Perhaps the most important thing to understand about photographing Paris is that you will be the same photographer in Paris as you are at home. That is to say, if you are a wide-angle landscape photographer at home, you are probably going to end up taking wide-angle shots of scenes of Paris. You’ll learn a lot on the tour, and you may dabble with other things, but you aren’t going to change your stripes immediately. This will be very important in determining what photography equipment you bring with you.
With that thought in mind, let’s dive into what photography gear you might want to bring.
It goes without saying that you will need a camera. But what kind? And how many? And should you take this opportunity to upgrade?
It really does not matter what kind of camera you bring. Between Roben and I, we are familiar with the functions of most major camera brands. (Jim shoots Canon and some Sony, whereas Roben shoots Nikon and is familiar with other brands). We are fairly well brand agnostic.
Should you buy a new camera for this trip? For most people, the answer is no. Just bring what you have. Showing up with a new camera is extremely dangerous. We have seen people come on tours with a limited understand of their new camera and been unable to work them properly. It is better to use a lesser camera that you are familiar with than the latest and greatest that you don’t know how to use properly. A small problem with your focus can turn into a nightmare very quickly.
That said, some people are (over)due for an upgrade and might use their trip to France as a spur to make the change. That is fine too. Just make sure you have shot with your new camera for a few months before the tour. The simplest things can trip you up when you are away, and you don’t want to miss out on shots. There isn’t a lot of time to stop and dig through a camera manual on our tours.
Another question is whether you should bring a backup camera. This is another one that is hard to answer. Truly, there is no right answer. To some, it would seem extremely foolish to go on an important trip focused on photography and not have some sort of backup. To them I say, bring a backup. If nothing else, you’ll feel better about things. Others are more comfortable with their same camera and may not feel the need for a backup. If that’s you, don’t bring one.
Again, there is no right answer. In fact, we don’t even agree between ourselves. Roben typically travels with more than one camera, Jim travels with only one.
Now comes the big one: which lenses to bring? Again, we have to refer back to the guiding principle that you will be the same photographer in France that you are at home. Start with that premise.
This will help you pick which lenses to bring. Are you the sort of person that takes pictures of wide scenes? Then bring your wide angle lens. Do you want to capture street scenes from afar? Bring your long lens.
The only things I can say for certain are that you will definitely want one sort of lens and you will definitely not want another kind. The one you will definitely want is a standard “walking around” lens, such as a 24-70 mm, 24-105 mm, or something along those ranges. The lens you will definitely not want is a really big telephoto lenses. They are just too bulky and heavy and you really won’t have an opportunity to use them.
To try to make this somewhat concrete – but without suggesting that this is somehow the right answer – here is what I (Jim) will bring. I will bring 3 lenses. First, I will bring a 16-35 mm wide angle lens for architecture and city scenes. Second, I will bring a 24-70 mm standard lens as my “walking around” lens. This will likely be on my camera most of the time. Finally, I will bring a 70-200 mm lens for taking portraits and capturing street scenes. Honestly, there is some danger I won’t use this last lens very much, plus it is heavy, so I struggle with the decision of whether to bring it every trip. But since we aren’t moving (as in changing hotels) very much, I figure I can leave it in the hotel when I’m not planning on using it.
As exceptions to the “you will be the same photographer as you are at home” rule, let me mention a few things we will be doing on this tour that might lead you to bring lenses you don’t ordinarily use. First, we will be taking you to some key overlooks and locations to capture city scenes. To play along, you’ll need something at least moderately wide angle. Secondly, Roben will be showing you how to capture portraits, so you may want something in the 70-100 mm range to participate in that. Finally, Roben typically does a “macro” outing as well, so if you want to do that you might want a macro lens or some extension tubes.
You’ll want a tripod on this trip. We’ll be up early capturing Paris, and we’ll be out late on a few occasions. Both situations involve low light, and you won’t be able to hand-hold your camera and get sharp pictures using the slow shuttle speeds required. Plus on occasion we’ll purposefully slow down the shuttle speed to create effects in water in your shots (i.e., the Seine and fountains).
What kind of tripod? Unfortunately I don’t have a clear answer here as well, You’ll want something that is big enough and holds your camera very steady, but at the same time you’ll want a tripod that you can carry about with you for a few hours. In any cases, this is sort of like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.
If you have a tripod you like, it is good enough and bring it. If you don’t have one, you’ll want to get one in time to have used it a few times before the trip. Again, in an effort to make this concrete – but without suggesting that this is somehow the right answer for everyone – I (Jim) have a MeFoto Globetrotter model that I have been extremely happy with for several years now. It is lightweight (made of carbon), easy to carry, but very sturdy and durable.
