Paris street photography was first made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson and many other passionate French photographers but in recent years it seems you see fewer and less iconic street photos being captured. Many believe the decline began when Article 9 of Franc’s civic code declared everyone has the right to private life.
But this is a tricky law because it’s open to interpretation by the judicial system and they still haven’t defined exactly what “privacy” is. But for the average street photographer enthusiast, Paris is a dreamland to capture everyday candid life with the most picturesque backgrounds in the world. This article will explore everything you need to know about street photography in the city of light.
- 1 Planning
- 2 Top 10 Locations
- 3 Recommended Gear
- 4 Composition Elements
- 5 Inspiration
Just like any photoshoot, it’s important to plan ahead to take the best images. Below are some details on locations and timing that you should keep in mind before you head out for the day.
Paris has something for everyone when it comes to choosing a location. We recommend getting away from the touristy crowded areas of Paris and photographing some of the edgier and more local locations full of color, new subject matter, and memories of iconic architecture. Taking photographs in Paris is more than an experience it’s the making of a story in one place through a selection of light and atmosphere.
If you want to capture quiet streets with golden hues then wake up early. Sunrise in Paris can be magical. It feels like most of the city does not wake up until around 10 am so this leaves you plenty of time to wander and capture unexpected moments while the city is still slumbering.
However, if you prefer street photography with a more humanistic approach then start your day at 10 am when the city comes to life and people begin to make their way to work and school. One important matter to keep in mind is Parisians generally do not like to have their photos shot. Many workshops and students have learned this the hard way. So make sure to ask first or use a telephoto lens if you want to snap some candid photographs without angry people approaching you.
Top 10 Locations
Below we have listed our top 10 all-time favorite locations to shoot street photography around Paris. These locations range between super touristy and super local. It all depends on what you want to shoot, but we recommend exploring some of the lesser-known locations around the city to create something new with your street photography. Lastly, if you want even more ideas then check out our article on the best places to shoot in Paris in general.
Pont Des Arts
There is something iconic about his beautiful bridge. You have surely seen a photo of the love locks that once hung onto its gated sides. The story goes, two lovers attach a lock and toss the key into the city river signifying they will stay together forever! Thousands of images have been taken here of couples and sunset views over the Seine river. This is a great location to hang out and capture a typical Parisian atmosphere with the whole city flowing along the River Seine and views of the Louvre museum.
The French masters have been shooting here for decades whose work showcases the crumbling streets and small sidewalks. The area is home to the Jewish and Gay Quarters of Paris making for an interesting mix of subjects crossing over into each other’s lives. Keep your camera ready for groups of Jewish men standing in the street recruiting potential new believers. The light is incredible at sunset as the busy streets filled with fashionistas and local French people sorting through clothing boutiques and bars and restaurants. Experience the life of a local by shooting images here.
If you enjoy travel photography and showcasing local street art then Belleville may be the place for you. Most visitors to Paris will never make it to this local district full of colorful graffiti, North African markets, and an array of city bars and Paris street photography opportunities. Allow yourself to take the metro to the “Belleville” stop and then simply roam the streets finding a new side of Paris and the people who live there.
The Latin Quarter is famous for the Notre Dame Cathedral, bookstalls along the Seine, and the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It’s the perfect location for classic street photography close to the works of Henri Cartier Bresson. We recommend you roam along the outskirts of the Île Saint-Louis to capture the river with Paris as a backdrop. During the warmer seasons, students and locals love to picnic along the edges as well making it a great place to capture candid people’s photos.
Arc de Triomphe
Use your photography skills to shoot the Arc de Triomphe from a different perspective. This piece of architecture has been shot 1000 times but there is a lot to still be explored. Especially when you make use of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées leading into this gigantic arch. For a different experience buy a ticket to climb to the top of the Arc. The whole city seems to lead you up top and you even have epic views of the Eiffel Tower. We love shooting here at sunset.
Rue de Rivoli
This is a long stretch of road that cuts through the city. It will take you right past many street photography hot spots including the Louvre, Tuileries, and the Hotel de Ville. The street is also lined with many classic boutiques and brasseries. Often beaming with tourists, it’s a great idea to just roam along this wide boulevard until you find the perfect group of people waiting to be photographed. Don’t forget to check out the Jardin du Palais-Royal as well. This is a hidden park full of black and white columns, fountains, and lots of local action, it’s something not to be missed.
There are so many places to visit in Paris with your camera. But Montmartre is our all-time favorite. This is one of the oldest places in the city and home to many artists. You can still randomly find people painting in the streets. The masters who have been chosen by France to paint in Place du Tertre are a sight not to be missed. Each artist is given a three-foot space to set up their supplies and perform live caricatures or paintings. Their artwork is very reasonably priced and often attracts groups of locals and tourists. It’s a street photography paradise. Keep an eye out for the Eiffel Tower popping up between buildings as well, since you will be in the highest point of the city.
Boulevard de Clichy
Every Paris photographer has their favorite street in the city to take photos. But many street photographers prefer Boulevard de Clichy. This boulevard gives an edgier look to photos and is full of strange people. It famously leads into Pigalle which is full of sex shops and neon signs. If you are looking for something that is the opposite of the Eiffel Tower area this may be the street photography location for you. Keep your camera near to you because the area is famous for pickpockets as well.
If you want to capture a hip trendy vibe in Paris then head over to this 4.5 km long canal connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the Seine river. The canal mixes trendy with historical as you wander along this waterway covered in green iron bridges and many people picnicking in the warmer months. There’s a lot of action along this waterway to post and gain more followers.
