Vive la Paris

After all these years, I finally got to visit Paris … for the first time in my life … and it was amazing ! Taking photos only with my 35mm film cameras helped make it even more memorable πŸ€©πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ“Έ

Only 2.5 Days – What To See ?

There’s so much to see & do in Paris – and while it’s important to grab as many sights as you can, it’s also equally important to simply enjoy the ‘experience’ of this beautiful city … coffee along the river Seine, crepes in the Latin Quarter, and a visit to an art gallery or two πŸ–Ό

What to see in 2.5 days !

I found the book ‘Top 10 Paris‘ by EyeWitness publications super helpful. I was able to quickly understand what was possible, what wasn’t, what could wait until the next time, and how much walking was required vs. time on the metro.

What to pack ?

I learnt from my road-trip around Connemara and Sligo last year, that having a few rolls of both colour and black & white film is absolutely necessary. That said, when flying and travelling light, you’ve really got to make tough decisions about film ISO, camera and lens combinations !

I ended up settling on the following … after a lot of internal debate πŸ€ͺ

  • Film – Colour: 2 x FujiColor C200 and 1 x FujiFilm Superia 400
  • Film – Black & White: 2 x Ilford Delta 400
  • Camera: 2 x Nikon F80 / N80 (one for colour, and the other for black & white)
  • Lenses: 18-35mm f3.5-4.5, 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 28-80mm f3.3-5.6, and 80-200mm f4.5-5.6

Make no mistake, I wasn’t carrying all these items simultaneously as I rambled about Paris … instead I would cherry-pick which lens I needed before heading out, depending on the lighting conditions.

Being Street Smart

When going to a new city / new country / new environment, etc. with treasured camera equipment you really need to use common sense, and intentionally avoid situations & places that could put you at unnecessary risk.

So it was reasonable to assume that I would be walking around Paris with two 35mm film cameras, a couple of lenses, my phone and wallet … and juggling between each of these, sometimes simultaneously …

Consequently I deliberately didn’t draw attention to myself … a tripod was simply not an option, meanwhile I used a small, secure shoulder camera bag, and I kept my phone, wallet & keys deep in the front pockets of my jeans. As I say, simply using common sense when rambling around a bustling city taking photographs.

Make The Effort

Before I dig into the photography, I do want to mention that I found the Parisians to be charming, laugh-out-loud witty, very helpful and accommodating πŸ€©πŸ‡«πŸ‡·

A big reason for this wonderful positive experience was that I did some helpful homework in advance …

  • I learnt some basic French phrases – super important !!
  • Researched about ‘a day in the life’ for Parisians – when & where it was chaotic vs relaxed
  • Determined where not to go walking
  • Figured out where I was going to be (approximately) and how I was going to get there

Let me expand upon that 1st bullet point … learning to say a few simple French words like ‘merci’, ‘bonjour’, ‘excusez-moi’, etc. improved the customer experience substantially πŸ˜‡

Ok, that’s enough tour-guide information, let’s get back to the photography !

Light & Shadows

From the research I conducted online, it became clear that Paris is decidedly monochrome, with an abundance of geometry and leading lines. best suited to black & white.

I can confirm this is mostly true – with the obvious exceptions being the pop of colour from flowers, signage, food, etc., sunset/sunrise along the Seine, and of course the night lights.

For black and white film, it’s a joy … especially if you like architecture, leading lines, shapes & texture, and street-photography !

The long, wide streets and uniformity of the building architecture made for wonderful images on my Ilford Delta 400. Don’t forget to visit the roof-top terraced buildings too, for those amazing panoramic skylines.

I noticed that the metering on my Nikon while pretty reliable 80% of the time, still gets fooled with very bright or dark scenes. So I found myself regularly switching between metering modes, and adding / subtracting exposure as required.

Splashes of colour

When it came to colour, there were surprising elements to be had – I found the architecture, flora & art to be absolutely stunning !πŸ†

I was extremely lucky in that the weather was glorious blue skies 🌀 It meant that I was 100% good-to-go with my FujiColor C200 for the day, and FujiFilm Superia (400) for the evening.

The simple ‘tourist’ shots were a breeze, requiring very little effort, at most just a matter of being patient, and waiting for the light to be in the right place.

However there were a number of tricky locations, with deep-shadows or high vaulted, decorative roof spaces, which required some mental gymnastics to work out the optimal exposure settings … and prior experience of how far I could push the film stock.

That ‘famous’ framed entrance to the Louvre was so difficult to capture !! Do I expose for the highly reflective glass, or do I expose for the ridiculously dark shadows, there’s no ‘easy’ mid-tones, etc.

As it turned out, FujiColor C200 has a surprisingly good dynamic range and I shouldn’t have worried – it handled extremes of shadows and bright reflections reasonably well, with only the extremes of whites being lost.

I had a number of situations where I had to improvise, using a street lamp or railing as an impromptu tripod … slow my breathing, and wait just between exhaling & inhaling to click the shutter release, for a steady shot.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the weekend trip to Paris was amazing and unforgettable !

As I say, if you want a weekend city-break to be a ’35mm film success’, you really do need to do some planning:

  • Learn as much as you can about the city before-hand. Think through what can be visited – realistically, determine what places to avoid, and learn some useful language phrases πŸ›
  • Make your best choice of camera(s), film & lenses that will help you get those shots with the minimum of fuss βš–οΈ
  • Finally, make sure you get time to ENJOY the experience of BEING in the city πŸ€©πŸ˜‡

I hope this blog post of my experiences, approach and lessons learnt help in some way. Until next time, keep shooting film !


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