This is probably going to read a bit sporadically and the flow is no doubt going to be terrible. For the most part there wasn't a plan. It was head in this direction and see what we could find. If all else fails just scroll down and look at the pretty pictures instead.
I started to write this before the last blog has even been posted, sitting in Gare du Nord train station watching the sunset after spending the last couple of days in Paris, France (not to be confused with Paris, Texas). I wrote the majority of this back in June. It is currently December, a week before Christmas, my new site still hasn't be fully launched and most of the mages for this blog are missing as I haven't edited them. Oh well. There's plenty for now and I can always update it further down the line!
I was sunburnt, knackered, dehydrated and hungry but the couple of days have been the best, not just because of my birthday. I'd been on a photography workshop shooting all over Paris with two phenomenal models; Romanie Smith and Jenny O'Sullivan. Organised by Dan Tidswell who's been running them for several years, this is the first time I'd bit the bullet and decided to go.
There were five of us photographers in total; Melissa G-Mc, James Mason, Simon Ng and Graeme Thompson, I hadn't met any of them prior, but a lovely bunch of guys (and girl), and I would have no problem recommending any of them to work with.
So let's see the shoot as some stats
- Approx 686 photos taken
- Approx 25 miles walked (2 blisters. Yes I counted when plastering them)
- 22 sets (3 security moved us along)
- 10 costume changes
- 5 photographers (minus the countless shoulder shooters)
- 2 models
So. Why Paris? I can and do shoot back in the UK. Hell why should I go on a workshop I've organised shoots on your own before? Whats the difference?
I've attended Dan's workshops before, usually learning photoshop and they're blinding value for money. The guy really knows his stuff, he always has top top models and they're good fun (this gets me a discount on the next workshop right?). Plus shooting models for two whole days in Paris? I wouldn't know where and how to begin.
Growing up Mum and Dad dragged me all over France. The last time I would have been in Paris was 1998 so did fancy going back. Plus I haven't had a holiday in years so it felt like a no brainer. Naturally I also did a bit of the tourist bit whilst I was there. Taking pictures of everything I could but I should have booked an extra day to do the museums etc, with the benefit of hindsight!
So the models we shot were Romanie Smith and Jenny O'Sullivan. As you would expect from one of these workshops these models are good. I've luckily shot Romanie before (she didn't remember and you can't blame her) on one of Dan's workshop prior (a quick few shots for a Photoshop workshop) and really looked forward to shooting her properly (surely there must be a better way to phrase this!).
Day 1 - Morning
Rather than travel to Paris alone I travelled across (by Eurostar) with Dan and the models but officially we were meeting on the Monday at Notre Dame at 3pm.
I met Dan and the models at Ebbsfleet in Kent bright and early (you can never trust the Dartford Tunnel being clear). Sods law the tunnel was clear so it was early when we arrived, too early to check-in so we grabbed some food at Marks & Spencers (there was nothing else there prior to check in).
On checking in, luckily there was a Caffè Nero and a WHSmiths so grabbed a Hot Chocolate and a copy of Empire (my defacto I'm travelling somewhere magazine) for the journey whilst Romanie appeared to have bought their entire stock of crisps... (I don't think I'm even joking!) and waited to board. The departures area was packed, filled with children, which became pretty self explanatory when there was an announcement for 'The Disney Train'.
When our train eventually arrived it was fully booked so I was on my own, annoyingly the wifi was patchy so I ended up reading my magazine (finished by the time we entered The Channel Tunnel) and watching Ex Machina I'd downloaded on Netflix (I'm really not quite sure why that of all things...).
Upon arriving in Paris I briefly met up with the others and said goodbye for now. Luckily during the patchy internet on the train I was able to gather enough information on the location of my hotel and decided to navigate the metro there. I'll be honest apart from the fact the first two ticket machines didn't work. It was remarkably easy. The display on the train even reported where you were on the line!
I checked into my hotel, Hotel Cujas Panthéon and compared to many other Hotels I've stayed in in France, it was pretty OK, not overly glamourous, but was in a good position, clean, had air con and a bathroom. At least the light switches were attached to the walls!! If you were travelling to Paris I would definitly recommend it.
With 30mins to kill before needing to leave to meet the others I decided to give my mobile operator a call to fix my mobile data (something to do with EU mobile roaming laws means it was included on my tariff). Naturally I was stuck on hold for ages, they didn't fix the problem, meaning I was left running late.
Day 1 - Afternoon
I found the other photographers were already there at Notre Dame, but that's no surprise as I found myself having to run across the Latin Quarter hoping the GPS along with Google Maps would keep working. Luckily they were easy to spot. Massive camera bags etc. Dan and the models were running late as well so I didn't hold anyone up or end up losing them before finding them.
From Notre Dame we headed straight to business wandered off towards the Latin Quarter. Our first set was at Pont au Double a bridge adjacent to Notre-Dame crossing the Seine leading towards the Latin Quarter. First up was Jenny to the bemusement of the tour groups (many of whom thought they'd have a go). This bridge was pretty cool, the wooden sides to it are very different to what we find at home.
On crossing the bridge we made a beeline for Square René-Viviani a little square, opposite, which according to Wikipedia is home to the oldest tree in Paris. Out came the reflector for the first time, which we used to illuminate Romanie against an arch covered in roses.
From the square we headed off into the streets of Paris looking for our next location. Briefly stopping in a quiet park on the outskirts of Jardin Médiéval du musée de Cluny, to make use of the mottled light from the tree canopy above. Congratulations to Graeme at this set though, he was successfully able to convince someone sitting behind where we wanted to shoot to move to the wall opposite. She probably thought we were 'L'anglais fou' (The Crazy English).
Heading back onto the streets of Paris, we went looking for a door... yep that sounds strange... Paris has some fantastic ornate doorways and that's what we were after. We found one at the end of a square belonging to Université Paris-Sorbonne with steps leading upto it and flanked by stone columns either side. Perfect. The square was filled with little restaurants and I've no idea what they must have thought of us. I spent the majority of the set standing on a parking bollad (to increase my height) and at one point I saw Dan helping Jenny out of a fountain.
Four sets down, we were hot, in need of a drink and a costume change. Stopping off at what felt like the French version of Greggs, we grabbed a drink (my first since Ebbsfleet departures. I honestly felt like I was going to pass out prior to this) and headed to McDonalds for the girls to change.
On heading off from McDonalds (I don't think it crossed anyone's mind to grab a burger) we crossed the road into Jardin du Luxembourg, a garden created to house the Luxembourg Palace. Built in the 17th century it now houses the French Senate.
Breaking out the reflector again we were able to get a few pictures before security appeared. Believing we were doing a commerical shoot we were asked to vacate the park.
Whilst waiting previously at McDonalds, we remembered seeing a fantastic looking building called The Pantheon, a mausoleum containg the remains of 'distinguished French citizens'. It had some fantastic ornate doors so we decided to head back there. Sadly before we even got the chance to shoot, security were on us and we had to move on.
Back onto the streets we found a very French looking bike (it was even a Peugeot) chained to some railings. Dan had been after one of these to shoot on for a while, so up Romanie went. Honestly it may sound a bit naff, but personally I think it worked. It looks like she's riding a bike, looking rather French, on a Parisian street.
Now after getting some bike shots, we continue the nonchalant theme and got some more just walking down the street. There were some of Romanie jumping in the air which looked typical stock image. It just needed a bit of paper edited in with the words 'Test Passed' or similar..
Romanie wasn't impressed, so I think there's pain of death if these ever see the light of day.
On finishing up it was decided to call it for the afternoon. Dan and the models were going to go change and meet up with us later on for an evening shoot. Us photographers decided to keep together and grab some food. Moules Frite. Lovely.
Day 1 - Evening
Walking from the restaurant (Somewhere near the Latin Quarter) we headed down the Seine towards Louvre for the evening session. With the sun setting we were expecting some fantastic light.
