Paris is a gorgeous city where there sure is a lot to see, and it’s can be hard to sort it out. Here are a few locations and tips to help you take great pictures in the french capital city.
Remember, this article expresses my own preferences. Paris is a big city, and even after one and half years leaving there, I still have a lot to discover.
Before going more into details, here are a few general tips for visiting the city.
- Stay in the open
Paris’s subway is one of the most efficient in the world. Nevertheless, if you are not in a hurry I’d advise you to use other alternatives, such as buses. This way, you will get to see a whole lot more than just tunnels and unhappy people 😅
The city also has an useful rent-a-bike system.
- Go random, walk a lot !
Paris might be a big city, discovering it on foot is pretty manageable, and in my opinion, it is the best way to see great things. Also, don’t be afraid to get lost, getting lost is the perfect option to get to know a city.
This way, I’ve found many great places, from open buildings, to hidden street, and even rooftops. You’ve got an infinite possibilities to find good spots for street photography, cityscape, abstract, portrait…
- Paris by day, Paris by night
You definitely have to see Paris both in the daytime and after dark. One of its nicknames is “the City of Light”, referring to how much it glows once the sun is set. Monuments and streets are then lit throughout the entire city.
The bad news is, if you’re a stars lover, you won’t have the best time here. The city gets so bright it lights the sky up and prevents any attempt of astro observation or photography.
Now, here is a list of some locations that I find particularly photogenic.
- The Seine’s quays
This isn’t a particular place per say, but just know that strolling along the Seine river will let you see some of the city’s best sights !
- Notre Dame
If you follow my route, your first stop will be the famous cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. If you want more info on how I got this following picture, you can read my article Thunder on Notre Dame.
While this big Lady (in french Notre Dame means “our lady”) is impressive when you look towards its main entrance, I much prefer shooting it from the side, and from the back. You’ll find good points of view from the Tournelle bridge and from the Tournelle quay (those locations are very often used for wedding photographs).
Along the river -in the city center- is a good place to look for second hand books. The Parisian Bouquinistes (aka second hand book sellers) store and sell books from those dark green boxes you can see in the foreground. The Seine river is said to be the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves.
You can enter the cathedral for free, and it’s really worth the visit. From the inside, the nave is very impressive.
- Le Louvre
Le Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, with nearly 10 million visitors per year. It exhibits almost 35,000 objects in 60,600 square meters.
The building from outside, with its glass pyramid and fountains is very photogenic ! The problem is, the plaza is often crowded, and it’s hard not to end up with an army of selfie sticks between you and your subject. Using a ND filter and a long exposure in the daylight can partly solve this problem, erasing most of the moving subjects from the frame. Another good idea is to come here at night, as it’s far less busy, and the museum is perfectly lit.
This shot was taken from inside the museum, handheld and behind glass. On Wednesday and Friday nights, Le Louvre only closes its doors to visitors at 9’45 pm, I found it to be one of the best moments to explore the galleries.
- Pont Alexandre III, Invalides
Stuck between the Grand Palais -a huge exhibition hall with a gorgeous glass rooftop- and Les Invalides, with its golden dome, the Pont Alexandre III is one of the most famous and beautiful bridges in Paris. It offers you a sight in every direction, on some of the city’s major monuments.
And here is a Timelapse with the bridge in the foreground and the Grand Palais in the back.
Now we’re only 1km away from Paris’s inseparable symbol : the Eiffel Tower.
- La Tour Eiffel
The first, and most obvious point of view from which to shoot the Eiffel tower is the Trocadéro. This esplanade dominates the Seine crossing and is typical spot for postcard or wedding pictures. It’s a bit overdone in my opinion, but sometimes the lights is so great I can’t resist to pay it a visit.
If you’re looking for a more original framing, you can get closer to the tower, and take it away from it’s context. You don’t even have to have the whole tower in frame to acknowledge which monument it is. The carousel at its foot makes a great subject for both short and long exposure photography.
Further west is another great spot, the Bir-Hakeim bridge. Beside the fact you might know this metallic bridge from the movie Inception, it offers a good view for Eiffel tower shots…
…Or for timelapses
Anyway, there’s an infinity of possible angles to shoot the tower from, for instance this picture is taken from the Quai Branly museum.
Now we had a good overview on what’s going on around the Seine river, it’s time to leave it and explore a bit further.
- The Galleries Lafayette’s rooftop
I found this spot by accident, a bit before Christmas when I was doing some shopping. I was lacking inspiration for my presents, and going from store to store, and I ended up in the Galleries Lafayette. Then, I just figured they had a free access rooftop, it was the perfect occasion to have some ‘fresh’ air and get away from all the malls’ bustle. I swear, during winter holidays those places are like ant nests, filled with humans 😌
From up top you’ve got an amazing panorama on Paris. And it is located behind one of my favorites buildings in Paris : the Garnier Opera. I love the feeling of overlooking the city, with all its typical Haussmannian rooftops.
Every now and then I go back there, and the light is different every time. The frame is simple enough to allow good mixed portrait/cityscape shots.
The rooftop normally closes at sunset, but sometimes I had enough luck to stay for a few night shots.
This hill in the north of Paris also offers a great panorama, but is mostly known for its narrow paved streets, and its many stairs. It’s all around an awesome place to have a walk. If you’re interested in knowing more details about this place, check my article Evening in Montmartre.
- Buttes Chaumont
This one is actually my favorite Parisian park. Located on a former quarries site, it features hills, a lot of trees, waterfalls, a lake and bridges, which means plenty of options for good pictures. The Temple de la Sibylle, perched at the top of a cliff, 50m above the lake, is probably the best spot for a mixed land/cityscape. It is perfect to capture the sun setting behind the Montmartre hill (on the following picture, you can see the Sacré Coeur Basilica in the background), and for photos at every season.
- Tour Montparnasse
The tour Montparnasse itself is just a big, tall chunk of metal and glass, not very interesting to photograph. However, it features a panoramic terrace on its rooftop, from which you can have one of the best sights on the city. I’ve covered this particular spot in my article Paris’s view from Montparnasse tower.
- La Défense
La Défense is the business district of Paris (you can see it in the background, on the picture above). Unlike the majority of the city, this neighborhood hasn’t had the 37 meters maximum restriction, making it the place with the tallest high-rises in the urban area. While La Défense isn’t really the best for hanging around, I find it quite photogenic. The high structures and proficiency of reflection gives you a lot of possibilities for pictures. You can either stroll around between the buildings on the esplanade…
Another interesting point of view I came across while wandering, is just before Pont de Neuilly (Neuilly’s Bridge).
You have to climb a bit onto fountains to get this clean view.
- Petite Ceinture
And last but not least : the former circular Parisian railway system. Discontinued in the 1920’s, it is now mostly abandoned, closed to the public, and has been taken over by vegetation. However, you can easily access it from several spots throughout the city. It’s quite an unusual place in Paris, in any case one of the quietest. Having a walk there really cuts you from all the town’s fuss. In my opinion it’s the perfect spot for urbex and portrait shots.
Here is one of the easiest access points I know, on the Petite Ceinture’s bridge crossing the Ourc canal.
I hope you’ll have the occasion to try some of those tips and locations while visiting Paris. This way you should be able to come back with great pictures. Remember there are a lot of interesting locations I haven’t talked about. Either because they aren’t very photogenic, because I didn’t have good enough pictures, or simply because I haven’t found them yet.
I always keep on discovering new places and gathering more photos, so expect a follow-up to this article !