Paris, Notre-Dame : Reflection at sunrise


When tenacity is the key to photography.

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Paris, France, Notre-Dame de Paris reflection in the Seine river
Paris, France : Notre-Dame de Paris reflecting in the Seine river at sunrise*

This photo of Notre-Dame de Paris and Île de la Cité reflecting in the Seine river at sunrise is among the hardest ones I’ve managed to take since I started photography. It has taught me that tenacity is a key competence to get if you want to improve in landscape photography.

I’ve had this scenery in mind for almost 4 months now. I’ve made a lot of photos of Notre-Dame in the past, but surprisingly, I had never taken a picture of it in this configuration. The idea came to my mind while I was skimming Flickr photos on an evening, and thought I should try to take a picture of Notre-Dame reflecting in the Seine river at sunrise from Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville.

Unfortunately, the picture I had in my mind had two conditions that never met in the last 4 months : sunny morning, and reflections in the Seine river, which meant no riverboat should have sailed on the water for the past 2 hours.

With the sun rising up a minute later everyday, which increased the probability of a riverboat sailing on the river before sunrise, I had almost given up on taking the picture of my dreams, until one evening, as I was skimming Instagram photos on my mobile phone, I saw some beautiful photos of reflections on the Seine river that I thought were almost impossible to witness in Fall season. This prompted me give it a chance the following morning.

When I arrived on the banks of the Seine River at around 7:45 am , I was amazed, and thrilled, at what I had before my eyes : the picture I had been chasing for so long was no longer a dream but reality, ready to be taken into picture. I immediately took my camera out of my bag, set it on my tripod and shot the scenery multiple times.

After around 10 shots, I fortunately realised I had forgotten to set ISO to 100 : I was shooting at ISO 3200 ! This taught me another lesson : always check your camera settings before leaving home. I immediately set my camera at ISO 100, then proceeded with shooting the whole scenery again, right when the first rays of sunshine were reaching the cathedral and the surrounding buildings, giving them a golden hue. Finally ready for the perfect moment !

The result of this epic photo session is this one photo* that exactly matches what I had in my mind in the first place. But the most important part is the journey that led me to take this picture, and the lessons I’ve learnt : be tenacious, and be ready for when the moment comes.

*I used a Nex 6 with a Zeiss 24f1.8 set at ISO 100, f6.3 and 10 sec exposure time (I used a ND400 filter). The final picture is made of 5 vertical pictures stitched together and processed with Adobe Lightroom.

12 thoughts on “Paris, Notre-Dame : Reflection at sunrise

      1. Thanks ! Yes, it’s quite a nice city to take pictures of, though I must confess my heart goes to Lyon, which is quite a fabulous city to photograph. Of course, Paris is a must visit when in France, but if you ever come to France, and have some time, Lyon is fabulous too ! And the food is really good there too (a photographer who walks a lot needs to eat well).

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  1. Superbe capture — vraiment étonnante ! I’m so glad to see that your vision finally came true, and that all of the pieces fell into place (not only is the Seine like a mirror, but just look at that light on the dome of the Panthéon and the towers of Notre Dame!). I can’t imagine a more beautiful lesson in the virtues of patience and persistence as a photographer, Pierre. Thank you.

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    1. Hi ! Thanks for your compliment ! I used a ND filter to be able to use long exposure without having to go to f22, which ruins image quality. Long exposure is necessary to get this mirror effect, without any ripple on the surface of the river. However, it’s not needed when I take pictures of stagnant water.

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      1. I guess it depends on how calm the water is. Generally, I try to be between 5 and 10 seconds. With very calm water, you can go longer. If an exposure of 5 to 10 seconds produces blur, then generally, it means there are too many ripples, and I can’t get the mirror effect. That being said, I’m still learning, so I might be wrong. Keep me updated with your trials !

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