Versailles | How To Make Photos With Extra Drama

The Palace of Versailles near Paris, France photographed under warm, late afternoon light. A highly decorative vase stands out in front of the palace's magnificent facade.

The Palace of Versailles is a very beautiful place to visit and to photograph. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. However, just like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles receives so many visitors each year that it’s necessary to try and find unique ways of photographing it. The palace and gardens of Versailles are grand and I tried to convey that grandeur by imbuing the photos I made there with a sense of extra drama.

How To Make Photos That Are Unique

Unique is an interesting word, isn’t it? Making a unique photo means, by implication, that it’s significantly different to the usual view most people record during their visit. But does that make it better?

It probably depends on the context in which the image is made and later viewed. But I think it’s fair to say that a unique rendering of the scene in question is more likely to both catch and hold peoples attention. In our contemporary world, where an endless cycle of images come to us via TV and internet, that’s are pretty good achievement, particularly when you're dealing with iconic locations that have been photographed millions and millions of times.

A dramatic photo of an angel statue, holding a wreath and illuminated by warm afternoon light against a brilliant blue sky, in the grounds of the Palace Of Versailles near Paris, France.

How To Make Photos That Show Good Taste

However, while it’s great to experiment, too often these days that leads folks to wang about with sliders in software applications in the hope of coming up with something that’s different. Badly done High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a case in point.

Now I’m a huge proponent of this tool in our craft, but there’s just so much post processing horribilis out there that there’s no wonder some of the old timers kick up a stink.

It's critical that the image serves the needs of the maker and the audience, rather than becoming a vehicle that advertises the technique or software employed to create the image.

Being Authenticity Is What Matters Most

Almost always a restrained and subtle approach is the best way to go. Use whatever technique suits the problems you are facing and/or the desired result. Just avoid making images that scream out how they’ve been created.

Do you want to produce meaningful photos that reflect who you are and/or tell a story about what you see and how you feel about what you see, or images that simply advertise how they were created?

While images can certainly come into being through experimentation, for the most part your photos should not be process driven. They should reflect who you are and your own, personal worldview. Individual viewers will either connect or be repelled by your photos. But at least you'll stand out from the crowd. This at what it is to produce authentic artwork.

Can you imagine what it must be like for someone to be referred to through the work they produce. "It's a Monet" would be a good example. Regarded as the founder of French Impressionism, Claude Monet's paintings became synonymous with that movement. 

A detail, on the top of the visitor entrance gate, at the glorious Palace of Versailles photographed from a low viewpoint; with a polarizing filter; and processed with added saturation for extra drama.

How To Create Drama Through Viewpoint And Contrast

Compositionally the photo at the top of this post was a tricky photo to make and, while there’s a bit of image processing involved, the success of the image is dependent upon the way it was photographed.

I positioned myself very close to the vase to make it appear larger in the frame and employed a reasonably wide focal length (i.e., 32 mm) on my full frame camera to enable me to include a considerable amount of the building in the background.

By positioning the camera at a fairly oblique angle, relative to the building, I was able to cause it to slope downwards towards the edge of the frame. Diagonal lines add a sense of dynamic movement to images, and I feel that adding drama in this way enhanced the unique viewpoint and perspective explored in this photo.

In addition I focused crucially on an important visual detail within the vase and employed an aperture of f/16 to continue the sense of sharpness into the distant background.

I wanted to make a dramatic image and, while the late afternoon light was soft and beginning to emit a lovely warm hue, the building looked quite stark and colorless. That’s because the direct sun was reflecting a good deal of color and texture off the surface of the building.

The solution was simply: I employed a polarizing filter to reduce reflection and hold texture and color on the surface of the structure. An added advantage, in scenes like this, is that a polarizing filter can also deepen the color of the already blue sky.

You Can Color My World With Contrast Colors

Finally there’s the color contrast between the warm yellow/orange hues in the stone compared to the cold blue of the sky. Again, the polarizing filter (which I very rarely use) was the solution as it heightened the strength of both colors.

By keeping color on the surface of the building and contrasting it against the deep blue sky the sense of drama within the image is increased. And remember that it was this sense of extra drama that was the major motivating fact behind why and how I went about making this photo.

Next time you’re photographing a famous monument, building or iconic natural feature in the landscape it’s good to remember two opposing rules. Play safe and make at least a few typical postcard views, but also try for a more unique telling of the story unfolding in front of you. The more physical your approach the more fun and, usually, more rewarding the final result will be.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru