Photographing Nostalgic Paris

A contemporary B&W rendering of a Paris Street scene, looking onto the Academie Nationale De Musique, evokes a sense of nostalgia in one of the world's most beautiful cities.  Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 IS L series lens @ 138mm. Exposure: 1/500 second @ f11 ISO 400.

Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. That's the view of many experienced travelers. Well, while I’m sure it’s up there, I feel I need to visit many, many more cities before I can voice my own opinion on that subject.

I’ve visited both Paris (July and August) and St. Petersburg (August) during the summer. Of the two I’d have to say that, from a photographers point of view, St. Petersburg might just get the chocolates. But even when comparing just two of the world’s great cities, I’m unsure. I’d really want to spend significantly longer periods of time in each city, which I certainly hope to, before I’d be comfortable in my opinion.

Compared to What?

And, anyway, what criteria are we using to define a city? Thus far I’d say Salzburg and Bruges (Brugge for our Flemish friends) are my favorite cities at the lower end of the population scale. Paris probably sits some where between large and mega on the population scale. Does that mean we should have separate categories to accommodate, for example, Bruges, Paris and Mexico City? Maybe!

And what about other criteria like safety, water quality (I’ve had giardia and a range of other nasties) and weather. I’m not so sure I’d be as excited about St. Petersburg, long term, if I had to stick out a whole winter there. And I’m positive I wouldn’t if I was on a backpacking budget.

So Much Still To See

Here’s the thing: despite all the travel I’ve undertaken over the years, I’m yet to visit Prague, Venice, Berlin, Budapest, Barcelona and Istanbul, let alone Kyoto or Jerusalem. So, really, what do I know?

Well, I have been to Paris, on two separate occasions. And, while each trip was only for a few days, I did get out and about exploring and photographing as much as I could. And it is a very, very beautiful city. It’s interesting how, when viewed from a reasonably elevated position looking out towards Sacre Coeur Basilica, just how beautiful the almost chalk white surrounding buildings can be in the sunlight. And the centre of Paris, on a balmy summer’s evening, is a very special place to be.

I heard an interesting report on the radio recently discussing the fact that many young parisians feel that their city, rather than being a modern, vibrant city is actually suspended in a kind of time warp. Dare I say, that’s what makes it so attractive to tourists. And that’s the very reason I made the above photo of the street scape leading down to the Academie Nationale De Musique in black and white.

Truth: It’s in the Making

It’s an extremely impressive facade, full of subtle tonality and fine detail. Removing color from the scene was a simply solution as it emphasized those very traits. As a result there’s very little in the scene that dates it to the present day. If you’re looking to portray nostalgia, black and white is the way to go. Why not give it a go, madame and monsieur?

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru