Photographing Versailles, A Classical View

A detail of the facade of Versailles, just out of Paris, France. The light was such that it brings out the luminous quality of the gently textured stone and the shapely statues within this beautifully symmetrical building.

Versailles is an amazing place that showcases the luxurious life of Louis XIV, the Sun King. My own experience of the palace was somewhat mixed.

Early July is not the best time to visit Versailles, particularly on a warm, sunny day. On arrival I was shocked to see perhaps a thousand people baking in the sun, on either side of the entrance gates. Once inside the palace things got worse. The place was simply swamped with tourists and it was all I could do to keep my feet as the crowd pushed me from one room to the next.

I made it up the stairs and then along the first floor. After that I grabbed the first exit I could find and headed out into the open, spacious grounds. And that’s when the experience began to turn around.

Water Gardens Abound

The gardens are a wonder: a huge space, broken up by tree lined stony pathways and punctuated with a range of spectacular fountains, some of which have been synchronized to spurt water to a classical music soundtrack. It’s a lot of fun.

Versailles Facade

After spending much of the day exploring the grounds I returned to the huge courtyard that leads to the side entrance, by which tourists flood into the palace. It was still busy. I decided to head around to what was originally the front entrance, just in front of a huge fountain, where I made the above photo with late afternoon sunlight. It was still very bright, but the light was beginning to soften which allowed me to hold much more of the subtle detail in the facade than would have been possible under bright midday sun.

A black and white detail of the facade of Versailles, France.

Making a Dramatic Photo

The slight yellow/orange hue of the stone and surrounding window was attractive, but the textures, shapes and overall symmetry of the structure suggested it might be worthwhile rendering into black and white.

When to use a Polarizing Filter

The deep blue sky was further darkened by the use of a polarizing filter which I also used to remove reflections from the many window panes in the image. Another advantage of employing a polarizing filter under bright sunlit conditions, when the sun is coming from behind you, is the ability to maintain subtle highlight colors and textures by reducing reflection off the surface of the subject, whether it be building or leaf.

The deep polarization, when combined with the black and white rendering, also has the effect of imbuing this image with quite a surreal feel. It's simply an alternative way of exploring the location in question. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru