Sometime back a reader commented on this blog that it might be helpful for me to offer some suggestions for taking pictures in the Holy Land. I will try and honor that request now but with the following caveats. First, I am not a professional photographer. I took photography in high school and have dabbled in it over the years. Second, I am not offering equipment advice other than buy or borrow the best camera you can and familiarize yourself with it before you go. That being said, I offer the following twelve suggestions (in three posts).
1. Take pictures of signage. On my first trip to Israel I took my trusty 35mm SLR and 28 rolls of film. But even with that many rolls, the number of shots was still limited and I still had to pay for developing, which was often quite expensive. So taking pictures of street signs, entrance signs, explanatory signs, and the like was a bit of a luxury then. But today, almost everyone uses digital cameras with practically no limits on the number of pictures you can take (memory cards seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper). The value of taking pictures of signs is threefold. First, it helps you to remember where you were and what you were looking at or doing. Most Holy Land tours, especially for first-timers, can be a bit of a whirlwind. You think that you will be able to remember all the details, but after a while your memories will start to blend together. Taking a picture of signage is like making a visual diary. Second, some signs are just interesting. For example, many visitors like to take photos of the entrance to Capernaum or the inside of the door of the tomb at the Garden Tomb. Third, signs can provide surprisingly rich and interesting insights into the culture. For example, you can take pictures of Shabbat elevator signs, minefield warning signs, and signs written in Hebrew and Arabic that just look cool even if you can’t read them.
2. Look behind you as well as ahead of you. Guided tours are almost always focused on what lies in front. While you have to keep up with your group, try to occasionally turn around to see whether the view behind you might make for a good photo. Sometimes when you’re walking uphill (which seems like always), a picture looking downhill will provide an interesting perspective. Pictures taken from one end of a street might look quite a bit different from the other end. Also if it is early in the morning or early in the evening, then the location of the sun might provide a different lighting perspective if you turn around.
3. Don’t be afraid of having people in the pictures. I know that you didn’t travel all that way to take a picture of someone’s fashion-challenged uncle. But the fact is, at the more popular sites it will be very hard to get a shot completely devoid of people. Furthermore, you can also spend so much time waiting to get a clear shot that you don’t have enough time to see the rest of the site. On the plus side, people can sometimes bring life to what otherwise might be a dull picture. People also add scale. That is, people in your photos will remind you (and show those who will suffer through your 3000 pictures when you get back home) of the relative size of the subject of your picture. Also you will appreciate later that you took pictures of people in your group (if you are traveling with one). I have made friends on every trip I have been on, and it’s always nice to have these friends captured for posterity.