I’m not saying I’m old. I’m just too old to be making mistakes like this. I have to admit, it's very humbling â” no actually, it's worse than that â” it's embarrassing and a bit humiliating to be my age and still having to learn life lessons I should have learned long ago.
For the love of Paris
You only get to visit a city like Paris so many times in your lifetime. It's more than a treat. It's a privilege. A gift. A blessing. Every time I'm there, I just can't believe I'm really there. It's that kind of place.
It was my 9-year-old daughter's first visit, and my son's first since he was six (he's 18 now and off to college in the fall), and we had an absolutely marvelous time. Beautiful weather. Great meals. Lots of love and laughter the entire trip, and being in a city like Paris with my beautiful wife, and surrounded by our kids â” well, it's just hard to describe the feeling. The trip was everything I hoped it would beâ¦with one small exception (and that's what this story is about).
A unique opportunity for a shoot
I did lots of research before the trip, and I hoped to shoot in one special place while I was there â” one that would hopefully be a part of a photography "coffee table" book I've been working on for a while called "The Great Indoors." It's a book that celebrates beautiful classic interior spaces around the world. It's about 70-80% complete, so it's still a "work in progress," and it includes everything from concert halls to libraries; from theaters to cathedrals; museums, restaurants, palaces, mosques, hotel lobbies, even a train station or two â” gorgeous interior spaces from around the world, presented in hard cover coffee-table book format (a printed proof of which I showed at my seminar in London last week).
One of the things I’ve done in the book is to try and present the interiors without any tourists in the scene, which I was able to do in most cases with special permission from the location by shooting before or after hours, but in one or two cases there are just a few people in the scene at the time, but in those cases it's so few that it adds to the image, rather than taking away.
I've been very fortunate to shoot a number of interiors in France, including Versailles, the church of St. Sulpice; the interior of Le Train Bleu, Notre Dame, and many others but another place I've wanted to shoot for a while is the incredibly beautiful Reading Room of the Biblioth¨que nationale de France (the French national library). I reached out to my Parisian friend Serge Ramelli, who contacted the library and got the ball rolling for me, and before I left for Paris, I had the shoot all set up â” Friday morning between 9am and 10am before the library opened, so I could use a tripod and shoot it bathed in beautiful morning light.
I had to sign a contract beforehand about how the images would be used, and there was a fee for doing a shoot like this, but it was surprisingly reasonable and absolutely well worth it. Plus, the woman I was working with in the photo department at the Biblioth¨que nationale de France was a delight, and it was all coming together.
On a side note â” I tired to arrange a similar shoot while in England earlier in the week, and my buddies over there were doing some legwork for me in advance, but we learned that the fee for shooting in this location was nearly FIVE times what it was in France. I still considered it on some level until I got to the part where they retained ALL the copyrights to my images, so I bailed on that shoot altogether. It's too bad â” it would have made a wonderful addition to the book.
Anyway, I was psyched for this shoot for all sorts of reasons â” I would get up while the family was still sleeping, do the shoot, and I'd still be back in time to join them for for the incredible French breakfast served each morning at our hotel. we'd head out for a day of exploring Paris (our three days there included a day trip to Paris Disneyland â” we hadn’t mentioned Disneyland Paris to our 9-year-old daughter but she saw a poster for it in the train station andâ¦wellâ¦you just can't get that close to a Disneyland and tell your 9-year-old she can't visit "the most magical place on earth”). One day, when she’s all grown up, it will hit her that we actually left Paris, the City of Light, to take a train trip to Disneyland Paris just for her, and she'll give us the biggest hug ever, and it will have all been worth it! (Of course, we got many hugs that day, so I guess she kind of paid it forward).
Preparing the gear for the shoot
The night before the shoot I stayed up late; charged the batteries, backed up my cards, took extra cards; made sure everything was in place for the big shoot. I brought extra gear just for this shoot, including the new Canon 11-24mm f/4 (I asked to extend the loaner from Canon for this trip), and my Canon Fisheye zoom, as well as my casual walk around lens, a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5 to f/6.3, and my new favorite travel tripod from 3-Legged Thing (so sturdy yet very lightweight). I set my alarm early, and I was up and ready to go. I went back to the instruction email from the Library to confirm the address, and according to Google Maps, the Library was 12 minutes away by taxi, so I was in the hotel lobby at 8:30 for my quick ride to the Library, but there were no taxis to be found. The hotel tried calling a taxi company and they said "We'll call you back." Ack! They finally did call back, but it took about 10 minutes for the taxi to arrive.
