your pictures, but the only option was a physical print version. Right now I’m looking for a digital version, I don’t mind paying if needed. Looking forward to your response.

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  3. Agnes
    Agnes says:

    This comment is a few months late, but I just had to say that this photo is the prettiest I’ve ever seen of the Hall! That room is soooo tricky to photograph elegantly and those sectioned, imperfect mirrors make it all that much more difficult. Your picture has depth, color, and amazing detail. Who cares if it’s HDR – it looks fantastic. And that’s what travel photography is all about.

  4. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    The photo looks great! I’ve gone between liking HDR, to not liking it very much, and now I’m starting to appreciate it more when it’s done well. I haven’t used it much myself – just a couple of times when I was checking out a free trial to see if I liked it and wanted to but it. I’d be curious, next time you do an HDR, to see a comparison of the finished to the 0 EV exposure – it kind of puts a good perspective on what HDR can do for a photo.

  5. George
    George says:

    I like this shot and think it’s a very effective use of HDR. I like HDR when it’s used as the name suggests, to expand the dynamic range that a camera can capture. Since the eye also has a limited dynamic range, the resulting pictures look fantastic and can reveal beauty that might have been overlooked even by a person on site. What I don’t care for are the shots that have been so heavily layered that they start to look like a bad attempt at solarization.

  6. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I agree with most of the other commenters – I like the use of HDR to make things look “more real” or to bring out otherwise lost detail, but there is a lot of bad use of it out there. I like this one.

    One question – what range of exposures did you use? It looks like the EXIF data just picks one of the 3.

  7. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    “perhaps this is one such “bad way,” I am more than a little rusty” ….. Oh, STFU. I love how you subtly throw stuff out there that you know good and well with fetch you nothing but praise from your followers. You don’t second guess your creative ability (and undeniable talent) for one second. Your photographic skills ARE good but your arrogance shines through in almost every single thing you tweet or write. I couldn’t think of a more narcissistic douche. Have yourself a slice of humble pie, will ya? …. PS: cool picture

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I won’t bother trying to change your mind with regard to my opinions of my own work, but… why do you follow me and view this blog if you clearly dislike me?

    • fattyboombatty
      fattyboombatty says:

      brittany, you’ve obviously had a couple of slices of jealous pie! dayuuuum guuuuurl don’t be hatin’!!! easy to go on someone’s blog and call them a douche when you’re veiled behind your computer, huh? I couldn’t think of a more narcissistic troll.

    • Ray
      Ray says:

      I have never understood why people follow other people that they obviously cannot stand. Buh bye Brit….don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya!

  8. Adam Willis
    Adam Willis says:

    Absolutely agree with you on HDR. Hated it so much for so long until I found the people who are actually using it well. Tour Departing Daily is one blog that only uses HDR and hardly ever gets it wrong. Loving this new blog, btw!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      For those who aren’t familiar with it, is the blog he’s referencing. They are excellent Disney photographers that I highly urge anyone reading this to check out.

      (And for future reference, please link to a site when you discuss it to help others find it–I’m not one of those bloggers who doesn’t allow links to other websites on his blog. That’s just ridiculous. I do ask that you don’t constantly spam the comments with links to your own sites…just use a bit of common sense!)

  9. Albert L
    Albert L says:

    I might be biased, since I’m a fan of your work, Tom, but I love it! Not over-the-top, but elegantly done to really bring out the glow of this amazing space.

    My take on HDR focuses on its ability to convey a surreal nature, which is distinct from the “unreal’ style you mention. HDR can definitely be overdone–blazing halos and effects that make the photo look practically embossed are big no-no’s, as I’ve come to believe. But my favorite HDR’s are the photorealistic ones that have just enough artistic manipulation to convey an effect of luminescence… that ethereal quality that imparts a certain glow that tugs at the heart strings, or at nostalgia, or just plain warm fuzzies. It should be subtle, because HDR is also making an already great composition better, not just the manipulation of effects.

    So although I used to like (and myself went through the phase of creating) HDR’s that looked like they were on fire, I’ve definitely come to enjoy HDR’s that are crisp, clean, and just a touch aglow. I think you’ve got that in your photo! Just about the only real comment I can make is completely subjective–that I wish the marble walls were a bit more crisp and had a bit more contrast, because that smooth hard surface seems a tad cloudy. But really, that’s super nit-picking. Great picture, Tom!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:


      Great points–I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to HDR. Or at least how I feel about it.

      As for the walls…you should have seen how soft they were before I opened this image in Photoshop. I applied a curves adjustment just to them because of it. I think the light coming through the window really killed the contract. Guess I should have gone a little further with the contrast.

  10. Michael Greening
    Michael Greening says:

    I think this location is not only perfect for the Tonemapped HDR effect, it’s also almost necessary. This is the only way to bring out the detail and texture in all that ornamentation. It really brings the photo to life. For being rusty, you sure got a nice oil can and cleaned all the rust off.

