A Pair of Fujis in Paris. The X100s and X-E1 By James Conley

A Pair of Fujis in Paris

By James Conley

France’s importance in the history of photography cannot be overstated. Some of the most significant documentary images in the history of photography were made in Paris, and it was the home of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Today, the city is full of commercial galleries dedicated to photography. During any given week there are dozens of elaborate exhibitions and public displays of images. Photography is respected as an art, and it is actively promoted. Indeed, France is home to Jean-François Leroy, the founder and sponsor of Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan. Paris is at odds with itself, however. It’s an easy city to shoot, but a frustrating city to shoot in.

~First, the backdrop.~

Paris is divided by the Seine. The right bank is to the north, and the left to the south. The left tends to be rather rich (read: touristy) and the right bank tends to be more artsy (and frequently seedier). The right has interesting places like the medieval-streeted Marais, and the left was Hemingway’s stomping ground. The right is hillier, the left flatter.

Regardless of where you go, though, Paris is a victim/beneficiary of Georges Eugene Haussmann. Until the middle of the 1800’s, Paris had the same structure as it had during the Middle Ages—small, interwoven streets and cramped buildings. In 1794, under the influence of the miasma theory of the day that the tight quarters were the cause of illness, a Commission of Artists came up with a plan for redoing the streets. Nothing happened with the plan until Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became emperor in 1852. He wanted the government to better control a capital where several regimes had been overthrown since 1789, and wanted wide avenues through which to move troops.

Napoleon III tasked Haussmann with reurbanization, and gave him broad powers to implement the plans. Haussmann used that power to seize property, require owners to make changes to building facades, and to completely level and rebuild parts of the city. Haussmann defined the maximum height of buildings, and their features—including balconies and roof pitch—was mandated. Neighboring buildings had to have floors at the same height, as well as matching exterior lines. Quarry stone was mandatory along the avenues. Wide boulevards, landscaped gardens, and monuments were designed to frame France’s imperial history. The plan and its result made the city look like an extensive palace.

What all this means from a photographer’s point of view is that the city provides a fetching backdrop for almost any picture, no matter what part of the city you’re in. It also means that no matter what part of the city you’re in, it runs the risk of looking remarkably like any other part. The buildings are beautiful in their own way, but they lack individuality. It’s as though Disney had the power to reface a major city.

Paris has some of the worst traffic of any major city. Cars are numerous, but mopeds and motorbikes are a close second. They are everywhere. Vehicles clog the streets and they park in any available place. Because of the chaos of so much traffic, Paris has placed a seemingly infinite number of three-foot tall poles to block walkways from vehicle parking. Parking on the streets is relatively unlimited, however, and there is almost no street that doesn’t have cars or mopeds lining it. This means that nearly every street scene will be blocked by either a pole or a vehicle.

Light is also an issue. Paris is a very northerly city. It is on a latitude similar to that of the U.S./Canadian border. In the autumn, this means that the sun is low in the sky, but it’s very bright. Shadows are strong, and highlights are glaring. Dealing with the contrast is not an insignificant challenge. Partly overcast is a friend to the limited dynamic range of a digital sensor.

Most of the traditional sites are worth seeing, even if their inspiration to make images is low. The Eiffel Tower is impressive. The Louvre is stunning. (Outside, at least. I think the Met is better curated, regardless of the difference in volume.) The city’s elaborate gardens are interesting and relatively attractive, if a rigid approach to horticultural design appeals to you. The streets are obtuse and there is no grid, which makes for convenient backdrops. The Latin Quarter and Ile Saint Louis stand out as particularly photogenic. As discussed below, however, many of the sites aren’t accessible to photographers. For example, Sacre Coeur doesn’t allow photography inside, nor does the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. The Louvre, however, does. Most storefront businesses do not allow photography—including of the street. Most people out on the street will wave you off if they see you taking pictures.

~Second, the law.~

Contrary to France’s very welcoming approach to photography as art, it is also the home of two laws which restrict it: Droit d’image and La Loi Vie Privée. Basically, a French citizen can sue a photographer for using any image which includes the citizen or his property in the picture.  So, for example, you see an interesting farmhouse in Versailles. You snap a picture, and then want to use it on a blog which has advertising from which you profit. Unless you have the written permission of the owner of the property, under French law you can’t use the image. And what if the property gets sold later? That’s right—you have to get the new property owner’s permission.

