The iconic Mont Saint-Michel…
one of the most special and most beautiful places on earth…
not only a dream travel destination,
but also every photographer’s dream!
Mont Saint-Michel is an absolutely magical place, an icon made famous by the distinctive spires on top of the island’s abbey, and by the dramatic pictures of the abbey surrounded by water, resembling a faraway mysterious medieval castle on a tiny island.
If you have decided to make a trip there, congratulations! You’re sure to have an amazing trip there as I did! Whether you’re traveling from far away like I did (from San Francisco), or from somewhere closer, you’ll want to make sure to plan ahead to be able to capture some memorable and unique pictures for your once-in-a-lifetime trip. Ideally, you’re reading these photo tips before setting your travel dates!
This article covers photography tips for the abbey and island of Mont Saint-Michel from a distance (including the best photo spots!) while my Mont Saint-Michel trip article has more details about visiting the town and abbey and includes photos taken on the island itself.
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Planning Your Trip to Mont Saint-Michel
Some things to consider when planning your trip are the time of year and the tidal calendar. One of the most distinctive and unique images of Mont Saint-Michel is undoubtedly of the abbey being surrounded by water. This, in fact, only happens during high tide days, which revolve around the moon phases. So if this type of picture is important to you, you’ll need to consult tide tables to increase the odds of being able to experience this while you’re there (more below). Otherwise, don’t be surprised to find the abbey surrounded by mud instead!
Another distinctive image is of the abbey and island in the distance with sheep grazing (or with hay bales) in the foreground. In order to take this type of picture, it’s important to identify where to look for them. To take both types of pictures, I recommend that you plan to spend a good amount of time at a distance away from the abbey and island itself.
While we’re happy with the photos that we captured during our trip, there are some things that we wished we knew in advance that would have made our trip easier. Lucky for you, I’m here to share all my photography tips with you! 😊 (All photos on this post were taken by me or my husband Ken.)
One big consideration when planning your trip is the time of year. Early Fall is probably one of the best times to visit, after the Summer high season and before it gets too cold and rainy. Visiting during the Spring before the Summer crowds would also be a good option.
When we visited in mid-September, the weather was very nice, if a bit windy at times. There was some light rain, but for the most part, it was quite pleasant (warm enough for a short sleeve shirt or dress in the afternoons). It does get cold in the evenings and early mornings though, so being prepared is important!
According to the Normandy Tourism Office, the least rainy months are June, July, August, and September. The coldest months are December, January, and February. The Summer months of June, July and August have nice weather, but also large crowds.
High Tide at Mont Saint-Michel and Tide Tables
Mont Saint-Michel looks the most dramatic during high tide days when the abbey appears to be perched on a small island surrounded by water. The tides are governed by the interactions between the sun, moon and earth. High tides occur when the three are in line with each other. The highest tides take place 36 to 48 hours after the full and new moons. High and low tides occur twice a day. Useful tide tables for trip planning can be found here:
The Mont Saint-Michel Tourism Website – there is a downloadable table from this website. High tides are highlighted in yellow and the days in red are the big flood days when the tides are so high that Mont Saint Michel may become a true island, being surrounded by water, with the causeway possibly submerged also.
The Meteo Consult website – this website is in English and has a simplified table showing when the high and low tide times are.
If you want to see the high tide, look for the days with a tidal coefficient over 90. On the days that we were there, the coefficient ranged from 85 to 104.
Note that during periods of high tidal coefficients, access to Mont Saint-Michel, and therefore to the abbey, will be affected for two hours a day, for 3 or 4 days. For more information, please visit the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey’s website.
Also, please note that it’s very dangerous to walk around the island during high tide times. To quote the tourism website: “It is extremely dangerous to stay alone in the Bay or in the area around the Mont Saint-Michel. The walk across the Bay is only allowed in company of certified guides, who you can find on our page Crossing the Bay.”
The Best Mont Saint-Michel Photo Locations
Great Photo Opportunity at the Dam
Since the abbey is so big, you’ll need to photograph it from a distance to capture the entire abbey along with some foreground and some sky. To do this, it’s best to get off at the shuttle stop just before the causeway gate, or park your car in the parking lot next to it. Walk across the street to the dam, which is labeled “Barrage du Mont Saint Michel” on Google Maps, and walk the surrounding areas to look for the best photo opportunities available that day.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go far for a great view of the abbey and island since the dam overlooking the river provides a fantastic viewpoint. It was from this location (point #1 on the map) that we captured the evening photo with the spotlight from the abbey and the photo with the surfer paddling towards the island in the morning (see section “Magical Evening and Morning Photos below). From this location, it’s best to have a zoom lens since the abbey is a distance away.
Photo Opportunities Along the Causeway and from the Island
To take closer-up photos of the abbey, there are many opportunities along the 1.5-mile causeway leading to the island and abbey from the parking lot. Some of the photos on this page were taken from approximately points #3 and #4.
