Travel Photography: Religion

Religion is an important part of any culture, and a travel photographer should consider attempting to capture the rituals associated with the local religions where they are visiting.  Just like local cultures, however, photographers need to be respectful of the religious culture of others.  To adequately capture these scenes, photographers should bring a good SLR camera with some sort of optical stabilization, a tripod or monopod, a few different types of lenses and an open mind.

Step 1: Have an Open Mind

Most people in this world have some sort of religious beliefs. Oftentimes the hardest part for photographers is to put aside their preconceived notions of a religion. Photographers need to forget what they have heard of a religion and instead focus on those practicing it. 

Photographers need to walk into religious centers like mosques, temples or churches, and really take in the culture. But, photographers should always ask permission before just entering the house of another religion. It could be against their practices to allow people of different religions inside.

Step 2: Be Respectful

Photographers always want to document everything visually, but sometimes photography is not allowed in certain houses of worship.  Again, photographers need to check with those in charge to verify whether or not they can take photographs.  Most places located within tourist areas will allow photographs inside of houses of worship, especially if the building is known for its religious icons, frescoes and the like.

Photographers shouldn't make religion a contentious issue.  If they disagree, they should do it respectfully.  The point is to document their travels and not to create enemies.

Step 3: Find the Hidden Gems

Photographers should find out where the locals hang out and talk to them to find out about local religious festivals and customs. Some of these festivals are quite elaborate and take place in the middle of the street or in other open venues. Or, photographers can plan their trip around major festivals.

Look for locals wearing religious paraphernalia. This tells the story of a region just as much as the houses of worship. People generally act shy around cameras so a photographer should try to get to know their subject before shooting them. People may relax once they've been talking to a photographer for a while.

Step 4: Techniques

Whether or not a photographer can use flash, they should avoid it. If there are a lot of reflective objects in the house of worship, then the flash will cause major glare. Not to mention, it could really annoy those trying to pray inside.

Instead, pump up the ISO to at least 800, and open up the aperture. Most of these structures have windows that let in plenty of natural lighting. Photographers should bring a tripod or monopod with them since they will be shooting in low light situations. Even with optical stabilization, the extra support may be necessary to cut down on blurry images.

If photographers do need to use the flash, they should put it on the lowest setting.