How To Photograph Statues At The Arc de Triomphe In Paris

A particularly heroic scene depicted in a statue at the base of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France

On my fist day photographing in Paris I took a walk from my hotel down to the Arc de Triomphe. I'd had a very hectic year and the Paris visit was both a precursor to a much bigger adventure and also an opportunity to see one of the world’s great cities.

Having never been to Paris my plan was to spend the time having a look around and taking a bit of a break prior to the rigors of an upcoming trip to Iceland and Greenland.

I had no expectations of making amazing images and new that arriving in the city of light, during the middle of peak tourist season, was going to make photography at the most touristed locations problematic.

Stairwell, Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

About to Travel?


If You Go To Paris Beware Of Con Artists

I enjoyed the walk down to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a warm, sunny day and a pleasant change from the Melbourne winter I’d left behind.

Fortunately I'd been prepared for a range of tricks by con artists, whom I'd  been told were gypsies, along the route trying to elicit money from unsuspecting tourists.

There was the donate to the Albanian Orphaned Children's Fund, which I otherwise would have gladly donated to, and the "is this your watch I've just found on the street" scam.

Before you known it, the watch is handed to you for inspection and, almost immediately another person comes forward and claims you must have stolen their watch.

You are then hassled for money to prevent the matter from escalating into violence.

Keeping my camera gear safely packed away I just kept moving while laughing them off.

They new I was on to them and was not going to be drawn into the game and so, somewhat sheepishly, they let me pass.

I had four such interactions over about a 1 km walk with the final one only around 100 meters away from the Arc de Triomphe.

A striking black and white photo featuring a classic view of city living, as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, France

What A Wonderful View From The Arc de Triomphe

Despite the fact that there were literally hundreds of people at the attraction, many of whom were in a queue to climb the staircase to the top, I very much enjoyed my time at the Arc de Triomphe.

I started by photographing the structure, both front and back, from across the street, prior to taking the subway to the entrance just underneath the complex.

Next I moved around the structure, photographing the various statues and then joined the queue for the climb to the top.

The reward for ascending the spiral staircase is a surprising large space to walk around that offers 360-degree views.

A rooftop view towards the Sacre Coeur Basilica on Montmarte in Paris from atop the Arc de Triomphe.

How And Why I Photographed Those Heroic Statues

I was drawn to the scene at the top of this post by the emotive and life-like nature of the figures. I find the humanity displayed to be compelling and very much about the Human Condition.

It is, after all, at times of greatest adversity that the most fundamental human emotions are displayed, pure and unadulterated.

I employed a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L series lens, at 121mm, to isolate the statues from their surrounds so that they now seem to exist in a world and time separate from their surroundings.

The higher magnification of the lens caused me to stand some distance away from the structure. And that’s an important point that’s worth exploring.

The further back you stand the more the problems with perspective, associated with photographing upwards towards the structure, are diminished.

Image processing was conducted in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

Looking up to a lovely series of symmetrical details underneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

Always Look For More Opportunities To Make Photos

I was standing in line for quite some time waiting to get to the stairwell that would allow me to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

I didn’t know what to expect but, given how far I’d come to get to Paris, it had to be worth the effort.

But the line was long, crowded and not moving all that fast. I decided the best thing I could do was to try and make a few photos en route, without losing my place in the line.

I decided to get my camera out and ready should any opportunities arise.

As we shuffled our way towards the stairwell we passed underneath the monument. I looked up and made the image directly above.

It’s a nice detail making full use of the symmetry within the architecture.

While most people were shuffling along, looking directly ahead or down at their feet, I was really happy to have had the good sense to be ready for any photo opportunities that came my way.

I like the photo because, while not a portfolio image, it does, with the help of the other images in this series, help tell the story of my exploration at the Arc de Triomphe.

Next time I visit I’d like to photograph it at night.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru