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How to Photograph the Essence of Sacred Sites

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How to Photograph the Essence Of Sacred Sites

Sacred sites include religious art and architecture. They are an amazing way to get to know people’s beliefs and spiritual traditions. Following civilizations along their way, sacred sites were an important part of history too. People started wars for religious reasons, countries and civilizations disappeared, books were burnt, and people were killed. On the other side, spiritual beliefs brought people together and built communities. They supported arts and education, offered protection in hard times, and built impressive architectural sites. Photographing sacred sites means treating spiritual beliefs with respect, even if they aren’t your beliefs. It means understanding that despite your opinion these places are holy for the ones who built them. Sacred sites are always subject to rules and restrictions. But they are also a powerful source of meaningful and artistic features. Here are some advice to help you master the art of photographing sacred sites.

Be Respectful

Many sacred sites are museums or places preserved only for their past significance. You can find them in travel guides and even book tickets in advance. They are ancient places, very hard to maintain and restore. These places have a special regime, sometimes just touching the walls or using the flash can damage them. Also, they can be so notorious that they are always full of tourists. For example, the Temple of Athena from the Acropolis of Athens, once a sacred place dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, is today part of a very popular outdoor museum. Follow all the instructions you receive at the entrance and try to plan a visit during week days or at the beginning of the visiting hours.

But most of the sacred sites you may find are still used for religious services. They are churches, mosques, synagogues, monasteries, temples, and so on. You can find them all around the world and even if you are there only for taking pictures, it’s essential to respect the local rules. In some places taking pictures is forbidden and you have to settle for photographing just the exterior. In other places, women are not allowed inside, or you have to wear a specific type of clothes, or take off your shoes. It doesn’t matter if you agree or understand the rules. Holy places must be respected with all their restrictions.

Learn to Photograph in Low Light Conditions

Most of the time, the interiors of sacred sites are amazingly decorated with specific art. Paintings, mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures invite you to photograph them. The problem is always the same: the light. Photographing interiors in these places is difficult. Low light conditions combined with an interdiction in using the flash and no space for a tripod can ruin your images. It’s essential to know how to use the camera in these conditions. Avoid zooming and low shutter speeds. Increase the ISO, but keep in mind that high ISO will add noise and check which is the highest ISO value your camera can cope with. Use cameras and lenses with image stabilization. Use wide apertures to let more light get in.


Photo by Isak Gundrosen on Unsplash

Architectural Photography

Sacred sites are famous for their impressive architecture and there are good reasons for this. People were trying to impress when they built them. The best architects and artists worked for these sites. Do them justice and use a wide angle when you photograph them. Make beautiful compositions, with perfect exposure and contrast. Also, don’t forget to focus on the details. From paintings to basorelief to mosaics to tiled walls, every details deserves attention.

Photo by Monica Radulescu

Photographing sacred sites combines several types of photography. It requires knowledge about architecture, interiors, and history. You can find it in various portfolios, from travel photographers to documentary photographers. Sacred sites are an unique experience and a powerful subject. They aren’t just beautiful places or buildings, they are full of grace and significance. Your compositions need to be artful, but also thoughtful, respectful, and conveying a profound message. To be able to do that is what makes you a great photographer.