One bit of good news is that as cameras have gotten smaller, the need for a big tripod has diminished. If you have a smaller mirrorless camera you can probably get away with a smaller and lighter tripod. There just is no “one size fits all” here.
You don’t need a lot of filters for this trip, but there is one you might like. It is a neutral density filter. If you are not familiar with it, it restricts the amount of light let into your camera. That forces you to use longer shutter speeds and is handy when you want to smooth out water. We’ll do this for some shots of the Seine and sometimes at fountains.
Personally, I would get a 6-stop circular neutral density filter that fits your wide-angle lens. If you want to see more about these filters, here is a video and some links to additional articles to check out.
As mentioned above, Roben will be demonstrating how to take portraits. We’ll have some great opportunities to practice this as well. We have places picked up with the Eiffel Tower in the background and such. You’ll be able to use our equipment, but you might want to bring your own flash. If you have one, bring it. If you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. Again you can practice with ours. But if you want to use this as an opportunity to get a flash, let me know and I will give your some ideas on how to get a good one without spending a small fortune.
Oh, and if you thought, “my camera has a pop-up flash so I’ll just use that” you should dismiss such thoughts immediately! It won’t work. I don’t mean to be harsh, but just want to stress that popup flashes are in some ways worse than useless. Notice that higher end cameras don’t even have one and that tells you all you need to know about pop up flashes.
Storage and Backup
The question always comes up of “how much memory do I need”? Here again, people will vary, but I have a rule of thumb to help you determine that. I have gone back and looked at my shooting and found that a big day of shooting for me is 6-8 GB of pictures. That is taking a lot of pictures and bracketing them, so I feel reasonably confident in saying you won’t take more than this. Even so, I round up to 10 GB per day as the amount I want to have with me. For a week-long trip that’s 70 GB (7 days times 10 GB per day). I just round up to the next standard card size. In this case, a standard 128 GB SD Card, costing only about $30 will handle this easily. I prefer one large card to a bunch of small ones. The safest place for your SD card is inside your camera and juggling cards leads to problems, in my experience.
Laptops and External/Flash Drives
You’ll want to backup your pictures of course. For this, you’ll want to bring a laptop (more about this in a second) and external drive or flash drive, each with at least 70 GB of free space on them. For the external drive, make sure it is large enough so you don’t have to split up your pictures between different drives. Splitting between drives just leads to problems.
Keep your pictures on your SD Card, but back them up to the computer and the external drive every day. Keep your laptop in your suitcase and the external drive in your backpack or on your person. That way you will have 3 versions of your photos in 3 different places. That’s the gold standard for ensuring that your pictures are adequately protected.
You will want to bring a laptop for this trip. This is partially for backup reasons mentioned above, but mostly because you’ll be editing your photos on this trip. Key parts of what Roben and I want to teach you on this trip involve editing your photos. We’ll set aside time for this. Bring your laptop and I really think you’ll be glad you did and you’ll get a lot out of it.
An iPad or other tablet won’t do for editing your photos. iPads in particular are getting better and they are close to being good enough, but they just aren’t there yet. Bring a laptop for your editing.
Lightroom and Photoshop
We will use Lightroom to do most of our editing. We’ll occasionally switch into Photoshop for the things it does better (e.g., healing, changing shape, and using curves) but we’ll mostly be in Lightroom. To take full advantage of this, have Lightroom on your laptop. If you don’t already have the Photography Plan from Adobe, this is a good time to get it ($10 a month). If the cost makes you choke a little, let me tell you this will do more for your photography than any camera or lens.
Set Everything Up Ahead of Time
And finally, here comes a really important part: It is crucial that you have your computer, your backup system, and Lightroom all set up ahead of time. Don’t wait to do this in Paris, even if you are arriving early. There simply isn’t time on the trip to do this. Further, there won’t be time to troubleshoot the inevitable issues that come from setting up computers and software.
Avoiding Problems on the Road
Another thing I cannot explain but is true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that your electronics won’t work as well in Europe as at home. Again, I don’t know why, but it always happens. Suddenly everything moves slower. All of a sudden, bugs appear you never deal with at home. So you will have enough on your plate dealing with this without trying to start up your Lightroom catalog or backup system.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to Roben or I and we will try to steer you in the right direction.
Is there any opportunity for drone video or photography on the trip? What are the laws and rules for drones in Paris and Mont Saint Michel?
Good question. Paris is a 100% no go. And I t is strict. Don’t tempt it. Now, you can fly at Mont Saint Michel. And it can be great. Technically you cannot fly directly over the Mont but you can fly nearby (which is probably what you want to do anyway). I think it might be worth it to bring the drone, even though it is only one day of the trip.