We focused on some of the more hidden places for street photography, but if you would like to include the Eiffel Tower on your photography tour we recommend you head over to Trocadero, the Champ de Mars, or Pont Bir Hakeim for the best Eiffel Tower views. Each location offers a different view of the iron lady and lots of interesting characters hanging around for you to capture with your camera.
Lastly, what says Paris more than a shot of this iconic landmark for your photo collection. Every photographer can’t resist at least one photo or video here, give your followers what they want.
Every photographer varies on what equipment they like to use for their work, but here are some of the top favorites.
The 50mm lens is great because it’s lightweight to carry around the city and not obvious. We also love the focused clear results this lens gives and the affordable aperture settings such as f/2.8 that typically come with a prime lens. Almost every photographer has this in their photo bag.
The 70-200mm lens is definitely a heavier piece of gear to carry around all day but works great to get closer to your subjects. In a city like Paris where the locals do not enjoy being photographed, it’s important to stay far away if you plan on making Parisians your main subject.
For wide-angle photography, the 28mm lens is a top pick for many photographers. Just like the 50mm lens, it’s easy to carry with you on long walks but gives a wider perception of the city and is perfect for group photographs around the Paris streets.
DSLR vs Mirrorless Camera
Trying to decide which camera to use? It depends on how much weight you enjoy carrying around. Of course, DSLR cameras a bit heavier and mirrorless tend to be lighter. But the most important factor to consider is if the camera has an LCD flip-out screen to capture those hard to get angles. Also, look for high-speed burst modes to capture movement in the streets.
You are probably already using many of these composition elements in your photos without thinking twice about them. But just as a refresher, we have listed some of the most important elements to keep your photos interesting and evolving.
Paris people are known for being some of the most stylish in the world. Whenever possible ask for their permission first to take a photo of them and then shoot away capturing them in movement, in a beautiful cafe, or lounging by the Seine. The local people are the perfect subjects to complement any Paris backdrop.
Every photographer should be focusing on the details when shooting any city street. But in Paris, focus on the cracked walls or bullet holes left over from WWII. Look for details on how the light reflects back off the Seine at sunset or details in the fine cutlery and coffee cups on a terrasse. The details are endless in this photographer’s paradise.
Paris is the queen of leading lines. You can find them all over the city. Look for grande boulevards such as the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Even better visit one of the many picturesque parks where you will find rows and rows of parallel trees and garden beds. Leading lines help your viewer focus on your main subject, so don’t forget to make use of them whenever possible. There is always a way in Paris!
Change of Perspective
Every photographer knows that if you want to take an interesting shot, you need to change your perspective. This is true in Paris as well. The city has been photographed so many times it may seem tedious to find a new perspective to shoot from. But the best way is to find new locations and new angles. Test out some rooftop restaurants or train stations. Get low to the ground along the river or up close to someone in the street. Changing your perspective will bring so much more to your work.
Mirrors and reflections are always fun to play with, and street photography is no different. Paris is littered with scooters and cars. Try to use the mirrors to capture a passing Parisian. Or find a store selling vintage mirrors and wait for the perfect passerby to captured inside the perfectly framed mirror. The possibilities are endless for the best shot.
If you are looking for more inspiration then consider taking a workshop, studying a famous photographer, or reading a street photography book. We have listed some of our favorites below.
Paris Street Photographers of Today
Mary Quincy has had a loyal following for years around France, her specialty is photographing the streets of Paris and the world! As a local, she has access to the beautiful golden hours around the city. Her photos are colorful and fun leaving the viewer wanting more. Many amateur photographers have learned from her master style and editing.
Derossi is also a local photographer with a huge following on Instagram. Every post of his attracts thousands of likes and reshares. We love the coloring in his photos and how he has moved into offering mini video lessons in his posts to help photographers learn how to take better street photos on their own.
Olivier Wong was born and raised in Reunion Island but was inspired to start shooting the streets of Paris in 2013 when he moved there. Paris is his main source of inspiration for photographs. He now spends most of his time creating content for major brands and creating marketing campaigns with stunning visuals.
If you are looking for even more visual inspiration we recommend these street photography books. These books showcase some of the oldest masters in the street photography world.
Elliott Erwitt’s Paris
This book is full of the legendary work of Elliott Erwitt. He captured both the intimate details of daily life and the grand boulevards of Paris. Known for being witty, detached, and anti-Romantic. A stunning tribute to one of the world’s great cities.
Street Photography: From Brassai to Cartier-Bresson
Street photography is perhaps the best-loved and most widely known of all photographic genres, with names like Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, and Doisneau familiar even to those with a fleeting knowledge of the medium. This book explores all of their work and shows some of the best examples of street photography in Paris.
The Movable Feast Workshop
Sep 5, 2021 – Sep 11, 2021
May 15, 2022 – May 21, 2022
Experience the “moveable feast” of Paris during springtime, with the glorious light and weather of this season, and participate in a street photography workshop led by Peter Turnley, one of the most acclaimed photographers of Paris of his generation. Peter Turnley’s Paris Workshops offer a unique opportunity to take a week in one’s life to see and photograph the life of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is a fantastic opportunity to grow as a visual storyteller and to offer oneself the gift of a wonderful week in Paris.
Chasing Light Workshop
October 16-21, 2021
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced photographer, Valérie will help you capture the types of photographs you are aiming for. You will learn how to see and capture gestures and expressions as you practice street photography in the same streets where the masters of the genre made their iconic images. Their daily walks will also be the perfect stage to fine-tune your photographic storytelling ability. Learn to see and frame details in architecture and daily life that make a place unique while thinking ‘outside the postcard’.
We hope you discovered some new fun Paris street photography locations! Do you have some favorites we missed? Post a comment below to add your work, we love hearing from you! And check out our articles on famous French photographers and these street photography techniques to better prepare for your next shoot in France.