Photographing Remarkable Versailles | It's Strange And Wonderful

Striking light illuminates statues and the golden gate at the Palace of Versailles, France

The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful and highly touristed site on the outskirts of Paris. Photographing Versailles would be a relatively straightforward experience except for the huge number of tourists that move through it in peak season. My own excursion was early in July, right in the middle of summer. I’d be happy to return, but wouldn’t want to do so at that time of year.

I took the train out to Versailles, which was easy enough, but the last train back to Paris was not all that long after the palace closed for the day. In the end I had to rush to catch the train.

The Early Bird Doesn't Always Get The Worm 

I arrived reasonably early to find literally hundreds of other folks waiting outside the entrance gates. We baked in the sun together for around 90 minutes before the line advanced enough for me to get through the entrance gates and into the main building. 

I made a few photos from the congested queue, including the first two in this post. It wasn’t easy, as the tightly congested crowd edged forwards, but it was now or never. Versailles is such a busy place and it was unlikely that I’d be able to retrace my steps in the hope of making a photograph later.

A detail of the top of the entrance gate at the glorious Palace of Versailles, France

Color Contrast Is At The Heart Of Dynamic Color Photos

The first two photos in this post are fairly straight forward images illustrating the majesty of what awaited us. The golden gates look particularly warm when contrasted against the deep blue sky. The side lighting in the photo at the top of this post was helpful in emphasizing the shape of the statues and gates. It’s a very simple recipe.

Statues and Gate, Palace of Versailles, France

I don’t want to downplay the beauty of Versailles, but the fact is that my experience being herded through the main building was most unpleasant. The above photo was one of the few pictures I was able to make that didn’t show people. A moment afterwards they were popping up everywhere. Still, despite the difficulty in making photos, it’s a reasonable result that showcases the classic pillars, ornate gold embellishments and spectacular murals.

A magnificent chandelier against a famously ornate series of ceiling murals at the Palace of Versailles, France

The images directly above and below were made from the middle of a densely packed group of tourists. I was only able to stop for a few seconds to make an exposure before being pushed along by the crowd.

There were probably one hundred or more people in each of these rooms. I moved off to the side of the room hoping to wait it out until the crowd passed. But, just like the effects of a dodgy curry, it kept coming. Eventually I tilted my camera upwards to crop out the crowd. Not an ideal composition but, again, I think the results are reasonable.

A statue in one of the magnificent rooms at the Palace of Versailles, France

After entering the foyer I was herded up the main staircase to the first floor where the crowd continued to push me along. I got to the end of the corridor and, rather than following the rest of the hordes upstairs, chose the downward path and headed out into the bright summer light.

Despite the heat, I could breathe again. I immediately began to move away from most of the tourists outside.

Contemporary sculpture in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, France.

Water And Sunshine In The Delightful Gardens Of Versailles

The gardens at Versailles are immense. Under more gentle light it would be fun making some really beautiful, carefully composed photographs. But my visit was shared with thousands of other folk, many of whom were wandering around outside. I had to wait around 10 minutes before this particular scene was clear enough to make a photo.

A classic garden like Versailles is all about order and symmetry. Documentary photos showing folks pre-ambulating around the place is fine for a tourist brochure, but I wanted photos that showcased the geometric designs of the gardens. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to get that with so many people wandering through my compositions.

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.

I was able to make a few good architectural images, but only through very careful composition and some unusual viewpoints. The photo of the cup (I’m not sure what else to call it), with the palace behind, was one such image. It’s one of my favorites from the day.

Fortunately, I know enough about travel to understand that you usually only have to walk for a short distance to get away from the crowds. And that’s exactly what I did. Within five minutes I was away from the hordes and in another world concentrating on closer views of statues; fountains, for which Versailles is famous; and other elements within the gardens.

A statue depicted King Louis XIV, the Sun King, at the Palace of Versailles, France.

Art In The Aid Of Propaganda

Likewise, I’m happy with this photo of a statue of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, which I found in a niche on the outside of the Palace. The warmth from the late afternoon sun really brought the figure, in all it’s grandness, to life. Notice the carving in the wall behind it that represents the sun and, by implication, Louis’s radiance and divine right to rule.

I made lots of intimate studies of various statues in the gardens, as well as interesting water fountains around the palace grounds. One of the final images I made was this detail of flowers where the application of selective focus allows the viewer to scan the photo, but be brought back to the main focal point within the image. To apply this technique all you need to do is to critically focus on your primary subject and apply a shallow depth of field to de-emphasize the surroundings.

Statue and wreath in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, France

What Is It To Be A Professional Photographer

This particular travel photography blog is about far more than showcasing my best photos. This is an educational site and, as such, I’m happy to discuss the difficulties associated with making good images under less than ideal conditions.

Indeed, many of my photos are underpinned by my philosophy of making something out of nothing. Being able to do so is one of the determining factors in associating the word professional with what you do. And, in this case, I use the word professional to describe the attitude and the approach one takes to what they do, not as any measure of commercial success.

Travel Photography is not always about making amazing photos of iconic subjects under incredible light. More often than not you’ll find yourself working under adverse conditions and, rather than packing your camera away and heading to the bar, you dig deep and your passion and purpose, with some fundamental knowledge of the craft of photography, is what will see you through.

But making a life and a business through photography is no easy road, and almost certainly worse for the significant other half.

A detailed image of sunlit flowers in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, France.

Photography | Why I Do What I Do

So, despite a difficult day as a tourist and photographer, I feel like I ended up with some pretty good images. Like so much else in life, you earn your success as a photographer. But how you judge success is a topic for another day.

The fact is that I got back to my hotel room sunburned, tired and a tad jaded. But those few moments when the day’s best images came together in my camera’s viewfinder also brought with them a sense of elation, and that’s enough to keep me doing what I do. That’s what drives me. That, and the opportunity to share my work, thoughts and knowledge with an ever wider audience.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru