The roofs of Paris have an eternal fascination for photographers. I have seen many taken from the heights of Montmartre, but my angle of view this time was face-on to the Basilica which, for me, gives a more intimate feel to the “Butte” when connected to the Parisian roof scene.
As for so many other visitors, there is something about viewing Paris over the roofs which creates strongly enjoyable feelings of history, art, residential density and cultural specificity. It always raises my spirits, whenever viewed from a hill, the Eiffel Tower, another tall structure, or –as in this case - my own, secret preferred location.
A Feel For History
From a bucolic, religious backwater and vineyard to gypsum quarry to revolutionary battlefield to bohemian centre to tourist Mecca, Montmartre has had an intense history over the last few centuries. The visible marker of this history is the white Basilica, visible from miles around, which was built in expiation for the sins committed in the name of nascent communism during the Siege of Paris in 1871. If you are on the other side of the political spectrum, your preferred respectful Paris visit would be to the “Mur des Federees” in Pere Lachaise cemetery, where captured Communards were shot into a mass grave by the victorious, conservative French Government troops.
Moving from the end of the Prussian invasion of France to our own times, when Montmartre is enjoyed by reason of the bohemian occupation and its associations with Utrillo, Modigliani, Mondrian and many others, the atmosphere is one of bustle, street art, street performance and, in the Basilica, religious reflection.
Telephoto lenses invariably create a false visual effect, whereby farther and closer subjects appear pushed closer together in the photograph than they are in real life. Sacre Coeur was beautifully designed to be seen and appreciated from the large open space dropping down from in front of it onto the boulevards below. This image falsely “pushes the roofs of the intervening buildings up against the Basilica, hiding that open space.
The effect is nevertheless pleasing, seemingly making the church nestle right down on the residential housing, whereas they are, in fact built on a ridge between the hill of Montmartre and the viewing point.
Apart from that telephoto effect the photographic choices were relatively simple. The only issue was the whiteness of the church, making dynamic range an issue. This was compensated by a relatively strong Exposure compensation of -0.7EV, allied to spot metering onto the Basilica, which controlled the tendency of the main feature to be burnt out.
Camera: Nikon D300
Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G
Focal Length: 200mm
Focus Mode: AF-C
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Vibration Reduction : On
Auto Focus -Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation : +0.7 EV
Bracketing set to 3
ISO Sensitivity: 400
Hand held, supported on a ledge
It is quite a challenge to try and make a difference when capturing iconic buildings. How would you approach the Sacre Coeur in that regard?
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015