Photographing the Palace of Versailles with Extra Drama

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

The Palace of Versailles is a very beautiful place to visit. 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.

Making Unique Photographs

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's better? Well, it probably depends on the criteria you’re applying to the image. 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. And, in our contemporary world, where an endless cycle of images come to us via TV and internet, that’s all most folks can hope for. By which I mean it’s a win/win for both viewer and photographer.

HDR and 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.

Authenticity is What Matters Most

Almost always restraint and subtly are the 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?

This was a tricky photo to make and, while there’s quite a bit of image processing involved, the success of the image is dependent upon the way it was photographed.

I wanted to make a dramatic image and, while the late afternoon light was softening 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.

Adding Drama Through Viewpoint

I had positioned myself very close to the pot (sorry, I don’t know what else to call it) to make it appear larger in the frame and employed a reasonably wide focal length (i.e., 32mm) to enable me to include a considerable amount of the building in the background. You’ll also notice how my positioning, relative to the building, causes it to slope downwards towards the edge of the frame. Diagonal lines add a sense of dynamic movement to images, also adding to the unique viewpoint and perspective explored in this photo.

You Can Color My World

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.

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