Meeting at Pont Royal we headed along the Seine to the next bridge (Pont du Carrousel) to have our first shoot of the evening with Jenny. Making use of the light, a golden reflector, the river wall, the Seine and shooting at 2.8 I got some lovely images.
Continuing down the Seine we headed to the Pont des Arts, a bridge formerly famous for being covered in lovers padlocks (until they were removed in 2015 due to their weight causing structural damage), we had our second bridge shoot, this time with Romanie. At this time of day it was obvious we weren't the only group of photographers doing this and some of the locals knew this as well. Out came the creepy guys who decided to have a go shooting models other photographers had paid for with their long lenses. You can try block them off as much as possible but there's only so much you can do they're not breaking the law, they're just a nuisance.
From the Pont des Arts we headed into the Louve itself. I expect the Louvre doesn't need much introduction. In the unlikely event it does it's the world largest museum and houses art and arecheology including pieces such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The entrance of which is a glass pyramid, and we were determined to make use of it.
On arriving in The Louvre we made our way to what is the back of the glass pyramid, it's almost like a courtyard, filled with stone blocks. Making use of these by positioning Jenny on them, and with the setting sun creating some fabulous lens flair we got to work. Annoyingly in hindsight I was shooting full length and it didn't really work which is a shame, but if all else fails you can crop.
To the edge of the courtyard were rows of Street lighting, similar to that on the Pont des Arts so like everything else we made use of them, shooting down them with wide apertures. Problem was Romanie had switched to her trainers and once again I had been shooting full length. Oddly I think it goes but I still had to crop. // TODO - Did I crop?
Heading away from the pyramid we entered a archway underneath the main building with columns. We shot both models in here, but it was dark. Starting off with Jenny I couldn't metre and made a hash of it. I got a couple of 'usable' ones though so it wasn't a complete wasted set, but it was a mistake I shouldn't have made.
For Romanie, I made sure to shoot a much higher ISO. Yes I got noise but at least the images are much more usable. Then someone decided to use the gate at the end. It made it look like Romanie was behind bars and worked really, really well (Sorry Romanie!) so we all grabbed some shots here.
At the end of the main courtyard of the Louvre we found another ornate Parisian door under the building at an entrace to the courtyard, it was pretty dark under here so outcame the external light a Godox AD200 and softbox provided by Graeme. Sadly I had just got my settings rights when security appeared and told us they were locking up for the night so we had to go. I got one picture, luckily it's usable. We then headed back to the pyramid as that was outside and would't be locked up.
Now with the twilight in the air and many of the lingering tourists had gone, we had the area behind the pyramid pretty much to ourselves. Making use of our external lighting, the lit up pyramid AND the twilight, I was able to get some of my best shots of the couple of days.
We got to shoot both models out here again in this fantastic location.
Day 1 - Night
With the sun gone we decided to call it a night. About half jumped into taxis, the rest of us walked to the metro, or in my case the 2km back to my hotel. Luckily Simon was getting a metro further round so I had company for most of the walk back to my hotel.
Now I wouldn't normally blab on about my nights sleep. But it was terrible. I think it was exacerbated by the fact I had to get up early the next day.. and that's something I never do. To make things worse I just dozed off... before being awoken by screams followed by gunshots. Great. Brilliant. I wanted to sleep, no chance of that now.
Day 2 - Morning
It's my birthday!
With no sleep and no evidence of what happened before. I got up, had a shower, checked out of my hotel, jumped on the Metro and headed towards probably Paris' most famous landmark: the Eiffel Tower before the tourists arrived.
Upon arriving at the Eiffel Tower, the first thing I noticed was the security. Big security fences surround the tower patrolled by the French Army with a ticketed entrace (and security checks). Its obvious why they have had to this but it's a shame it has to be done. On tracking down the missing member of our group who's taxi driver didn't drop her off anywhere close to us we crossed the Seine and headed to the Trocadéro, site of the Palais de Chaillot. Built for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (a World's Fair held in 1937 focussing on arts and technology in the modern world) it's currently home to various museums with a terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower... where Hitler had his famous holiday picture taken during the Nazi occupation.
