Paris - Along the Seine

July 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Once again, it is time for me to face my nemesis... photographing Paris with a unique eye.

 

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But this time I think I may be on to something. On the vast majority of my previous trips around Paris (with the camera) I had often used a wide angle lens attached to the camera. And with constant disappointment. This time it was different. Thanks to a new purchase...


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After two successive trips abroad (Burma/Myanmar and Borneo) I had become completely fed up with my ancient Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. It was old, slow, no VR (vibration reduction to you non-Nikon people, and "Image Stabilisation" to you Canon folk) and just not sharp enough. So to cut a long story short (as I intend to cover this in a later Blog) I now have a somewhat incredible Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR. And I am blown away.

 

The South WindowThe South WindowThe stunning south window of the Notre Dame, Paris was hidden from view behind these trees. But at 360mm it created a far more interesting and eyecatching image than the typical tourist shot from the west!

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But back to the topic... Paris.

This day, I took no camera bag. Instead, just the D700 and my new toy attached (80-400mm lens)... and a dead shoulder later on. Yes, it's heavy.

 

The North Side of the SeineThe North Side of the SeineLooking across the Seine from the South bank. towards Hotel du Ville. I had always approached Paris with a wide angle lens, but taking to the opposite extreme - a 400mm lens - proved far more interesting!

 

Traditionally I have always been bias towards landscape photography. It is what I love more than anything. It is the most relaxing and often the most intimate form of photography, as it requires patience and integration with the land around you and the camera. If your brain is wired that way, then your eye is always looking for the bigger picture, and just how much can you get in the frame? But over the years I have been evolving and growing my photography, and with only a 400mm lens in your hands, your perspective of the world in front of you becomes completely reversed!

 

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Scenes emerge that you just don't notice with the wide angle attached, detail fills the frame that before simply were no possible. And its fantastic.

 

 

 

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In terms of optics, not only does the long focal length (up to 400mm) exaggerate shallow depth of field (even at f11!) but beyond 200mm it also creates a beautiful flattening effect with the perspective. The gaps between subjects in the background almost disappear, and the perspective becomes almost two-dimensional! Some may love it, some may hate it. And it certainly does not suit every scene. But it does add a slightly different spin on to somewhat normal and mundane images, especially of buildings and architecture... perfect for Paris with new eyes!

 

Paris Side StreetParis Side StreetThese fabulous windows leading to the Latin Quarter- Central Paris - really stand out with a long lens. At 270mm at full-frame the perspective creates this fantastic artistic pattern. A personal favourite around Paris for me so far!

 

Not only was it the weekend, but it was mid-summer and the weather was fantastic. So Paris -no surprise- was bustling. Emerging from the Metro around Notre Dame, we wandered around the Islands and despite craving an ice cream, we avoided the 15 minute long queues along Ile St Louis.

Heading along the south side of the Seine grants great views back towards Notre Dame, and great little street cafes for people watching and passing the time in the shade with a much deserved ice coffee. Avoiding the craziness of the Latin Quatier we decided to drop below street level, and take a walk along the quays of the Seine. I'm not sure how we have not actually done this before, as it has superb views back along the Seine and back up to street level. I hadn't quite appreciated just how many bridges across the Seine there is in central Paris. Its not until you get a spot along the waters edge and look west towards the Tour Eiffel is it that you appreciate this. And armed with a 400mm telephoto lens it proved a great opportunity to experiment with compressing the perspective down to a 2D view of the scene:

 

The North Side of the SeineThe North Side of the SeineLooking across the Seine from the South bank. towards Hotel du Ville. I had always approached Paris with a wide angle lens, but taking to the opposite extreme - a 400mm lens - proved far more interesting!

 

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We walked far. Very far. And decided it was time to head back up to street level, and try and find a Metro. I had noticed before all of the people lining the bridges as we passed underneath. But I had just assumed it was tourists in a big group taking a break and posing for selfies. But as we emerged back into the streets, it appeared that the roads were indeed closed off, the Police were marshalling and the public were lining the pavements in crowds. What was going on?

 

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Like good sheep that we are, we of course joined the crowd and took up a front row space staring at an empty road... waiting for something to happen. Then it clicked... It was only the final day of the Tour de France!!

Sure enough, the Police became more alert, motorbikes sped past, cameras turned and helicopters shot over head. We had completely lucked out, as it seems we had emerged to street level at just the right place only minutes before the lead group in the Tour de France sped past!


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With only minutes to plan a shot and test out my still unfamiliar lens, I guessed a few settings to try out a panning shot of the action. Guessing a shutter speed that would be fast enough to be sharp where I wanted it (the cyclists faces) and slow enough to blur the motion behind what I was not tracking with the camera.

All in all, I was pretty happy. I still make the same mistake... forgetting to zoom back OUT after starting to pan the subject as it gets closer, because when you come to pressing the shutter the object is almost always CLOSER to you so you have cropped too much. But a great learning experience and a great test of the new lens. Yes, the Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 AF VR reviews were correct... it truly IS fantastic at panning with the subject whilst still keeping full VR.

 

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A great buzz, and a great way to end a lovely afternoon in Paris and an excellent field test of the new lens!

 

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