Photographing Paris

Losing my Canon SLR this week made me realise how attached I'd become to my worn-out, cantankerous, travel-battered old camera.

That camera and I had seen a lot of miles. It had been with me through bitter winters in Paris, beaches on the Great Barrier Reef (sadly, usually on my own because I was always working), snowstorms in New York and even a small hurricane in the Bahamas. It had stayed faithful all through the drops and knocks and falls and it had continued to work even when I cracked its shell against the elegant but unforgiving stonework of the Louvre.

I don't know how tough a digital SLR Leica is (my dream camera), but I often wonder if it would be as much of a workhorse as the Canon? I loved my Canon. I couldn't have asked for a better camera. It seemed to make me a better photographer than I actually was.

It was only recently, when we both started getting old and weary from the miles, that the Canon started to become belligerent. The photos didn't seem as sharp. And the lens seemed perpetually dirty. But – like an old married couple who become accustomed to each other – we stuck together, the Canon and I. My partner kept insisting that upgrade but I resisted. How could I? It would have been like upgrading him. How do you toss in something you love, just because it's old and weary?

And so this week, when it was stolen in London, I was quietly bereft. Part of me thought: Well, I can always get a new one on insurance. But another other part of me was very, very sad. And then today, walking around Paris, I felt such a profound sense of loss it was though my partner had died. I stood on the Pont des Arts, looked up the river under the brooding grey skies, and remembered all the years I'd stood there, holding the camera aloft. We'd had some good times, that old Canon and I.

And so here, in a tribute to ancient cameras everywhere, is a post on modern photography. I'm not the best photographer. I'm simply a journalist who was forced to shoot her own books for budget reasons. But this is what my faithful Canon has taught me...

If you shoot scenes that bring you pleasure, they will always gladden your heart when you look back on them. This is true for family photos but it's also true for Paris. Don't think you always have to shoot the Louvre, or the Eiffel Tower or the other cliched sights. Just shoot what moves you. I love seeing Parisians at play. Look at this little boy with his fabulous glitter hat kicking a ball around. The photo makes me smile. Every single time.

All photographers have their little favourites. Some photographers love shooting people. Others like fashion. Others adore snapping travel scenes. I have a passion for light. I love it. I love the way it changes during the day, and how it moves across buildings, and streets, and scenes. This shot was taken in the late afternoon. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. But you don't need to be in a colonnade such as this to take a shot of lovely light. Just observe the light wherever you are. You'll soon notice how it enhances things.

Pattern is another subject that's dear to my photographer's heart. I love any kind of repeating pattern, but particularly graphic stripes, which always look gorgeous, whether they're in Miami or the Marais.

An ex-boyfriend taught me this trick. Instead of looking through the viewfinder, lower the camera and simply click. That is, let the camera take the photo on its own. (Set it on automatic rather than manual first.) More often than not, you'll get an unexpectedly beautiful shot. It works best when you hold it against something, such as a wall – like this wall of 'love' padlocks on the Pont des Arts. My ex used to drop his camera down low whenever he walked along a beach, so he'd capture vast expanses of sky. His images were beautiful. Far more beautiful than mine.

These windows at Guerlain's store on the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore were begging to be photographed.

Timing is everything in photography. Unfortunately, I don't have the patience to wait for the perfect shot (which is perhaps why I'm not the greatest photographer). But I do realise that timing is crucial in this business. The really good photographers wait for the right light, the right moment, the right scene. They'll wait for ages. That's how they get the best shots.

I snapped this woman and her cute Jack Russells crossing the Palais-Royal at just the right moment. (Look at how the trees frame her.) But I was lucky. I had good timing. The Photography Gods were shining down that day.

I've been wanting to photograph this Parisian patisserie for years. It's one of the city's most beautiful shopfronts. But I could never find it. So I researched it on the Internet. (There are conflicting addresses, and nobody seems to know where it is.) It was well worth the hike up to Montmartre last week. If you want to shoot particular things, find out where they are and write up a Shot List.

These shots were taken at Versailles last week. I was on an old bike I'd hired to ride to the Petit Trianon. (Be kind: I'd already walked all around the gardens for 6 hours!) I literally snapped these pix as I was wobbling by on two wheels! To me, they epitomise Versailles. But that's because of the scale.

Don't centre things in your photos. Break the scene into thirds (either horizontally or vertically) and position the focal point on one of these lines. (For example, the sky in this shot, above, now takes up two-thirds of the photo.) It creates a more interesting, more dynamic shot.

I love shooting people in love. I'm always shooting my parents because their love is so lovely to watch. This gorgeous, just-married couple walked onto the Pont des Arts bridge and, ignoring everyone, leaned together for a just-married kiss. It was so tender and beautiful, I almost felt as though I shouldn't be watching. They were so in love. That's what life's about. Moments such as these.

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