Romanie was the first model of the day, using the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. We got here to successfully beat the tourists before they all appear, getting in the way, pretending to be taller than the Eiffel Tower etc etc.
On leaving we witnessed a mare of a corporate photoshoot. Again using the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, they were shooting in the shadow of the Palais de Chaillot without any reflectors or light meaning the background would have probably have been far too over exposed and the lighting on them incredibly flat. I wouldn't have wanted to be their client, put it that way... I can be a right snob sometimes.
So onwards from The Trocadéro we were off to find some bits Dan had seen from the cab and a street with views of the Eiffel Tower (again), stopping of for breakfast on the way. I'm not sure if we found it, but we found a nice wall by some steps with a view, so used that.
Guess what was at the bottom of the steps? Another bridge (Passerelle Debilly)with views of, you guessed it, the Eiffel Tower!! (Well we needed proof we were shooting in Paris I suppose). Due to the time of day I guess this location is probably another one that gets busier later on. These was the only duo shots of both Romanie and Jenny we got as well. They looked more like snaps in my opinion (nothing against that) so tried to keep them as is as much as I could.
A short walk from the bridge was the Palais de Tokyo. You could tell that Paris doesn't have a Police shortage, some lights were out on a pedestrian crossing opposite and they had two gendarme controlling the traffic. Couldn't imagine that in the UK! The Palais de Tokyo, another structure built for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne currently houses Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris) and the Palais de Tokyo / Site de création contemporaine, the largest museum in France dedicated to temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. Another fantatsic looking building covered in columns. It was decided that it was time for another clothing change as Romanie had a fantastic red jumpsuit that would work so well with the stone.
We decided to grab a coffee and let the girls change, so we headed out and found a typical French Café (note: not Caff!) and had a coffee. It was probably the best coffee I'd ever had to be honest. Sadly after watching far too much 'Allo 'Allo recently I was very disappointed to find they were very different. Luckily they had wifi which allowed me to connect and catch up with a few bits (like Happy Birthday posts on facebook and discussing annual reviews with my cousin...).
We made the short walk back to the Palais de Tokyo and using the columns and the steps got some fantastic shots with the contrast of Romanie's red jump suit and the stonework.
From the Palais we made our way back onto the streets of Paris trying to find hopefully a little coffee shop we can get a sterotypical shot in Paris of drinking a coffee on a little round table on the streets. Stopping off and having a small shoot on a deserted street on the way.
Still looking for a coffee shop, we came across a florist where the shop was surrounded by flowers and other greenery. Taking it in turns to stealthily use the shops foliage to grab some shots we wanted.
Back to looking for a coffee shop, we found a little restaurant that could have worked so decided to stop for a quick bite (canard et frites pour moi (or duck and chips as it's commonly known)). Not a bad birthday meal! The problem was by the time we finished everyone else in Paris had decided it was lunchtime so there was a queue of people waiting for tables meaning we had to abandon the shoot idea.
In hindsight we probably should have used the coffee shop we stopped at earlier and had an actual coffee.
Day 2 - Afternoon
Heading up to the Arc De Triomphe, the famous 'Triumphal Arch' (yes that name is a real thing!), a war memorial honouring those who fought and died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We tried to find a location where we could shoot it as a backdrop, but we dropped the idea after realising it would involve standing in traffic to get the best shots. Not a good idea. For those who've never been it's a crazy 10 lane roundabout with about 12 exits (yes I just counted on Google Maps). Dan tried to convince us that it's the only place in the world that car insurers wouldn't insure. We didn't believe him, but I just checked anyway, definitly an internet myth.
Annoyingly I forgot to get a tourist snap, not even from the Place de la Concorde.
For our last couple of shoots we walked up Avenue de la Grande-Armée toward the Palais de Congrès de Paris, a concert venue, convention centre and shopping mall (fun fact, it held the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest). Across from here was Square Alexandre et René Parodi so we made use of it. For our last shoot of the couple of days we shot both models individually. Starting with Jenny in jeans looking very relaxed in mirrored sunglasses. There was a group of teenagers nearby sitting on a park bench. We probably made their days.
For the last set I did it was back to Romanie, utilising some stonework in the park which once again worked very well with the red sunglasses. Another local was watching and seemed quite interested in what we were doing. We probably made his day too!
Calling it a day, we went looking for a bar. We ended up stopping on Avenue de la Grande-Armée watching a lift like thing take stuff up to a window several stories up. It was great. Dan got a video and I probably should have got one to0... Seriously. This thing was amazing! Eventually we found an Italian bar serving Mojitos so we sat down and had a debrief of the last couple of days, a look through our pics and a casual chat about how it went. One of the group was even able to correctly guess all our star signs based on our personalities... that was a bit freaky. Maybe there's something in all that stuff.
Day 2 - Finale
After saying our goodbyes we all went our seperate ways, Romanie, Jenny and Dan decided to go back to their apartment to sleep, Melissa decided to go shopping at the French department store Galeries Lafayette (bit jealous as I've been to the one in Nice), James and Simon went back to their respective hotels and Graeme and I had some time to kill before our trains so stuck with each other for a bit and went for a wander before heading to Gare du Nord.
From the bar Graeme and I headed back into Paris, stopping off at a small shop for a drink (where I bought some Haribo Smurfs!!! Love them. Can't get them in the UK) we made our way back to the Trocadéro and the Palais de Chaillot. It was packed. Filled with tourists. It was easy to see why we got there early.
From the Trocadéro we headed down the Seine. Passing Pont Alexandre III, an ornate arched bridge flanked with giant gilded statues upon plinths. On trying to find out the name of the bridge I discover it's where Adele's music video to Someone Like You was filmed. I've never seen it so I wouldn't have noticed it. It's also where James Bond comes to a halt in a stolen half a taxi in a View To A Kill and he jumps onto a boat. Talking of films, I just remembered that 28 Weeks Later ends at the Palais de Chaillot due to the views of The Eiffel Tower. Yes I've gone on a tangent and yes I just checked this on YouTube.
We were heading to the Place de La Concorde, a square at the foot of the Champs Elysées home to an over 3000year old giant Egyptian Obelisk. Probably worth mentioning this was the place where King Louis XVI, as well as many other important figures were executed by guillotine during the French revoloution.
From the Place de La Concorde we had a wander through Jardin des Tuileries a park situated between Place de La Concorde and the Louvre. Everyone was making use of the sun but to make sure we got back in plenty of time, we decided to catch the Metro back to the Gare du Nord.
After saying goodbye to Graeme I had some time to kill as my train was an hour after his. I had a physical Paris map so decided to to go up to Sacré Cœur, a Basilica at the summit of Montmartre, a hill overlooking Paris where many famous artists (including Van Gogh, Picasso and Dalí (my personal favourite artist)). Honestly I wish I hadn't. I didn't feel safe on the walk up there. We were warned about street thieves etc, I had £x000 worth of camera equipment on my shoulder and it was sketchy as anything. At one point on the walk they were selling stolen iPhones... I got up the hill, past the street sellers (these ones were trying to con you) took a photo of Sacre Cœur and Paris, then headed straight back down without really stopping to catch my breath.
It was a shame actually. I had fond memories of Sacre Cœur. Last time I was here there was a man trying to direct traffic with leeks before being taken away by the gendarme. I had no desire to have a wander through Montmartre where the artists reside (I have another memory here of my Father spilling lemon and sugar from a crêpe down himself).
At this point I was dehydrated again and in desperate need of a drink. I decided to nip into the McDonalds opposite Gare du Nord use the loos, grab a drink and a quick burger. Well.. I can get by with some French.. sadly reading what till does what in a French McDonalds was beyond me... so gave up with a huff, headed back into Gare du Nord and bought an overly expensive couple of drink at a concessions stand and waited for check in to open for my train back to blighty.
