Paris: No Photoshop required

I arrived in Paris with a long list of “must sees”—things friends had recommended, places I’d seen in photographs, and a few of my old favorites.

I’ve kept a pretty brisk pace over the past few days, methodically visiting each one. But not today.

Today, I was content to just walk. All told, I think I covered at least 15 miles on foot. I visited the Palais Royal, the Vivienne and Colbert galleries, the Garnier Opera, the Bir Hakeim bridge and the Isle des Cygnes.

Then I looped back around and saw the Eiffel Tower, paid a visit to Hélène Berr’s former home, and stopped briefly Les Invalides. Finally, I ended my day at the Place de la Concorde and watched the sun go down.

And along the way, something wonderful happened: For the first time since I arrived, I was happy just to be in Paris. I have finally moved past being a tourist to just being. I didn’t realize that until I started looking through my photos tonight.

For instance, rather than try to photograph the Palais Royal—which is beautiful—I instead amused myself by taking a self-portrait in the fountains’ silver spheres.

At the Opera Garnier I took a couple of obligatory touristy shots.

Then, I started paying attention to the small architectural details that make the place so grand. Take the brass door handles, for instance …

… or the beautiful mosaic floors.

I thought my first shot of the floor was boring,

so I started playing around with the exposure to get different effects. I don’t know what possessed me to twirl my camera, but I love the result.

I suppose it’s what one might see moments before passing out from too many kir royals. I stopped my experiments abruptly, though, when I realized people were staring.

At the Galerie Vivienne, I spent a half hour climbing up and down the stairs, playing with the angles and the light.

And the Bir Hakeim bridge was a special experience. My visit was inspired by a photograph I’d seen a long time ago. I don’t remember whose it was, or even where I saw it—but I remember the feeling it inspired. I wanted to see that place.

But when I got there, it looked nothing like I’d imagined. There were a bunch of skyscrapers in the background, and the constant traffic was visually distracting. Plus, the colors of the buildings were too stark against the weather-faded gray bridge.

I remembered something my friend Chris had told me during our photo safari: Try shooting in black and white every now and then. It forces you to focus on the composition. And be patient … wait for the right moment.

So I switched my camera to BW and waited for breaks in the traffic. Wow.

The resulting photos may not be technically superb, but I love them anyway. They’ll always be a souvenir of the day I learned a new way of seeing.

Off to the Eiffel Tower.

What can I say about photographing the Eiffel Tower? Every person who comes to Paris takes a photo of the Eiffel Tower. It’s the law.

So instead of trying to find a unique perspective or some fancy new angle, I focused on the light. And on that score I was very fortunate. A storm rolled in suddenly, providing a steel-gray backdrop to the tower’s oxidized metal. Then, after a brief shower, the sun reappeared—and with it came the most brilliant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

I got to the other side of town in time to see the sunset. I was amazed that no one else seemed to notice. It was glorious.

But if I had to pick a favorite moment, I’d choose the small sticker I noticed on the back window of an equally tiny car. It read “I heart rien. I’m Parisien.” (I love nothing.) Ha. A Parisian who can laugh at himself. At that moment, my day was complete.

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