The law against using someone’s likeness commercially is not particularly different from the protection other countries provide: you can’t associate someone with a commercial product without a model release. The French people, however, generally fail to understand that taking pictures of someone in a public space and using it for an artistic or editorial purpose is allowed. The French assume they have the right to interfere with all photography.

This confusion has led many photographers to avoid France, and to not publish their work in France. Whether or not these laws would be enforced against a particular photographer with a particular image, it certainly casts a pall over the desire to make images.

~Third, the people.~

Paris is a busy city. The streets are full of a variety of shops. People live in the city, and despite their cars, they shop very locally. The Haussmann design leaves little interior space for working at home, so people are out and about. Cafe tables are plentiful, and people loiter for hours working or talking. Pedestrian traffic is heavy, as is bicycle and motorized transport. Shops tend to close around 6 p.m., but cafes and restaurants are open later.

Despite (or because of) the number of tourists, people tend to be fairly aware of photographers. More so than in cities like New York, Parisians seem to be constantly on the lookout for someone taking a photo. There are few smiles in Paris, and even fewer when a camera is around. Shopkeepers will confront you if they even see a camera. They’ll also come out of the store if they see you taking pictures in the street. Signs forbidding photography are everywhere.

Outside of stores, the people on the streets are less confrontational, but it’s wise to be aware and not push the issue. It’s best to follow the fancy footwork of Cartier-Bresson and blend blend. He was a master at taking photos fast, with his subjects unaware they were being photographed. Zone focusing and the use of the rear LCD display on cameras so equipped is required practice. Waiting in the right spot for the right time is also handy—people get used to your presence and pay less attention.

~The Fujis~

I took an XE-1 and an X100s to Paris for two weeks. and racked up over 100 miles of walking around the city and its environs. I shot with two lenses on the XE-1: an 8mm Rokinon and 18-55mm Fuji. The X100s has a fixed 23mm. I found the Fuji X cameras to be very adept at the kind of speed required for Parisian street photography. The small bodies go unnoticed, and as mirrorless cameras the Fujis are quiet. The X100s is particularly easy to adjust for zone focusing and is virtually silent. The rangefinder style X series in general are well-suited to be quick to the eye, making stealth shooting easier.

Like any city, the best way to approach Paris as a photographer is to walk. There are opportunities for images on the plentiful buses and metros, but the action (as always) is out on the street. Having lugged 35mm and DSLR equipment for more years than I care to remember, the small and light Fujis are much easier on the shoulder and the back for extensive city walking.

Paris is a great city. The air and the water make delicious pastries and bread. The streets are picturesque, and there are interesting places to see. The art is impressive and ubiquitous. It’s worth a visit to the galleries and museums. But it’s a tough city to work in. The people are not friendly to photographers, and the traffic and poles make it a challenge to find a clean foreground, much less a background. The pollution is horrendous, and the noise is incessant. The most photographed places are the most accessible, which means being original is not just a challenge—it’s risky. Having a street confrontation in a foreign language does not a good trip make. But Paris is worth the challenge, and forewarned is forearmed.

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher






A woman on the Paris Metro reads among a plethora of geometric patterns.






Waiters take a break outside a cafe in Paris.

A Parisian couple has an intimate moment by a window.





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  1. You’re right about the French laws regarding photography. All the same, when I was in Paris (in 2010) I walked around for three days, took hundreds of pictures, and never had anyone object.
    I was using a Panasonic G2, a small, probably amateur-looking camera, and I tried to blend in and work quickly without being sneaky.
    Europeans in general don’t feel the need to smile at you just because you’re there, so they can seem unfriendly to Americans. They’re not.

  2. Love your pictures! I do have one question? why all in B&W? just your artistic preference? I would love to see pretty paris colors

  3. I really appreciate the information about Paris. I love the graphic element and shadows of your 10th photo. Well done

    • Please read some of the comments above. Paris is an easy place to take pictures, and neither the laws nor the population has ever been a problem for me or a number of other people who have commented on this piece; DSLR, small discrete camera, outside shops, inside cafes, anywhere. I have no idea what you have to do to invoke the reactions claimed in this article.

  4. I think it’s your obvious enjoment comes across very strongly, and you clearly had fun with the 8mm!
    One thing I don’t quite understand. You write: “Zone focusing and the use of the rear LCD display on cameras so equipped is required practice.” and then later you say “Quick to the eye……”
    Mostly I like the B&W tonal range you’ve opted for, but I’d have preferred less shadow in the indoor family scene.

