10 tips for photographing the Mont St. Michel
I was lucky with the weather, the tides and much else besides, meaning that I too came away with great images. It’s so beautiful there that it’s hard not to do so!
I hope my images will inspire you to do likewise. To improve your chances of success, here are my tips for making the most of your visit.
1. Shoot at sunset
It’s an oft-quoted adage that landscapes always look at their best at golden hour (sunrise and sunset) but nonetheless true. Here, the last rays of evening sunshine are illuminating the west side:
The estuary is also worth shooting while you’re there:
And in the evening, there’s the added bonus that the Mont is floodlit between dusk and midnight, which makes the view even more special:
If you arrive after 7pm, parking is free (use of the shuttle bus to the Mont is also free).
2. Come back before sunrise
At this time of day, because regular tourists are either still in bed or having breakfast, you’ll have the Mont largely to yourself. Unfortunately, on the day I visited (and probably on most days), several delivery vehicles were parked near the entrance:
Quite a while with the clone stamp and other tools in Photoshop successfully removed them:
If you get a largely cloudless sky at sunrise, as I did, the rising sun will turn the buildings on the east side a lovely honey colour for half an hour or so:
Parking first thing in the morning is €4.30 for two hours, versus €6.30 for two hours after 11.30am.
3. Aim for low tide
When the sea recedes miles away, you get a real sense of the size of the estuary and a wider choice of vantage points. At high tide, you’ll get great reflections of the Mont in the water around it, but you’ll be restricted to the bridge that replaced the old causeway and the concrete apron at the end of it.
4. Choose the right time of year
I’d say that March or September, around the spring and autumn equinoxes, are the best time of year to visit and get great photos. At the height of summer, the Mont is over-run with tourists during the day and sunrise is much earlier than 7.30, when the shuttle buses start running. Conversely, in winter, while there are fewer tourists overall, they will still be around at sunset during late afternoon. The weather is also likely to be worse, with fog and damp conditions in the estuary more likely.
5. Explore the Mont while you’re there
Even though the view of it is better than the view from it, most people do go there to do just that and it’s worth climbing at least part-way. Lack of time meant I didn’t climb all the way up to the Abbey, but here’s a shot of the main street:
Here’s a view from the ramparts:
And this is the post office just inside the main gate:
6. Work the angles (a little)
If you’re wearing stout shoes, I found that it’s possible to walk out a few yards onto the mudflats on the west side of the bridge. Note that we’re talking about mud here – fine, grey, alluvial estuary mud – rather than coarse beach sand. It squelched a little bit for me, but my feet didn’t sink into it. And as luck would have it, there was a dinghy laid up on the mud, lending foreground interest to some of my shots:
7. Don’t take stupid risks
Elsewhere, the mud was deeper, wetter and more treacherous. Please heed local warnings and stay out of it. In particular, don’t be tempted to stride out into the estuary on the north side of the Mont. You don’t want to be that person the coastguard has to rescue!
8. Go wide
In terms of lens choice, this is an occasion when a wide angle is ideal. I’ve got Canon’s 17-40mm F4 L. Attached to my Canon 5D Mark ii, I found that this lens was wide enough to fit the whole of the Mont in the frame when shot from where the bridge meets the apron:
From further back along the bridge, my 24-105mm F4 L worked fine:
9. When shooting at midday
Perhaps you’re on a coach tour and can’t choose when to visit. If so, my advice would be to bring a lightweight tripod, a timer and a ND filter to blur the sky (ND 4 or 10 in strength depending on the time of year), then go black-and-white with your images in post-production for the fine-art look:
10. Stay at the Mercure
Perhaps my only regret was my choice of hotel. Having last visited the Mont nearly 20 years ago, I hadn’t realized just how much it has been redeveloped over the past few years. The old causeway, with its car park that stretched all the way into the estuary, has gone completely – replaced with a huge onshore car park from which you catch a free shuttle bus to the Mont:
There’s now a little holiday village, with hotels, restaurants and a gift shop or two, where you reached the coast. Whereas Rachel and I stayed at the Ibis near Avranches for £65, for another £10 or so, we could have stayed on-site. This would have saved me two eight-mile journeys.
Bonus tip: Time your visit to coincide with the wine fairs at major hypermarkets
Each Spring and Autumn, the likes of Auchan and E. Leclerc hold wine sales with some great offers. This for me is another good reason to visit at these times. Even with the fall in the value of sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote, their deals are still good value compared with the price of wine in English supermarkets.