Paris’ architecture is known around the world, so it’s helpful to be prepared to tackle it with your camera.
“The stone work, zinc rooftops, Hausmannian style, and building design of the Parisian streets are as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower itself,” says Patrick Colpron. I reached out to for some advice, and Patrick provided a complete rundown of when, where, and how to capture the French capital’s buildings.
WHEN TO PHOTOGRAPH
The City of Light is photogenic for that very reason — the light.
“Early sunrises in the summer are the best times to have the streets to yourself,” says Patrick. “And the sun sets late, which gives you plenty of time to shoot during daylight hours.”
If you want photos without the crowds of tourists that flock to Paris, Patrick says the secret is getting up early to shoot right after sunrise on Sundays. The streets will be yours, and yours alone.
But, if you can’t escape the crowds, be patient. “There is always a brief moment when no one is in my frame,” says Patrick. “I just have to be ready for it.”
WHERE TO PHOTOGRAPH
Unlike some cities designed on perfect grids, Paris is laid out in several axial (star-like) patterns. The streets are often shorter than those in major cities, which creates more corner buildings and angles — subjects rife with possibility for architecture photographers.
Its 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods, feature a variety of architecture. Montmartre is different than the Latin Quarter, which is different than la Madeleine area … you get the picture. Expanding your itinerary to include strolls through multiple arrondissements is always a good idea, especially since, as Patrick points out, some of the areas and buildings in Paris’ less-frequented neighborhoods are still infrequently shared on social media.
“For example,” says Patrick, “most of the apartment buildings in the 5th arrondissement were built in the late 1800s. Whereas the buildings in the 15th, where I live, were all built about 35 years later. The architecture is similar, yet different in so many ways.”
Patrick recommends the 5th and 11th arrondissements, the Madeleine area, Montmartre, le Marais and Rue de Réaumur, the Boulevard de l’Opera, and Rue de Rivoli for architecture enthusiasts, noting that there is also an area that boasts Old City architecture close to Rue Saint-Denis.
“I can’t think of a bad area to photograph,” he says. “Paris is all about the details; there is a lot to photograph in all of the arrondissements.”
HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH
The key to photographing Parisian architecture, says Patrick, is deciding what to include and what to exclude.
“I often find myself skipping the ground floor to show the first and upper level details,” says Patrick. “Recently, I have been photographing the ornate Parisian doors, and will only focus on the details to minimize distracting elements in my compositions.”
If you want to show scale in your photo, just add people!
“People provide a sense of scale in a composition,” says Patrick. He tends to incorporate people into his indoor and museum photography, since it’s more difficult to show scale inside a building.
Photographing buildings can lead to distorted photos though, especially if you’re shooting with a smartphone. Patrick recommends the app, SKRWT, to correct lens perspective distortion.
If you’re shooting with a DSLR, Patrick recommends a wide-angle lens rather than a zoom lens. The crooked streets of Paris can be difficult to capture, and a wide-angle lens will allow you more freedom. But a smartphone will do just fine, too! Patrick often simply uses his iPhone when taking photos, and adjusts as necessary while editing afterward.
Paris is full of old buildings, which are rife for photographic subjects, but can be creatively challenging in terms of composition — the narrow streets, and the lack of symmetry and straight lines on the buildings themselves make everything a bit more difficult.
“It is part of the fabric of Paris,” he says. “Things will be crooked, parts of some of the building’s structures will be in need of renovations, and not everything will be symmetrical. Deal with it, accept it, and show it in your photos.”
See more of Patrick’s photography on Instagram.