How I Got Paid to Photograph Paris

A freelance opportunity to photograph Paris presented itself over drinks at a cocktail party.

The president of a small publishing company complained to me about a freelance photographer who did not obtain shots needed to complete a French language textbook. The project deadline was fast approaching.

I asked what was required.

Images of French life and culture, I was told. A dream assignment. As a keen amateur photographer with designs on turning it into a career, I offered to take on the job.

Two days later, I received the actual shooting list of 200 images and a check for $5,000—half the fee upfront to cover my travel expenses, and any other costs required to obtain the shots, like hiring an assistant.

Through a friend who worked in France, I secured an experienced bilingual assistant named Robert, who helped arrange some of the shooting dates and scoped sites in advance of my arrival.

Robert managed crowds and moved equipment when we shot artists at their easels at Montmartre. I captured the grandeur of ecclesiastical architecture from the steps of Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame at the right time of day. Robert arranged dates and permissions for shots in schools, at kids’ football events, libraries, and museums.

We ate gourmet meals after we photographed food in fine restaurants and in open markets.

It wasn’t all easy. It was cold photographing the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Musee D’Orsay during early morning hours. Capturing shots of the high speed TGV Trains in Gare Montparnasse was challenging at rush hour. We climbed aboard to take interior shots…and minutes later found ourselves in Bordeaux!

Some items on the Shooting List presented challenges. The phrase, “shoot portraits of street walkers at work” seems an amusing and easy task on the printed page…but wasn’t so easy to actually capture at night, when that arrondissement was unsafe. “Managers” for Ladies of the Night wanted payment, for themselves as well as for the “ladies.”

Back at home, the first Parisian assignment led to photography sales in other industries. Pictures of Gothic and Romanesque doorways shot for my own enjoyment were purchased by a local Villa Rental Company for a marketing campaign. The same villa company later hired me to shoot images of villas in Italy.

Luxury residence designers purchased my Parisian architectural images to use as fine art to decorate sample homes and corporate offices.

Three months after the Paris shoot, I was in South Africa photographing game reserves near world class golf courses. My photos of Dutch colonial architecture, vineyards in Stellenbosch, blooming botanicals along the Garden Route, and Table Mountain emerging from fog in Cape Town were subsequently purchased by travel agencies, designers, and publishers.

With a portfolio that included shots of Paris and the Loire, the American West, South Africa, and Italy, I quit my full-time job and launched a new business…and a new lifestyle.

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