India, Dec 2006 – Part #2 (Podcast 67)

by | Dec 21, 2006 | Art Talk, Podcast, Travelogue | 0 comments

Today we’re going to continue what I now know is going to be a three part series, a travelogue of a recent, very brief, trip to India. I was in India on business and decided that it was about time I took an extra day and visit the Taj Mahal. We’ll continue to view some shots of the Taj itself and I’ll explain the thinking behind the shots and any relevant post processing and the shooting info for each of the shots. I also have a few pieces of info about things I did wrong on my shoot and the reasons why. For those that are new to this Podcast, there are various ways to listen and view the photos along with the dialog, and if you haven’t figured out the best way for you to listen already, please locate episode zero in iTunes, the Podcast page at or in your favourite Podcast aggregator and give it a listen. It’s a short Podcast I released on Nov the 4th this year as an introduction to the show and explanation of the various ways to listen, so it should be of help for newcomers. And with that, we’ll get right down to today’s topic as we continue the travelogue of my trip to the Taj Mahal.

We finished in the last episode having looked at image number 1180 which we will not look at again today, but just to recap, this was a shot of the Taj Mahal from the front, as the sun was trying to break through the haze on the horizon at dawn. It was shot at 6:41AM, after I’d had a few hours very disturbed sleep during what turned out to be a five hour drive from Delhi airport to Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I’d not confirmed the travel times personally, which I deeply regretted as I only had 90 minutes, pretty low quality sleep, in a bed at the hotel before getting up and heading off for the Taj before dawn. By the time I’d made my way through the security and had my tripod taken from me among other less important things, I was now walking from the gate from where I got the first glimpse of this amazing piece of architecture through the gardens to the foot of the structure.

I stopped at a right angle in the path that was to take me around to the right and then back in to climb up a small flight of stairs to stand on the base of the Taj Mahal, when I stopped and decided to get a few shots with my 24mm TS-E lens. That’s a Tilt/Shift lens that allows you to correct the perspective of tall subjects such as architecture when viewed from a lower vantage point. You know how building taper in towards the top when shot from below, well it helps to reduce that effect or remove it all together. The Taj was now bathed in sunlight as the sun had broken through the haze, and the plan was to be in a position to show you a nice shot of the Taj from the right with the towers all nice and straight, with no convergence. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the lack of sleep meant that by now I was losing the ability to think through what I was doing properly. As I shot with the Tilt/Shift lens and I remember thinking “why is this not working the way it should”. Actually after I’d had a little sleep in the car later in the day on the way back to Delhi, the answer came to me in a whoosh of disappointment and embarrassment. I’m sure I actually blushed when I realised my mistake, despite not actually saying anything about this out loud. What I was seeing was the towers only being corrected very slightly, and the top and bottom of them was out of focus, which is what happens when you Tilt the lens to move the focus plane to one other than parallel to the film plane. What I should have been doing was shifting to correct the perspective and reduce or remove the convergence of the structure inwards. Basically I was using the lens in totally the wrong way, and totally failed to realise it. So the 15 or so shots that I shot here with this lens were no good.

So why am I telling you this if I have no shots to show you. Well basically I always show you my successful images, and really just wanted to impress on you firstly that we all make mistakes. So why am I telling you about such a huge embarrassing mistake? Well, I think again I want to impress on you again the importance of proper planning. I’d relied on an acquaintance to tell me how long it was going to take to get over here, and had failed for one reason or another to properly plan this trip. This left me in a position where I really had not had enough sleep to be functioning properly, and although this was the only technical mess-up, it was a real disappointment. Not so much a disappointment that I didn’t get these shots, but I did get a lot of other great shots, and I don’t think the shots from this particular angle would have added that much to the output of the trip. But I was more disappointed in myself for making such a fundamental mistake. Had I been functioning properly, there’s no way I’d have looked through the view finder and seen what I was looking at without realizing what I was doing wrong. I guess what this means is that I’ve just not used this lens enough yet for it to be second nature, which is strong reminder of the importance of knowing your equipment like the back of your hand. I was running on auto-pilot from both a technical and creative point of view, and on auto-pilot the only things that work are things that are second nature. So some important lessons learned here.

Romantic Taj

Romantic Taj

Anyway, let’s take a look at the next image I shot, just after switching from the 24mm TS-E lens to my 16-35mm F2.8 lens, which is number 1182. You’ll see that there is a lot of convergence of the verticals in this shot due to the wide angle and looking up at the scene from below, but at least I didn’t have the mistakes I’d just made with the 24mm TS-E lens. The building was now fully lit by the morning sun as I just mentioned, so I was now working at ISO 100. I shot this at F8 for 1/60th of a second, at 32mm, so there was no longer any worry of camera shake at this focal length. There is a 3/4 moon in the sky just to the right of the middle band on the tower and a couple walking around the edge of the platform around the Taj adding a few additional points of interest and scale. The couple actually had a hug shortly after this, but it was not easy to make out what was going on, so I decided to leave their moment private and go with this version. I decided to convert this to black and white in Adobe Lightroom Beta 4, because I was able to darken the blue sky by lowering the blue channel, and raise the reds to bring out the orangey-yellow colour of the Taj itself making the architecture lighter, raising the overall contrast of the image while adding a little mood. I also tweaked the white balance to warm up the tones, which increased the contrast between the colder blue of the sky and the yellow-orange architecture. I think it works pretty well for this shot, which is perhaps one of my favourites from the trip.