  11. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Dude! I am SO jealous you got an “empty” room pic of the Hall of Mirrors! I was there this summer and you could barely move! I got elbowed, stepped on, pushed, and sworn at (in several languages i’m certain)! We waited outside in line for an hour to get in! It was definitely beautiful though I would LOVE to return when I can breath while in the walls of such a beautifully ornate (albeit excessive) palace. Kudos to you! and i can back you up – Asians galore! Everywhere i turned!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I got EXTREMELY lucky in photographing this room like this. It was elbow-to-elbow in EVERY other room, and then when we got here, there was a huge line to go somewhere else about halfway down the hall that caused some serious congestion. I maneuvered past that and went nearly to the end of the hall to get a couple stragglers out of my frame. As they moved further away from me, I kept backing up to get more of the hall, quickly firing off frames as I went. This was as far as I got before the place became incredibly crowded again.

      Most of the rest of my photos from Versailles will be in the gardens. I have a few other decent shots inside, but they’re most ceiling-only photos because of the crowds. I suspect those photos will become uninteresting after only a couple posts, so I won’t share too many of them.

    • Jenn
      Jenn says:

      Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the gardens (i was so sad!) but like you I have many pictures of ceilings. I can guarantee you none of my pictures will ever come close to yours! (though a few from greece and italy turned out quite awesome). I was traveling with a group of 45 students….navigating through the crowds with 45 8th graders and freshmen was quite fun (I myself was responsible for 9) but OMG I misplaced a few from time to time due to the crowds!

  12. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    Perfect HDR. It’s got a little extra punch to it but it’s not overdone. And the colors are great! I have a similar shot from the hall of mirrors, and I had trouble getting the colors to look realistic.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I do sell my prints! You can purchase prints or downloads when viewing the photo large on Smugmug (click the little shopping cart at the top of the window). This is something most people don’t know about, but I plan to make it more “visible” soon. I’ve actually been working on updating/expanding my galleries over the course of the past week.

  13. fattyboombatty
    fattyboombatty says:

    Whoa! This photograph is incredible! Nice work! Here’s my deal with HDR, I think it’s awesomely awesome for architecture and landscape photography. Generally, talented photographers (such as yourself) only use HDR for those types of photography. And you’re exactly right when you say “the fine art of HDR” that’s what it is and that’s what you’ve created with this image.

    My one beef with HDR is that nowadays a lot of hotels use it to photograph their guest rooms, i get it, they want their product to look it’s best, but the difference from photo to real life is usually so drastic it’s a let down when you check into your room. Not only that, sometimes the photos look so nice you’re duped into booking a secret gross hotel room. If you look on most major hotel brand’s websites the rooms don’t look like hotel rooms they look like digital renderings of a hotel room. That’s why i go to trip advisor to view user uploaded photos of the rooms, so I know what I’m getting into…I know, it’s a weirdo beef to have but that’s it.

    Anyways, great work, I hope to see you experimenting more with this technique, especially with your disney photos, why not!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Interesting you mention hotels using HDR to mislead. You may notice that I was very careful when I wrote this, stating: “but I also feel that photographers as artists should use any tool they can to produce the best image they can…” The as artists part of that is key. This is not to say photojournalists are not producing art, but I believe they are not primarily “photographers as artists.” They are photographers as documentarians. They should not be using HDR.

      There are other inappropriate or poor uses: for glamour portraits of pretty females (by contrast, it works very well on rugged men), on just about any shallow depth of field shot, etc. Even many landscapes and architectural photos do not benefit from HDR.

      Like anything, it’s all about knowing when and how to use it. Even then, some people won’t agree with your decision. To each his or her own!

  14. Katie
    Katie says:

    I think the photo turned out very well. I love the idea of using HDR for Versailles. It works aesthetically and intellectually for me: Versailles was all about opulence, conspicuous consumption, and ornate details, and I think that HDR works in similar ways. In some ways HDR looks more real than real–but you’re always very aware of its constructed nature. HDR can often make details pop. Finally, it is a sign of a certain cultural capital–even if you’re doing it on an iPhone, it means you can afford an iPhone! Or a SLR camera, plus the post-processing software, plus the leisure time to learn the technique and pull it all together (although of course, there are plenty of people who might have the time but are not willing…). Out of curiosity, was the shot hand held, or did you use a tripod?

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I also thought HDR complemented the look of Versailles well, which was my reason for going this route with the processing.

      Interesting take on the “cultural capital” of the process. Although I didn’t take the time to learn the technique (although I have a book that I’m about to read about HDR), I’ve spent a lot of time and money on the rest of those things!

      Tripods are not allowed inside Versailles. I had to check mine at the entrance before going inside. I was able to pick it up to take it to the gardens once we were done inside.

  15. Nick Barese
    Nick Barese says:

    I really like the use of HDR in this image. I have seen many HDR images look way over cooked and fall into the sureal category for me. I do like seeing well done HDR and this definitely falls into that category.

    How many images were loaded into Photomatix?


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