  5. Some very good pictures – liked the guy in the park and the caffee scene with the “comedie francaise” sign … made me smile. As for your account on how negative photography is seen, I had so far different experiences, but Parisians are no ‘smilers’ in general so who can tell

    As für Napoleon BONAPARTE – I am very unsure if he was still the ruler in 1848 … as he died in 1821 … it might have been a different Napoleon as you mention later in the text …

  6. Wow. I’ve heard about the photo and copyright laws in France, but I always thought it was an exaggeration. Interesting read. And nonetheless still makes we want to visit and capture hundreds of images. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  7. Very good and informative moreso to someone like me who has
    never been to Paris. Now i know what to bring. Nice photos and thank
    you for sharing. Good job.

  8. I agree completely with absolutic I have taken 9 trips to Paris and never had anyone say not to photograph, I have been turned down when I asked permission in places that it seemed that I should ask first but they were very nice about it. I believe it depend on the gear you are using I always use a M and a very small bag and try to dress like like you belong there . The French are very polite people if you are the same and try to blend in there is usually no problem use common sense. I leave in soon for another two weeks there and can not wait a wonderful place to explore.

  9. Could be maybe more if a photographer looks like a tourist they may be more forgiving. Tourism is no doubt a huge revenue generator in Paris. Someone that looks more like they are a professional probably draws more attention than a touristy type taking snapshots. I think sometimes its nice to have kind of low-key looking smaller cameras, like the X100, Ricoh GR, small m4/3 bodies etc, as they help complete the look of the clueless tourist. Take your photo, get told you can’t shoot, say sorry, you didn’t know, and they let you go about your day while you’ve already got your shot. I doubt it matters how nice and smiling you are though if your setting up a tripod and have a higher end looking camera on it. The part about women photographers getting away with more is likely true though LOL. Even here in America I see that quite a bit, police and other security just seem to take friendlier attitudes towards females.

  10. interesting reading. I enjoyed reading about Hausmann.

    On the other hand my experience is completely opposite of yours. I’ve been to Paris few times, sometimes with cameras as large as Nikon D7000 with 18-105 lens, and I have never experienced anyone telling me not to photograph something, like store displays, etc. People did not seem to care either if they were being photographed. The only place that was weird was inside Louvre actually, with Mona Lisa. Some years it was ok to photograph it, then they made a no photography of Mona Lisa policy when there was a guard specifically looking for you not to take the photograph (that was after Da Vinci Code book came out). And now I understand is back to ok to photograph Mona Lisa.

    I think it also has to do with who the photographer is. If a photographer looks like a creep, people get more worried about their photographs being taken. If a photographer is nice looking smiley person who is dressed like them and acts normally, people maybe more relax. If a a photographer is a woman, even more relaxed. Just my observations.

  11. Nice article. I didn’t know France was so restrictive. Many years ago, driving my car, I got lost in Paris and drove round and round trying to find the A1 North. I saw the back streets and the image of dirty and stinking has stayed with me. I vowed I wouldn’t rush back – nearly 25 years on, I haven’t been back there though I have been back to France.

    Very nice photo’s you’ve included. Well done. I like the escalator one but they’re all very good.

    I have the X100s and didn’t like it at first. Now I love it.

    • Would love to know more of what you didn’t like about the X100S and what changed that. I’m at the not liking stage with my new X100S and am not even very impressed by the (jpeg) image quality. Would like someone to change my mind. Nothing wrong with the feel of the camera and the viewfinder is super. But at the moment I’m wondering whether to sell or buy the 50mm teleconverter !

