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Discovering the Art of Street Photography in Paris

Updated on March 18, 2011
Henri Carter-Bresson style Paris photograph.
Henri Carter-Bresson style Paris photograph. | Source
A pair of lovers 'enjoy' the Paris cafe scene.
A pair of lovers 'enjoy' the Paris cafe scene. | Source
Love is in the Paris air everywhere you look around...
Love is in the Paris air everywhere you look around... | Source
Paris attracts lovers of all ages...
Paris attracts lovers of all ages... | Source
Is she saying "It's a mobile phone, and you listen right here"
Is she saying "It's a mobile phone, and you listen right here" | Source
Use your backgrounds to good use too and there are plenty in Paris
Use your backgrounds to good use too and there are plenty in Paris | Source

Are you far too shy to take people pictures?

I think I am. After showing my portfolio around to several people, it was noted that while the images of landscapes, buildings and transport were all very good, there were no people pictures. It seems people love to see people pictures, but on the flip side, they complain so much when you try and take their photograph. So, I set about correcting the lack of people pictures in my portfolio by going out and taking, well pictures of people.

Now, I don't know about your hometown, but where I live, people are totally camera shy. Trying to get a half-decent people pictures here are well nigh on impossible. I was beginning to think that I wasn't going to get any at all. I came to the conclusion that people would rather face a firing squad, than be photographed.

My attempts at street photography remained firmly on the back seat. That is, until our annual trip to Paris to allow my French wife to re-charge her Frenchness ie. drive on the wrong side of the road, talk French all the time, breath the air, eat proper baguettes, and of course, shop to you drop for fashion.

I don't know what it is about the French capital, but the people there seem far more photogenic, and I would swear that they actual pose for the camera. Perhaps, that why Henri Carter-Bresson loved 'hunting' with his famous Leica camera in the streets of Paris. Within less than a couple of hours walking a round the Place de Tertre and the Palace de Louvre, I managed to 'bag' several really good people shots. And by the end of trip, I had a whole portfolio bulging with superb pictures.

On a few occasions, I was even invited to take pictures of couples, as if they were showing off. However, while the streets of the French capital are rich in people pictures, you have to be careful in Euro Disney, just outside Paris itself. Kids, cameras and parents these days defiantly do not mix. You're okay taking general views of the attractions or your own kids. Although, I was told off in no uncertain terms by a very irate English parent, because she though I was trying to photograph her children. I was in fact taking pictures of my own kids sitting in the seat directly in front of hers on the same ride! Some people take protecting their children too far. But, there were no apologies for her outburst.

Meanwhile back in Paris itself, I did had to resort to a couple of tricks to get these shots including the old favourites of having to clean the camera lens a couple of times, and then looking through the camera to check to see if it's clean. That darn dirt is really hard to move sometimes! The other technique that really works is to get my wife to stand in front of the subject, and pretend to take a picture of her, but really taking the people behind her over her shoulder using a telephoto lens. Try it, it works every time. Of course, for extra points, do take pictures of the wife too!

As for the camera, I used a Nikon D300s with a Nikon 18mm to 200mm superzoom lens, which is a great all in one lens, and very handy on holidays as you only need to fit one lens. No bags full of lens and tripod, which I think would put people off, and look too much like a professional.

Carter-Bresson travelled light, and like him you need to think on your feet and act quick, because that famous 'decisive moment' will disappear as quick as you noticed it. You need to keep your camera out of the bag, around your neck and turned on ready for action.

A small tip, if you're worried about undesirable sorts eyeing up your prized brand new digital camera, get the black insulation tape out and cover up the make and model, so they have not got a clue what you have got. Without the badges, cameras kinda all look the same don't you think. Of course these days, your quite safe with a film camera. The second you pop the camera back open and pull out an exposed film cartridge, they loose all interest very quickly. A film camera is the last thing any mugger wants. It’s funny how times have changed.

Take plenty of digital media and shoot away. Your successful picture rate might be low, but if you take loads you are bound to bag some real crackers. I would be interested to see how many Carter-Bresson messed up before he got the perfect result. Quite a few I should imagine.

If you want to try street photography, I can recommend a weekend in Paris this summer. Well, actually every season in the French capital seems to be the right time. And why not combine it with a romantic trip or a visit to Euro Disney with the kids.

Of course, now that have people pictures in my portfolio, somebody has noticed there are now no wildlife images in there, so I am going to have to go out and try and get some. Although, I don't think my wife is going to be that keen to stand in front of various wild animals while I take pictures over her shoulder!

Cycling around Paris is clearly too much for some...
Cycling around Paris is clearly too much for some... | Source
Lovers tiff, making up, proposing or breaking up - you decide...
Lovers tiff, making up, proposing or breaking up - you decide... | Source


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    • Midnight Oil profile image

      Midnight Oil 5 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Are you far too shy to take people pictures?

    • Sharon Storm profile image

      Sharon Storm 6 years ago from Mid West

      Love the people pictures especially the guy lying by a fountain. We mostly do nature pix and about a million of our dogs as well. I think given the right subjects people pictures might be interesting. What are your thoughts on black and white pictures. I kind of like them when people are my subject. I'd love to read a hub about taking black and white photos.

    • Str8up Hookups profile image

      Str8up Hookups 6 years ago

      Great hub!

      Your pics are awesome!

      Thanx for sharing.

    • The Farmers Wife profile image

      The Farmers Wife 7 years ago from Turkey

      Some great people shots there. Love the couple on the bridge:-) I love taking photos but they are mostly landscapes although every now and then I get a great sneaky close up using the zoom (normally of old men, don't know why but I think they make great subjects).

      Been to Paris many years ago, the people certainly do look very photogenic!

    • Loriana Tamara profile image

      Loriana Tamara 7 years ago from UK

      I was a decoy for the old over-the-shoulder technique to get a photo of a George Clooney look alike once! Works a treat! ;)

    • Midnight Oil profile image

      Midnight Oil 7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Glad to hear other people use the wife 'snapping ploy ' to get a decent shot :D

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      You take super photos - I love your "wife snapping" ploy, and have used a similar technique with good success - you may be right about the wildlife shots though. :D Welcome to HubPages!

    • Midnight Oil profile image

      Midnight Oil 7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Thanks for the comment and the vote up Errol - I often have to write into the wee small hours burning the midnight oil, hence the name. It's a great time to write here as its really quite with the rest of the family tucked up in bed asleep.....

    • profile image

      Errol Kane 7 years ago

      Always good to learn more and to hear others as to how they go about getting the shot. Been shooting for about 40 years and I am still burning the Midnight Oil. Nice Name, did alot of that as a Sgt. overseas. Voting up and then some.

    • esatchel profile image

      PDGreenwell 7 years ago from Kentucky

      I love your tips for photographing people on the sly! I'm going to have to try it, not in Paris any time soon, alas, but in my own "backyard"! Ann