An adventure in Paris

Last week a group of talented, eager and inquisitive amateur photographers joined me in Paris for my first Paris at Dawn workshop. It was a truly incredible, intense and inspiring experience.  After four days they had created a great portfolio of photos, we’d had many conversations about photography and walked miles exploring the beautiful, pretty, epic, gritty and sometimes crazy streets of Paris. There were many bars visited and a good amount of delicious food taken in.

On our first morning we met at 4am when Paris was still heavy in darkness and wandered through the beautiful cobbled streets of Montmartre, past the debris of last night’s fun and the many cafes that line the streets that are usually heaving with people. The winding roads and alleys (and many steps!) took us up to Sacre Coeur. We met people along the way – a group of French revelers intent on continuing the night, a painter I know who was out walking his dog, a few workers on their way home – and as is usual when there is no one else around, people were friendly and chatted to us along the way, curious to find out what we were doing up at such an hour and wanting to see out work.

The dawn didn’t disappoint. We stood on the hill by Sacre Coeur and watched as Paris was lit up by a red and yellow sun. The group were instantly inspired and a furry of activity, running up and down the steps, trying to capture the amazing dawn light as it changed rapidly. I was there to assist, giving tips and providing guidance.

Dawn gives you a tiny window of opportunity to see some of the most beautiful light of the day, you have to be prepared and you have to be quick. Every dawn is different, sometimes you might have an epic sky for a few hours or you can be waiting for hours and then suddenly for 30 seconds  the sky burst with incredible light, only to vanish in seconds. Be prepared or miss out on the best light of your life. It always gives me a thrill to wait and see what each morning will bring.

The next morning we headed down to Notre Dame on the Seine and Ile St Louis. Sunrise over any river, especially one that has so many beautiful bridges like in Paris, is a good opportunity for great photos . I really enjoyed introducing the group to these iconic places, even though I have been to these spots dozens of times, the beauty of Paris is so incredible that even I manage to get new shots each time I visit. This little stretch of the city is one of my favourite places to shoot, the little lamps by the river, the grand imposing Notre Dame, the pretty little bridges.

Our Parisian adventure also included lots of technical and composition sessions, and a 1-2-1 with each of  the photographers, for me to look over their portfolios and give them some advice about how they can each develop. I love getting to know each person’s body of work and it helps me when I am out and about to give advice that is specific to them.

We also took an afternoon walk from my apartment in Batignolles along Pigalle and the ‘saucy’ bit of the city (and past the Moulin Rouge, which looks much smaller in real life than one imagines), to Rue Barbes which is a heavily north and West African area with a great French and ethnic market and food shops, through the Sri Lankan area around the gritty Gare du Nord (where the smells of curries and parathas coming from the cafes make your mouth water) across Jardin Villemin, one of those pretty parks the Parisians do so well, and ending up at Canal St Martin a sort of London East-Endish cool area. Design shops, cool bars, a couple of galleries line the canal which is beautiful, especially in the morning with its high green bridges and tall trees. We stopped at Le Comptoir General, a very cool bar/cafe that’s down a little unmarked alley way, and had African street food and some much deserved beer.

The workshop finished up at my apartment on Sunday morning, over an indulgent breakfast of buttery croissants and chocolaty, custard pasties. We looked over the images the group had got, talked about our experiences and discussed any lingering questions. And then reluctantly, we all left to pack up and go home to our real lives. I found it incredibly inspiring to spend this time with these people who were so curious and interested in discovering Paris, taking photos and building their skills. Being with other people who share your passion is such a pleasure. Talking photos, taking photos, exploring, being together – it’s such a joy. We all came away inspired by each other and of course by Paris, at dawn.

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