After twelve years in business, I’ve photographed hundreds of people and approach my sessions with the confidence that comes from that, but I’m always looking for ways to grow as a photographer. I walk into every session thinking about how I can make it unique and better than the last — whether that’s finding a beautiful pocket of light, trying a new pose, or capturing more candids during a session. Even with years of experience, we can always hone our skills and improve, and with both my girls off at school I had the time and freedom to take a workshop during my quiet season this year.
Rather than a portrait or business workshop, as I’ve done in the past, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try street photography. While that may not seem like it directly relates to portrait photography, it does. A street photographer has to be constantly observing, looking for interesting details, and having the timing necessary to capture a moment before it is gone forever – all skills that are important in what I do. Having followed Valérie Jardin‘s work I knew that her January street photography workshop in Paris would be a great experience.
We began the first day of the two-day workshop in a classroom at American Academy in Paris, where Valérie shared her best strategies for making street photography images. This included technical tips on camera settings, but also what to watch for and how to find interesting things happening on the streets of Paris. It’s not easy to find the small nuances of people on a city street, especially one like Paris where there are a hundred interesting things competing for your attention at any given place and time. Seeing those special little details, and having the timing to capture a moment that will soon be gone forever really is an art and a skill that needs to be practiced.
One of the first places Valérie took the group (there were 8 of us, by the way) was the Pont des Arts. She gave us a few tips for what to look for here (as well as some warnings about pickpockets!), and sent us off to shoot on our own for about 30 minutes. Valérie stayed nearby in case anyone needed one-on-one help, and she was always available for questions.
One of the things that I’ve always struggled with in street photography is the idea that essentially, it involves taking pictures of strangers, usually without their knowledge. Valérie gave some great perspective on this.
She reminded us that out in public, we are being photographed all the time — whether through security cameras, or the ubiquitous use of phone cameras. In a big city, we’re probably unknowingly in other peoples’ photos many times a day. In addition, the street photographer is in many ways a historian — documenting life during our time in a way that is not contrived like much of what appears on social media. Think about famous street photographs from other eras, and how they tell a story of what life was like during that time. We were reminded to always be respectful, and avoid photographing people in vulnerable situations, people experiencing homelessness, etc.
Over the course of the two day workshop, Valérie led us all around central Paris, on foot (we walked many miles!), and made sure we visited places that gave great opportunities for street photos, including a wonderful and lively street market on Sunday. Because it was January (Paris is so wonderful in the Winter!), there were more actual Parisian’s than tourists, and they make much more interesting subjects because they are the heart and spirit of the city.
Beyond having an excellent teacher like Valérie, and Paris as our classroom, another wonderful aspect of the workshop was the other attendees. To spend time with eight photographers of varying walks of life, from places like the UK, US, Germany and The Netherlands was really special and fun. They were such a nice group and I really enjoyed getting to know all of them.
At the end of the two days, we returned to the classroom and each student was asked to present seven images for a critique session. Critiques always sound scarier than they are, but I always love seeing other people’s work and also thinking about what I got right or could have done better with my own. It was really interesting to see how different people captured at the same location and what details stood out to them as opposed to others.
I enjoyed this Paris Street Photography workshop so much, I may decide to do another one — Valérie gets a lot of returning students, and in fact, two of the people in our group had done previous workshops with her. It really was a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone, whether you are a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
While I’ve visited Paris many times before, I’ve always been with my family, which of course I love, but it’s hard slow down and photograph the city in the way I would like when I’m in charge of leading them around. So I decided to add on three solo days to use some of the street photography strategies I learned, and also to take some new Paris photos to add to my Print Shop.
After years in the role of tour guide during our family travels, I got to wander and plan my days as I went, without asking anyone else where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do. I wouldn’t choose to travel solo all the time, but it was a very freeing feeling to plan my days and navigate the city on my own. Not to mention I got to spend some quality time with my friend Helène, who I met about 13 years ago in an online photography group — we’ve stayed in touch ever since!
The photos that follow are just a few more images taken during the workshop, along with other street photos that I took while exploring the city by myself.
I am always happy to answer any questions about the workshop itself, traveling solo to Paris, or just Paris in general, so don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to visit my Paris Print Shop!
Cristen Farrell is a Boston Portrait Photographer, working with families, newborns, and high school seniors. Cristen will capture you in a natural and authentic style, and you will have fun along the way! If you are looking for Boston Area or North Shore family photos, or Senior Portraits at the Beach, Cristen can be reached by clicking on this contact form. Don’t forget to follow Cristen Farrell Photography on Instagram, too!