Ah Paris. Our favorite destination. It had been three years since we last visited, so Anne and I decided to return recently for a week-long stay. Remembering the beautiful light one gets in Paris during the fall, I decided to take along some serious camera gear. By serious I mean my 600 mm F5.6 Nikon lens, which is not something I normally haul around on vacation because of its considerable size. Bringing the 600 meant I had to include a tripod, so this was growing into a significant commitment. But, I was up for it.

It rained much of the first few days so I left my cameras in the hotel while we visited the Musée d'Orsay and Musée Rodin, among others. Finally, about five days into our trip the sun came out and I headed down the hill to the Ile de la Cité to see what I could find. Looking across the Pont Louis Philippe and back up the hill there was a very nice view of the Panthéon rising up out of the Latin Quartier. I took off my backpack and began to set up the 600 on my tripod. I had just started when two gendarmes voiced their objections: (all of this in French of course):

"I'm sorry monsieur but you can't use that tripod here."


"In Paris, you cannot use a tripod without a permit."

"A permit? I need a permit to use a tripod?"

"Mais oui."


"Because you are a professional"

"But these pictures are for personal use."

"Non, you must have autorisation."

"Where do I get that?"

"From the Mairie de Paris"

"And where is that?"

"C'est très simple" as they gestured emphatically in the general direction of the Paris City Hall.

Feeling a little too intimidated to take on the Paris bureaucracy, I packed up my gear and decided to shoot without the tripod for the rest of the day. The following morning, in a different Arrondissement, and later in the Cimetière du Montparnasse (currently home to Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras and Jean-Paul Sartre) I risked the tripod again. Busted both times.

So that afternoon I headed down to the Mairie de Paris to see about getting a tripod permit, thinking it couldn't be that difficult. First I try the main entrance in the Place de L'Hôtel de Ville, but the guards send me around the block to the rear of the building. I tell the rear guard that I am trying to get a tripod permit and he informs me I need to see one Mme. Brauner.

"Just through this courtyard, yes that way, make a left, then a right, take the "F" ascenseur (elevator) and the "J" escalier (staircase) to the 5th floor, Room 531."

While I never did find "F" or "J", I somehow made my way up to the 5th floor, however, Room 531 was nowhere to be found. Realizing I was probably in the wrong wing (thinking all the while that, short of the Louvre, the Mairie must be the largest building in Paris), I began to ask anyone who would listen how to find Room 531. After a few mis-starts, a man took pity and escorted me to the hidden office. Upon asking for Mme Brauner I am told (by two very severe women) that I cannot see her.

"You must write her a letter."

"But I am in a hurry, I need a permit for today."

"Then you may send her a fax detailing when and where (the exact corner) you want to use a tripod and explaining what you are planning to photograph and why."

"But I am a tourist; I want to photograph everything, not just one subject on a certain corner. Can't I just see her for a moment and explain this."

"Non, you must apply in writing."

We went back and forth for some minutes before, in a final bid to get rid of me, they call in a man from another office, explaining to him what I need. He then asks me to follow him. We traverse the now familiar halls of the 5th floor once again, when abruptly he tells me to take this ascenseur down to the 1st floor, go this way and that and I will find what I need. I ask him if that's where I can get a permit for a tripod and says,


Clearly he didn't have any idea what I was trying to do, and by now, I didn't have much clarity myself, but off I went once again in search of the seemingly impossible. For another hour I dragged myself (and 30-plus pounds of camera gear) up and down stairs and through the corridors of Parisian bureaucracy. Of course all conversations were in take-no-prisoners-rapid-fire French (mine is not very good even at tourist speed). After being bounced from department to department, I finally found myself in the office/studio of the city's municipal photographers where a very nice young woman, puffing on her Gauloise, said she would try and help. After a series of phone conversations (each one telling her that "non, this was not the correct department") she spoke with someone in the Préfecture de Police who informed her that a permit was no longer required to use a tripod.

"Great" I said, "can I get a letter from someone?"

"Non, they will not give you a letter."

"But who will tell the gendarmes in the streets?

"Oh, they already know it."

"No they don't because they keep stopping me."

"You must stand up for your rights and convince them."

I am just leaving, defeated, when a young man walks in. After a brief conference with Mlle. Gauloise, he reaches into his desk, pulls out a letter on official letterhead detailing (en français of course) the rules for using a tripod in the city of Paris. I finally depart the ancient Mairie, triumphantly carrying a copy of the letter safely tucked into my passport. A quick stop at the Paris version of Kinko's for a dozen copies and I head back to my hotel feeling triumphant and more than just a little smug.

The next morning with copies of my cherished document packed into each of the many pockets of my photo vest, I head out into the City of Light hoping some gendarme will be foolish enough to challenge me. I catch the Metro at Cardinal Lemoine and after changing at Sévres-Babylone I arrive at Abbesse, the nearest Metro stop to my destination, the Cimetière de Montmartre (Edgar Degas and François Truffaut). Montmarte is a particularly beautiful cemetery because, in addition to its large and plentiful trees, the grounds are spread across a hillside. This frequent change of elevation makes for wonderful vantage points.

As soon as I passed through the gates I saw the perfect shot: two women sitting on a bench at the end of a long row of trees. I'd just begun to set up my tripod when:

"I'm sorry monsieur but you can't use that tripod here."

"Why not?"

"In Paris, one can't use a tripod without a permit."

"Yes I can!"

"No, you cannot."

"Yes I can, I have a letter here that says it's OK."

"You do?"

"Mais oui."

"Let me see it please"

I quickly pull out my document. As he reads the letter I am debating whether to continue setting up my shot for fear it will disappear any second. I decide I'd best wait and see what he says.

"Ohhh, see here, this does not apply to cemeteries."

"It doesn't? Show me."

Whereupon he points to the fine print at the end of the letter which provides certain exclusions, including, but not limited to "parcs et jardins, cimetières, canaux, berges de la Seine, ...Jardin des Plantes, des Tuileries, du Luxembourg, du Palais Royal et le Musée du Louvre, etc." -- in other words, half of Paris. For these locations you need the specific permission of the person in charge of that site.

"Bon, where's the person in charge of Cimetière de Montmartre?"

"He's at lunch."

"When will he be back?"

"In an hour or so, you can wait for him in the office waiting room."

"Why don't I continue taking photos for another hour, without my tripod of course, and then speak with him after he returns."

"No, you cannot take any photos."

"Un moment s'il vous plais, doesn't this letter say I only need to get permission to use a tripod? Where does it say I need permission just to take photographs?"

We argued back and forth, with me pointing to another tourist with a camera and asking if he had permission.


"Why can he take pictures and I cannot?"

"Because you are a professional."

"I am a professional because I have a tripod? These photos I'm taking are for personal use."

He was all for locking me up but I finally convinced him to ask his supervisor who said of course I could take photos, I just couldn't use a tripod without permission of the head of the cimetière, who of course wouldn't really be back from lunch for hours. After all, this is Paris and the Parisians have their own ways of doing things. That's one reason we love them so much.


614 Twelfth Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98102 USA
+1 206.324.7530 voice | +1 206.324.7326 fax | Contact Us
Contents of this and all associated pages © CurrentRutledge. | Web Builder