This is me. It's never as simple as just check in for a train. First off my passport wouldn't let me through, meaning I had to go to passport control, then on making it to the other side I was 'interrogated' by the gendarme. Ok this was probably my fault. I shouldn't have done the most lacklustre 'Yay!' after making it through the security screening. Then to make things worse, I was just about to buy a sandwich as I was still hungry.. and boarding began.
On getting back to the UK I still had the drive from Ebbsfleet back to my parents (I was staying there for the night rather than heading back to mine). I grabbed a McDonalds burger before heading in the front door. It was still my birthday (I had 25hours of it) so Mum and Dad greeted me with a couple of birthday presents (Lego and CDs) before attempting an early night (I stayed up watching telly...). It had been a brilliant two days.
I still haven't finished all the editing I want to do as I write this, it's taking a long, long time. As it's fashion, I'm having to properly retouch every photo rather than a quick edit (exposure, colour correction etc) I would do for snaps OR the gig work. Hair appears to be the bane of my life (oh the irony), I'm spending most of the time editing it making sure it looks better, no stray strands etc. I'm also editing backgrounds more than I have done prior, removing distractions, cleaning up stone and lampposts (I spent hours retouching a lamppost) and removing boats from the river.
The editing process is:
- Create a PSD
That's also a little insight in my editing flow. Last year for my birthday I got a Wacom Intuos Pro graphics tablet. They're worth their weight in gold, especially when you have it all set up correctly (such as radial dials) I highly recommend taking a look at getting one if you spend a lot of time retouching. (Until you lose the stylus. You then cry a bit inside at the price).
On looking at the images on back of camera as well as editing I had decided I wanted to get as many of these printed as I could. Deciding to aim for one image per set I had toyed with various ideas on how to get these printed. I opted to get them printed as a book (it worked out the most cost effective way of allowing me to print BIG(ish).
Dusting off the old InDesign skills I opted to make the book myself.. so expect to see that at some point in the next few years.
- Location shoots are so much better than studio shoots.
- You can get away with working with just a reflector most of the time and it's lovely.
- You get hassled/heckled far less then I thought you would on a location shoot in a big city.
- I would have no problems shooting by myself now on location in a city and plan on doing it again soon.
- I would love to organise my own similar trip away with a couple of photographers and models (probably to Nice/South France as I know it reasonably well) but would require a scouting trip!
- Decent models are fantastic and you get so many solid shots.
- Once again I felt let down by my gear, The 5D metering in harsh sunlight is horrendous. On some picture I had to do far too much recovery than I'd want for the lighting conditions we were in.
- Shoot a higher ISO if needs be. Noise can be worked with. Motion blur cannot.
- Dan's workshops are the best and seriously good value for money. I definitely plan to attend one next year, hopefully Venice if he runs it again (and I can afford it!).
- Bring cake to shoots. Everyone loves you when they're knackered and you suddenly pull out a massive tub of homemade shortbread!
- Always carry water.
- Paris didn't feel particularly safe/pleasant for a big city. There was a lot of rough sleepers (including entire families. Possibly related to the migrant crisis) and street sellers. We were also warned of gangs of thieves and seeing stolen phones for sale on the street isn't encouraging. Having £x000 of camera gear on your shoulder doesn't help. I have no desire to go back. I might be going to Disneyland Paris later on this year and I don't intend to go back into Paris.
- Use a camera backpack when you can. Shoulder bags get heavy far too quickly.
- The Eurostar is awesome and easy. So's the Paris Metro.
- I should have booked an extra day for myself doing the touristy things.
- I've been introduced to Chinese wedding photography. This is where a couple get married in China.. then go somewhere else, i.e. Paris to have their wedding photos done.
- The Parisian's wouldn't let me attempt to speak bad French to them.
- I hate writing blogs/reviews/articles and it takes me forever to finish writing them (this one has taken me about a month excluding pictures.
- It's very easy to lose motivation when editing pictures.