      • Well, I was going to buy a good 35mm lens for another camera and got the black X100s for about £600 and that has a super lens attached to a camera.
        The initial thing I didn’t like was not being able to zoom – but then realised the X100s can crop lovely if I needed a bit closer.
        Like any camera it’s to get it set up for you to use. I learned how to set the function buttons and work my way quickly to what I wanted and also set the custom slots for portrait, landscape.
        I find the auto focus on the X100s a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it nails the shot and other times it doesn’t! Most of the time I use the fabulous focus peaking and that really is nice to use and spot on.
        I only tend to shoot jpeg – I don’t like PS or LR and the fuji RAW’s are difficult. If you nail the exposure you shouldn’t need RAW and the fuji does very nice jpegs anyway – probably one of the best.
        I love using the different styles like Velvia, B&W, Hi Pro, etc and have a lot of fun with the art filters like dynamic, pop, sepia,hi tone, etc.
        I bought a very high quality UV filter and so don’t use the lens cap, and then bought a low priced metal lens hood. Not having to take the lens cap off all the time utilises the quick start up time of the X100s. You can set the ISO for minimum shutter speed and by pressing the shutter button fully (as opposed to half) very often it will get focus okay – but not always – but then those missed one’s can look arty!
        I like the pocketable size. The APS-C sensor should give you excellent quality and mostly does for me.
        You have to realise better photographers than me have given up their Leica cameras and prefer shooting with the X100s. Even our own Steve Huff says it’s 90% Leica quality for 10% of the price!!!
        Yes, the camera has it’s limitations but a good photographers can work around it and shoot to the cameras strengths. It has panorama, full size settings like 1:1 ; 4:3 ; 16;9 etc which some cameras don’t………and I use these a lot to advantage.
        I was picked as a competition prize to shoot with Fuji ambassador Alex Lambrechts who uses this camera 90% of the time (and he’s used a few other brands) and the other 10% it’s probably the XT-1 when he needs to use a different lens. They’re the same sensor as is the XE2 (which I sold) as I learned to love the X100s. I borrowed Alex’s adapter lens to make the X100s 28mm (instead of 35) and really loved that extra width. I have a cheapy wide lens on order and if I find and I might just be tempted to spend £280 and get the real Fuji one so no loss of quality.
        Oh, the X100s is very good in low light and the built in flash is great for fill. The menu is easy to use and the controls are all to hand.
        To sum up, if you think a top quality 35mm lens can cost well in excess of £500 and some Leica ones are £1000+ then I think of the X100s as a top notch lens with a camera attached. How could I go wrong for what i spent??? If some top photographers love their X100s camera (like Alex – he’s straight and said if Fuji didn’t do the job then he wouldn’t endorse them) and Ken Rockwell, etc., then you have to look at yourself and work through it. I did am realised it was me and not the camera.

        • Many thanks for your detailed reply. Maybe I would be stupid to get rid of it too quickly! But I was shocked when I did a side-by-side comparison on 35mm equivalent settings of the X100s, the leica V-lux 1, and the D-lux 4 (the latter with their small sensor. The V-lux 1 was level pegging, the D-lux 4 was better definition and the macro much better – i.e. sharper and closer.
          And thanks to James C. that we could use his post for this discussion!

        • I did many RAW vs JPEG tests when I got my X100S. I found that the JPEGs are as good (or better) than anything I could do with the RAW files.

          I have the highlights and shadows both set to -1 (minus one) for exceptional DR while maintaining contrast. I also do not see any difference in sharpness between processed RAW and JPEG files.

          I’m busier these days and I don’t enjoy post-processing like I used to. The JPEGs from my X100S have made me a much happier shooter 🙂

          • That’s my finding. The jpegs from the Fuji’s are renowned for being the best from any camera system.

            Unless you are unsure about exposure, ISO, or AWB or want to use an art filter on the computer, you probably won’t regret shooting jpeg or even jpeg+RAW if you want to double check.

            I just wish the auto focus was as good as it’s reputed to be on the XT-1. Sometimes it’s okay and others it’s off. But, at least this Leica competitor has auto focus, and a fab focus peaking system.

          • I use the EVF for high contrast or low light shots and then use the exposure comp dial to adjust. I LOVE the comp dial. I don’t need to take my eye away from the camera and can adjust by feel. Perhaps because of this, I’ve only had to correct exposure in post on 2 or 3 images so far this year. And I find that the JPEGs can handle PP very well.

            The X100S has the best AWB I’ve ever used. And even if it misses, it is easy to correct in post with no loss in IQ. The AWB in the X100S is better than the RAW WB import settings in Aperture 3. Therefore I have fewer corrections to make when I shoot the JPEGs.

            Yeah, I’d like the AF to be faster in low light. But to get around this I just use the EVF and manual focus with peaking. Having practiced, I can usually nail manual focus in one second. The focus peaking shines in low-light.

            Of course, the real magic of the X100/S is unleashed when you start shooting with a manual flash. There are no shutter speed limitations! 1/4000 sync at f5.6, or 1/1000 at f2! It’s crazy awesome.

  12. Some nice images and very interesting read. Certainly paints a different picture of what a photography enthusiast might encounter on a vacation to Paris. I think many of us think it would be this ideal mecca with so much to shoot, and we’d bring every piece of gear we have, tripods etc. Sounds like the reality is that walking around with 2 DSLR’s, a big bag of lenses, and a tripod, would quickly get you ran out of the city.

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