The causeway can be walked at all times of the day, but cars are not allowed on the causeway and the island is only accessible via the free shuttle, walking or via a horse-drawn carriage. If there is some water surrounding the island, it may be possible to get photos with a reflection of the abbey in the water.
Searching for Grazing Sheep and Hay Bales
Based on pictures that I had seen on Pinterest and Instagram, I knew that the places to look for grazing sheep and hay bales would be somewhat close to the island but not on the island itself.
Some people have reported seeing sheep close to the paths highlighted in orange. Based on my observations, the best way to get to these areas is to simply walk from the parking lot across the dam or along the causeway. From these areas, it should be possible to spot whether there are any sheep out grazing that day. We didn’t see any on our first day, but we saw a lot of them from point #2 on the second day.
Please note that there is a barbed-wire fence surrounding the sheep in that area. We chose to take our photos without crossing the fence, but while we were there, at least two other small groups of people did jump over the low fence for photos. Others have reported being able to walk further down that field or the path highlighted in orange for closer up photos with the grazing sheep; however, we did not go that far down and cannot confirm. I believe we started taking photos from around point #2 and walked in a bit, but I’m not certain how far down we walked until we encountered the fence.
Based on photos and reports that I have seen, there are also grazing sheep and hay bales to the east of the causeway, along the path highlighted in orange. However, we didn’t see any sheep in that area during our stay, so the presence and location of sheep will just depend on the day that you are there.
I believe we arrived at the fields where we saw the grazing sheep around 4:30 pm in September, just before the evening golden hour.
Have Multiple Camera Lens and Tripod Ready
To make the most of your photo shoot during your once-in-a-lifetime trip to this amazing place, I recommend that you prepare ahead of time in terms of camera equipment and timing. For photos from point #2, it’s good to have a zoom lens or better yet, have multiple lens ready to be able to take photos at different focal lengths. The photo above with the grazing sheep in front of the abbey was taken with a focal length of 135 mm. The photo with me and the grazing sheep and the abbey in the background (see above) was taken with a focal length of 62 mm. If you’re taking pictures closer to the island, or on the island itself, you’ll need a wide-angle lens.
I definitely recommend bringing a sturdy tripod such as a Manfrotto tripod if you plan to take pictures during the golden hour and beyond (and you definitely should!) – first because evening pictures are always better and more stable with a tripod especially for longer exposures, and second because it can get pretty windy there in the evenings. It’s also very useful to have an L bracket attached to your camera to be able to take both horizontal and vertical pictures quickly without having to recompose while using a tripod.
Please note that the ground in the fields is uneven and you’ll want to bring some sturdy shoes as well. It did rain a bit while we were there in September, so bring your waterproof shoes!
Magical Evening and Morning Photos
Evenings and mornings are wonderful times to take photos at Mont Saint-Michel. Taking photos here during the evening golden hour before sunset is absolutely magical, with the chance of a colorful sky and favorable lighting. We often use weather and photography apps such as Sun Surveyor to check sunset and golden hour times and also for sun and moon positions.
In the evenings, from sundown to midnight, the abbey is lit up and it’s a spectacular sight on a clear night. You’ve traveled this far, why not stay out a bit later to be able to capture this unique sight?
In order to take sharp evening pictures, a tripod and a longer exposure time are essential. We used our sturdy Manfrotto tripod with an L bracket attachment during our evening photo sessions. In addition, we had to weigh the tripod down with our camera backpack since it was so windy in the evening, and because there can be a fair amount of shakes from pedestrians on the walkway. Fortunately, our tripod has a hook between the legs for just this purpose!
On our first evening there, we were taking pictures of the abbey with the spotlight from the dam (photo point #1) at around 9 pm when a bright cloud suddenly appeared over the lit-up abbey. It created such an amazing cinematic effect that we snapped away continuously until the cloud dispersed, ecstatic that we were able to capture such a magical sight!
Mornings are a great time to take photos with the island and abbey often partially covered in fog. The mist creates an almost mystical effect that adds to the beauty and drama. We were surprised to see a few surfers there in the morning, so this is another sight only possible during high tide! What an amazing experience it must be for the surfers as well!
For the morning picture with the paddling surfer above, we used a 135 mm focal length. This picture was taken at around 8:30 am after we spotted some people walking past our hotel window with surfboards and decided to follow them!
Plan for Dinner in Advance!
One thing that we wish we knew in advance is that all restaurants in the area open around 6 pm and close at 9 pm. If you plan to be taking photos during those times, be sure to pack food from a cafe or market ahead of time!
On our first evening there, we were so caught up taking pictures that all the restaurants were closed by the time we finished! It was around 9:30 pm and we didn’t realize that there would be absolutely no dining options available at that time and that no markets would be open either. The helpful front desk staff at our hotel told us that we could drive to the next town about 15 minutes away for some restaurants and small markets that close later. We ended up buying some items at a small market there for our dinner.
