Why The Sacre Couer in Paris Makes a Dramatic Photo Shoot

Paris is an amazing city full of different cultures, historic sites, great food and thousands of tourists taking photos. Capturing images of Paris churches feels like an exercise in creating cliches, there are so many of them. This is particularly true of the Sacre Couer, loved by tourists and photographers for its uniquely photogenic location. But it is no accident that the basilica strikes an impressive pose across the city.

The Sacre Couer striking a pose among images of Paris churches

Many of the tourists who flock to take pictures of the Sacre Couer might be surprised to learn why the basilica makes such a classic photo opportunity. It’s not an accident that the Sacre Couer stands out above the many other churches and monuments of Paris. The famous basilica was intended to stamp religious authority firmly in the city.

In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War precipitated the uprising of the Paris Commune after Germany besieged and then captured Paris. Many French conservatives saw this time (also known as the Second Empire) as a period of gross excess and moral decline. The streets of Montmartre exemplified this with a particularly bohemian community. After the Paris Commune was defeated the church wanted to reassert itself as the overall authority in Paris and subsequently conceived and created the Sacre Couer.

Built on the city’s highest, most commanding point, the basilica lies directly above the gypsum mines where many Communards died, having been sealed in by the French army. The Sacre Couer stands as a monument to the power of the church and as a message to those who would change the status quo. Ironically, although the construction started in 1875 it was not completed until 1914, the year in which World War One began and an event that would ultimately change the course of established order for good.

And so, when you stand at the foot of Montmartre and point your camera at that commanding view, remember that there are darker, deeper reasons why your photo of the Sacre Couer stands out from other images of Paris churches.

Diner and a photo in Montmartre

When I took this photograph I had been walking through Paris all day, reacquainting myself with some of the more familiar locations and taking pictures. I met up with the rest of the family near the Abbesses metro station where we ate a great dinner at one of the numerous street restaurants. After dinner we walked the short distance to the gardens at the bottom of the butte that the Sacre Couer sits on. By now the darkness was descending and gardens closing. I used the gates as a makeshift tripod and took the shots that I used for the image above. For me the resulting image has a wonderful feel to it. The detail of the stonework on the Sacre Coeur contrasts nicely against the heavy cloud and blue-purple sky.

Photographic Details

The image is a three exposure HDR image taken at -2, O and 2 intervals on my Pentax K-r. Using Photomatix for the basic HDR effect the image was cleaned up using Adobe Lightroom.

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