Paris Street Photography with Nikon d750 and Sigma 35mm Art

Monday, April 17th, 2017

After about a week and a half of being home, all 2008 images have been culled, 458 images have been edited, and my own personal coffee table album has been designed and printed.  I think that marks the fastest turnaround time for me following a vacation.  I largely contribute that feat to the fact that I am energized by the photos.  I expanded my photographic horizons this trip and tried my hand at some Paris street photography.  I have written about it before but will make the declaration again here; I think street photography is tied with fashion photography for being the most difficult genre of photography to take.  Why?  First, with street photography you have to constantly be observant and aware.  That is much more difficult than one would think.  Photography is difficult enough.  You have to be thinking about numbers (aperture, shutter speed, ISO), light, and composition, to start.  Then, with street photography, you have to think about what story or emotion are you trying to tell with just one image.  There is often no time to compose the image or post the subject.  In fact, you often don’t want your presence to be felt in the image, meaning that you often times can’t even pick the camera up to your eye.  Lastly, street photography is intrusive.  There is no relationship between the photographer and the subject.  There oftentimes is no permission either.  It is shoot first, ask for forgiveness later (if you are caught.)  Wedding and portrait photography is the exact opposite; it is all about relationships and permission.  While there, I decided to try some Paris street photography. 

When I went to Paris, I was planning on photographing all of the usual things during the day and focusing on creating beautiful imagery of the city at night with all of its lights and romance.  What caught my eye as I wandered around the first day was the culture.  The people, the dress, the pace…everything was so strong and present.  I was enchanted by it.  I wanted to document it so I could taste it and relive it when I got home.  As Becky, my fiance, and I left the Gardens of Luxembourg, we were walking across the street when I saw a couple sitting inside of a cafe.  As I passed, I snapped several frames from the hip without looking.  This was the shot:

Paris street photography cafe near Jardin de Luxembourg

Boom!  That was it.  They were having a moment that I wasn’t invited to be a part of, truly, with the glass dividing us and I invited myself in.  With this photo, I told Becky I would be shooting street photography the rest of our trip.

I changed my settings to reflect it: continuous focus, 3-D tracking, continuous shutter, ISO 1600, f/5.6, Aperture Priority on my Nikon d750.  In other words, as close to automatic as possible with some thought to the final image built in.  Almost all of these images are shot with the Sigma 35mm Art lens.  If you are a photographer and are looking for a piece of glass that will define you as an artist, buy the Art series lenses from Sigma.  They are just that good.   The other lens I used was the Nikon 14-24mm, which I only used when it was very crowded and I would be very close to the subject.

Next, I started aiming and snapping, without ever bringing my camera up to my eye.  It was literally, point, shoot, and pray.

Paris street photography chess players

I started to shoot through the moment, tracking the person as I passed them.  I actually enjoy the off-kilter, partially cropped images more than the “perfectly” composed images.  They make me feel like I am seeing it through my own eyes for just that brief moment again.

Paris street photography 3 Paris street photography biker

As a wedding photographer, anything less than tack sharp images is failure.  Shooting street photography exposed me to the beauty in imperfection.  I love the image below and how the two women are framed by the archway of the metro.  Sure, they are slightly out of focus, as is the metro sign on the wall.  But that is the beauty of it; it shows the movement of time against their stillness.

Paris street photography lost in a metro

You can’t go to Paris without visiting museums.  We went to the Lovre, Orsay, and Picasso.  As much as I enjoyed the art, I also enjoyed watching people enjoy the art.  It was equally insightful.

Paris street photography Picasso Paris street photography Picasso Paris street photography Picasso

Outside of the Picasso Museum, a four-piece street band was performing.  They were awesome.  The street was narrow, which forced passers-by between us.  Again, going for that juxtaposition, I wanted stillness with the performers but movement with the city, showing how temporary the art they were performing is.  I slowed my shutter down, help the camera at my waist, and started shooting.  My favorite is the bike tire that frames the singer as it rode by.  I am not going to lie; sometimes a good photo requires a bit of luck.

Paris street photography musicians Paris street photography musicians

Sometimes, a photo doesn’t have an amazing backstory, but made me wonder what the subject’s story was, like the ones below.

Paris street photography cafe Paris street photography couple walking Paris street photography biker Paris street photography metro

In some circle, these women were fabulous.

During our stay in Paris, we were just a few block from the Eiffel Tower.  We would visit there almost daily as we caught a metro.  Most of the time we would see tourists taking selfies.  This time, I caught what appeared to be a local who had something far greater on his mind.  A wedding photographer tried Paris street photography. 

Paris street photography old man and the Eiffel Tower

The metro offered up a variety of opportunities from Paris street photography.

Paris street photography metro

One of the things I noticed was how slow the pace was and how many people gathered over food.  It seemed like there were endless amounts of conversations being had (or in this case, ignored.)

Paris street photography cafe

This was the one time I almost got caught.  The sequence of images is actually reversed.  As I passed, he looked up at me (notice the three chairs in the image on the left are closer).  Luckily, I was walking so he didn’t stop me.  Even his facial expression changed as he knew he was on camera.

Paris street photography cafe Paris street photography jewish neighborhood

This lady, on the other hand, had no idea I snapped these.  I suppose that is the point, or at least my comfort level right now.

Paris street photography lost old lady

Here are two examples shot with the 14-24mm.  Paris street photography lost old lady

And with one last metro ride home, I was able to snap what would be my last Paris street photography images for the trip.

Paris street photography metro Paris street photography metro Paris street photography beggar Paris street photography eiffel tower

So, what did I learn?  There is beauty in imperfection.  Whether or not this will translate into my wedding work, I am not sure.  I think it might be worth trying to have a dedicated camera with my “Paris street photography” settings on it to see.  Stay tuned and I will let you know what I find.
Thanks for reading.