During our trip, we also grabbed sandwiches and other food from the Brioche Dorée bakery/cafe several times for a quick lunch or for a light dinner later on. It’s conveniently located next to a shuttle stop and a gift shop and is across the street from our hotel, the Hôtel Mercure Mont-Saint-Michel.
Camera Gear You Should Bring to Mont saint-Michel
A high resolution camera. I highly recommend a full-frame camera so that you can capture high resolution images that are much are editable than phone cameras or regular DSLR cameras, especially evening pictures! We love our Nikon D750 (new model D850 here), one of the most affordable full-frame cameras on the market.
A zoom lens. We were glad to have our Nikon 28-300 mm lens for the pictures with the island and Abbey in the background.
A wide-angle lens for pictures closer to the Abbey. A phone camera may work for daytime pictures but a DSLR is much better for evening pictures!
A camera rain cover in case of rain, which is common there! It’s an inexpensive and lightweight thing to carry around.
A sturdy tripod with a hook between the legs (it can get pretty windy there!). We brought our Manfrotto tripod and were really glad we did.
An L bracket attachment for your camera so that you can switch between horizontal and vertical shots quickly without losing your composition with a tripod. We use this a lot!
Multiple camera batteries (we brought all 5 of ours).
- Portable battery charger for your phone if you plan to take lots of pictures or videos with your phone like I did! I like this one from Amazon.
Additional Photography Tips
Walk the areas mentioned above to scout out the photography opportunities available the day(s) that you are there. Depending on the time, weather and season, different conditions and opportunities will be available and may not be the same as what we encountered.
In order to capture both evening and daytime photos and also have time to visit the island and abbey, I highly recommend at least an overnight stay. We stayed for two nights and were happy that we did.
Consider staying in one of the hotels on the mainland close to the dam and parking lot if you plan to take both morning and evening photos and from different locations. This makes it convenient to go back and forth between the different locations and your hotel. We stayed at the Hôtel Mercure Mont-Saint-Michel and were very satisfied with the location, rooms and service. Their morning buffet breakfast was also very convenient.
Mont Saint-Michel Travel Tips
When to Visit
Mont Saint-Michel is a very popular destination! For the best weather and the least crowds, try to visit in the Fall or Spring for best weather and less crowds. When you get there, visit the Abbey early in the morning or in the evening for much less crowds. The free shuttle runs from 7:30 am to midnight.
Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours visiting the island and abbey, plus additional time away from the island if you’d like to take pictures with the island and abbey in the background.
Food and Souvenirs
Food and souvenirs on the island are very expensive – I recommend getting both in the town instead. There’s a gift shop called Les Galeries Du Mont-Saint Michel on Route du Mont St Michel which is next to a shuttle stop that has several types of Normandy butter cookies that are quite good! It’s next to the Brioche Dorée cafe, which is very convenient for a quick lunch or snack.
What Else to Pack
Warm coat for cold nights and mornings while you’re out getting your amazing shots. Waterproof is a plus in case of rain.
Comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting dirty as you search for photo spots on dirt and grass. Waterproof is a plus. My favorite waterproof hiking boots are these from Keen and these from Timberland.
A multi-outlet travel adapter because hotels never seem to have enough electrical outlets to recharge all our camera batteries and phones, etc.
If you’re driving there, I highly recommend using a GPS car navigation system instead of relying on cellular data for directions. We bring our Garmin Nuvi with a car mount with us on all our foreign country road trips! (maps for Europe can be purchased and downloaded)
My Normandy Travel posts
Make sure to check out the other posts from my Normandy travel series!
The Travel Essentials I Bring on Every Trip
Travel adapter – after trying a ton of different options, this is my favorite one that includes multiple outlets for all my electronics.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes – I’ve used these for years now and love that they’re so well made and durable.
Amazon Kindle – I never go on any trip without my Kindle – it helps my flight anxiety so much, and it’s so much smaller and lighter than books!
Mini travel iron – this tiny version works great and takes up so little room. It’s a life saver for a dress lover like me.
All of these are available with Amazon Prime’s super fast shipping! Sign up for a 30-day free trial if you haven’t tried it yet. It has saved me sooo many times when I’m doing last minute packing and realized I need something asap!
My Photography Gear
I love the art of photography and I love being able to capture the beauty from my travels both near and far. Here’s a quick list of the equipment that we used for this photo shoot:
Nikon D750 – a fantastic full-frame camera and one of the most economical ones on the market today.
Nikon 24-70 mm lens – super sharp and versatile lens, if a bit heavy.
Nikon 28-300 mm lens – we knew we would need a zoom lens for this location!
iPhone – A great wide-angle camera to complement the 50 mm lens I usually use.
Manfrotto tripod – we brought our sturdy Manfrotto tripod for the windy conditions here and were so glad we did! We weighed it down with a backpack for the evening pictures when it was quite windy.
If you found this article helpful, please pin, share or leave a comment below! Thank you and I hope you have an amazing trip there if you have one planned! ❤️
All photos on this page are taken by me and my husband. All rights reserved.