Well, as luck would have it, there was much more traffic than the taxi driver or I had expected, and after leaving late, and encountering lots of traffic, I arrived about 6 minutes late. Not good. Worse yet, as it turned out I was on the other side of the huge complex from where the entrance was, and the signs were in French but I finally found someone to point me in the right direction. Once at the main entrance, I had to go through security (including showing my contract so they would let me in with my "professional gear" as the guard called it), and then getting my gear x-rayed as well, and long story short, when I got through all that and asked for my contact at the information desk, I was already about 15 minutes late, and fairly stressed. I still have 45 minutes for the shoot, so I’m still OK â” that’s all the time I need.
The woman at the desk was very helpful (and spoke very good English) and tried to ring my contact several times, but then while she was trying to track her down, I got an email from my contact asking where I was (since I was late), and letting me know she was waiting in the garden. When I told the woman at the desk that she was waiting in the garden, she looked kind of puzzled. "The garden?" Then I showed her the email, and she looked surprised and upset.
This is where things got sticky
She said, "Oh no. You're at the wrong location,” and my heart began to sink. As it turns out there are two locations for the French National Library, and the Reading Room (the place I wanted to shoot) is on the other side of town. In my contact's email she told me which entrance she would be at â” she even gave me the exact street entrance where she'd be at, but I assumed (there's that word â” here we go), that the entrance she was talking about was at that main location. Sadly, it was not. Well, I was freaking out and I told the woman at the desk I would just jump in a taxi and race there, but she told me â” it's very hard to find a taxi there (which turned out to be the understatement of the year. She should have said "nearly impossible).
Panic sets inâ¦
I looked back in that original email and saw my contact had left her cell number, and when she answered I told her my mistake â” I apologized profusely and told her I would jump in a taxi and be there right away. But she told me that with morning rush-hour traffic, I was at least 25 minutes away (maybe more), and she had to return to her home office (which ironically is where I was calling her from), so she was very apologetic, but my shoot was now cancelled â” I would not be able to shoot the Reading Room. She had made the trip all the way to this other location just to meet me for this shoot â” she went way out of her way just to make all this happen for me, and I totally blew it. I was so disappointed, frustrated, mad, and justâ¦arrrgggghhh!
So, whose fault was this really?
Absolutely, positively 100% â” it was all my fault. I could give you reasons it happened, from me not picking up in her email that the address was different than the one in her email signature, or that if I had shown the taxi driver her short email with two different addresses, he would have told me they were at two different locations. Then, of course, as it turned out he dropped me off blocks from the entrance which didn't help, but at the end of the day, what killed my shoot was simply bad planning on my part by not giving myself enough time for anything to go wrong. If all of those things had happened but I had been there 30 minutes early, instead of 15 minutes late, I still would have had enough built-in extra time to get to the other location and still do the shoot. But since I was late, time was stacked against me from the start. My fault. No one else to blame. Period.
I know this stuff. Well, I should know this stuff.
Of course, I know to be at any shoot early, but my plan of being there 15-minutes early is a "best case scenario" plan and doesn't really allow for anything to go wrong along the way. This one really smarted, and when I walked out of the building, and I'm standing there trying to hail a taxi where there are no taxis (I finally got an Uber driver, but it was a loooonnngggg wait), I felt just as foolish as I could be. This is the type of stuff a kid does â” not someone my age.
I was so disappointed in myself â” I still am, but once I got back to the hotel; told the story to my very sympathetic wife (who totally resisted the urge for a well deserved "I told you so"), and my two awesome kids with big smiles and hugs, everything quickly came into perspective. I missed one shoot, but I'm in Paris, with my kids, my wonderful wife, it's a beautiful day outside, and I can smell the fresh baked baguettes. The rest of the day was immeasurably better, and I learned a valuable lesson I should have learned a long time ago. So, the shoot was a bust, but overall, I'd say the day was a roaring success!
Lots of other shots I actually did get, here tomorrow
I'm putting a few of my favorites together for tomorrow, and I do have a few stories and tips to share here with you here as well. Hope you'll stop by then. By the way â” stop by early â” I've learned that really makes a difference. ;-)
Merci mes amis,