While in Paris, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I looked at walking tours but they seemed a bit mundane, and involved too much standing around and listening.
What I really wanted was something interesting where I could also take photos but I’ve learned that, while bicycle and Segway tours are great fun, they don’t lend themselves well to snapping photos.
Then I found, on the Discover Walks website under “Paris Adventures,” a photo workshop called “Nightshoots.” I sent off an inquiring email and, before I knew what happened, I had heard back from Lorenzo and was signed up for Monday night, June 10th.
The workshop began at 10:30 p.m., which seemed late to me until I realized that, approaching the summer solstice, it would still be light in Paris until very late. Abu Dhabi is at latitude 24, whereas Paris is at latitude 48. This time of year, sunset in Abu Dhabi is at about 7:00 p.m., whereas in Paris it’s at 10:00, leaving plenty of time for sitting and sipping wine at those sidewalk cafes.
The meeting place for the workshop was the Arc de Carousel, in front of the Louvre. The limit for the nighttime photo workshop is four people, each of whom can bring one non-participating person, but this night there were only two – me, and a man visiting from New Zealand named Jimmy (I think.) Lorenzo – his real name is Laurent, but as a photographer he uses the name Lorenzo – turned out to be a very nice young man who explained that he had been a fashion photographer, but now he is broadening his subject matter. He is interested in creating photos that tell stories or evoke a mood, and he would share some insights on how to plan a shot with us. I really liked him; he was very easygoing and, if you will excuse the expression, normal, and I found it very easy to talk with him.
Lorenzo started us out on a shot of the Arc de Carousel, with the scenario that we had an assignment from the Tourism Office to create a postcard-type shot that was out of the ordinary – it must “say something unique.” He then watched as we made our exposures using manual settings, suggesting changes in aperture so that we would have proper exposure and mood.
This took me way, WAY back to the days when I owned a light meter, and cameras didn’t have an automatic exposure setting. Once upon a time I knew my SLR camera well enough where I could usually set it according to the light conditions without needing to use the light meter!
One “problem” that we noticed right away was that the spotlight on the right-hand side was out, so we needed to set up our shots the manage this problem, and perhaps even work it to our advantage. I decided to balance the light on either side of the darkened Arc, highlighting the texture and including the Louvre Palace and a hint of the pyramid in the background.
I also couldn’t resist taking a photo of a man pausing on his bicycle …
… which sparked a conversation about placing people in your photos, and directing them. I then asked this nice young man to stop, so that I could include him in my photo, which he obligingly did although I think he thought I was a little crazy. He didn’t stand completely still for the several-second exposure time.
Next, we went to the pyramid which is the main entrance to the Louvre, where we were to set up another shot. Alas, they were closing up early and we had to leave.
This meant that Lorenzo had to quickly change the workshop plan, and we ended up in the nearby Place Andre Malroux, photographing the fountain, whose lights were constantly shifting from red to blue and back again.
Of course, the shot that I wanted would require that I set up exactly in the middle of the street and, even at that time of night, the taxis were still careening about, so I had to settle for a few closer shots.
For the past couple of year, I have been, literally, running around taking hundreds of photos each week. I shoot most of my photos on the go, which means that I do a lot of cropping and adjusting of color and exposure on the computer. This is fine for blogs and posting on the Internet, but if I want to enter a photo in a contest or use it in some other professional capacity, there is too much information and resolution lost with each change.
I was amazed at how quickly the workshop ended. At 1:00 a.m., I hired a taxi to take me to my hotel, saying goodbye to Lorenzo and Jimmy.
The biggest thing I took away from my time with Lorenzo was that I need to slow down once in awhile and plan my shots. This takes time and patience. Shooting at night is difficult. There is always a street lamp or other unwanted light. Sometimes the camera wobbles. You need to look at each shot and evaluate, which we can do with the technology we have today.
Sometimes, a blurred photo is interesting. I like the bold colors in this one.
Paris in June is lovely, but it got dark just too darn late for me to stay out shooting photos, especially alone. I couldn’t drag Mark out at midnight when he got there; it wouldn’t be fair. I will remember this, because if you want to go to a place and take photos at night, you need to either be prepared to stay out late, or you need to go at a time of year when it gets dark early. You can’t have everything.
I am planning to do more night photography in Abu Dhabi. Last year I used my tripod to photograph the Zayed Grand Mosque from sunset to darkness, and inside the mosque. Here are a few of those shots.
Abu Dhabi decorates with lights for many holidays throughout the year. Right now the city is decorating for Ramadan, which starts next week, so I am hoping for some opportunities for night shoots to be coming up soon. As incentive, I went through all of my photos taken in the Middle East over the past 20 months, and made an album of night shots. Most of these were taken without a tripod, on automatic exposure, many of them from the window of a moving vehicle.
I took a wonderful, intangible mental souvenir away from Paris. Now, when I shoot at night, I’ll remember my Paris workshop at the Louvre. I am more aware of the time and patience it takes to set up a really good night shot. I’m looking forward to honing my nighttime photo skills, and when I have a new collection I will post it. Thanks for reading!