Taj Mahal Front Arch

Taj Mahal Front Arch

From here, we walked around to the front of the Taj Mahal, and put on some white cloth shoe covers which the guide had provided. I think he got them at the gate when we entered. These are to protect the marble base on which you walk around the structure once climbing the small flight of steps. The other option is to take your shoes off, which I actually would have preferred but didn’t know until we climbed down the stairs at the other side later and seeing the shoe boxes and people removing their own shoes. The first thing that struck me on climbing the stairs is the scale of building. If we look at image number 1185, we can see the main archway in the front of the Taj Mahal with a number of people to give scale to the structure. When viewed from afar, this archway doesn’t look that big. We can see that the sun is now bathing the front of the building, casting a shadow across the front of the archway. I also like the lime green of the young ladies clothes making her way to the doorway, adding a splash of colour. We can also see the inlaid semi-precious stones above the arch, using the same technique as that we can see being performed by the craftsmen that I shot environmental portraits of later in the day.

I used 1 stop plus exposure compensation here to stop the light structure from making the shot dark. I wanted to keep the colours vibrant and the overall light feeling that I was now getting. The exposure was 1/25th of a second at F11, with ISO 100. I was shooting at 35mm so I was pushing the shutter speed a little, but at this wide angle it turned out OK. We went inside main building at this point, and guide explained that the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān was laying in rest in the basement of the structure, alongside his favourite wife Arjumand Bano Begum, for whom the structure was built. Apparently the mausoleum was constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22,000. The wife, also known as Mumtāz married the Emperor at the age of twenty, and died at the age of 39. When I asked how she died, the guide gave me a somewhat embarrassed smile, as though he didn’t really want to say, but went on to tell me that Mumtāz was married to the Emporer for 19 years, and during that time gave birth to 14 children. She died during the birth of the 14th.

Sun Over the Guest House

Sun Over the Guest House

Just about everything in the Taj Mahal complex is symmetrical. To the left of the mausoleum is a mosque, and to the right, is a building the guide called a guest house, which is pretty much exactly the same shape as the mosque. In image number 1186, we can see how high the sun was now in the sky, as I’d positioned it behind the taller of two domed roofs of the guest house. No exposure compensation here. I let the camera darken the foreground elements almost into silhouette because of the brightness of the sun. I allowed the rays of the sun to just start to burst out from behind the tower for to give this star effect. As with the earlier shot containing some other domed roofs of this same building, image number 1179, that we looked at in the last episode, I caught this scene too with some birds in the sky. I actually shot about five or six frames, and each had varying numbers of birds. On consideration while viewing the shots though, they all just seems to get in the way on this occasion. I think the sun bursting from behind the roof and the ornate shapes of the domes is enough, and the birds only overcomplicated the image, so I went with this simpler version. It was shot at F6.3 for 1/800th of a second with the 70-200mm lens.

Doin' Her Thing

Doin’ Her Thing

As I walked a little further around the back of the main building, I shot two very similar scenes also containing this guest house in silhouette. One was just the back corner of the mausoleum, and the guest house, again with the sun hidden particially behind structure, and the second was an opportunistic grab shot. We won’t look at the first shot, but as I stepped back from shooting it, a young woman walked into the scene and knelt down to shoot the building, and as she did so, a young man kind of sauntered around the corner in the sunlight. The result is image number 1189. This is another favourite of mine from the trip. Still no exposure compensation, allowing the subjects to fall almost into silhouette against the bright sun, and this time we also have a lot of sunlight bouncing back up from the marble tiles on the floor. I shot this at F16 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100. I’d zoomed out a little to 80mm to get the foreground subject in the frame with a little room to breathe as well.

In the next shot, image number 1190, I took my 16-35mm F2.8 lens and opened it right out to 16mm to accentuate the convergence of the building and towers against the bright morning sky. This was captured again at F16, for 1/30th of a second, ISO 100. We can see that the people walking around the building are all leaning inwards at a pretty steep angle. I was kind of playing a little here, with the scene and the equipment, but I liked the results, more so than I think I expected too. Again remember I was on autopilot and really didn’t think I was getting that good results. I had a brief mail conversation with one of the long term members after I returned, and had actually said that I’d not been very creative at all due to the gross lack of sleep. On reflection, apart from the mess up with the 24mm TS-E lens, and a lack of motivation in the drive back to Delhi which I’ll get to next week, I think I did pretty well during this couple of hours at the Taj. I just couldn’t remember much of it until I went through my shots.

Monumental Mausoleum

Monumental Mausoleum

So let’s take a look at one last shot from the Taj Mahal for this series and to close on for this episode, which is image number 1192. Finally here we see the Taj Mahal mausoleum in all it’s glory. Full lit from warm early morning sun with a reflection in the pools that run through the gardens in front of it. I’ve seen this photograph many times. I’m always disturbed by the fountain heads running down the middle of a perfectly head on shot though. Apparently the British, in their wisdom, decided it would be a good idea to add these fountains so that they could still enjoy a view of the Taj on dull days when the reflection was not so good. They are rarely turned on now apparently and I personally think they just get in the way. What I did though was to position myself slightly off centre, so that the reflection did not run in line with the fountain heads. I shot some in line, but as I suspected, I didn’t really like them. I was also conscious of the position of the two people in traditional dress walking along the left side, and shot as they were visible between the bushes. This is really just to add another few points of interest. I used the near sides of the mosque and guest house either side of the mausoleum as markers to ensure that I was getting the main subjects pretty much straight. I shot this at 29mm with my 16-35mm lens with an aperture of F16 for 1/50th of a second.

Taj Mahal Reflection

Taj Mahal Reflection

Apart from the fatigue from bad planning and a hectic business trip, I really enjoyed my few hours here. I came away with a few nice shots and memories of an amazing experience.

In the next episode, which will be the final part of this series, we’ll look at some environmental portraits and a few shots from the drive back to Delhi. As I’ll be releasing this in the same week as the first part, we are now back on schedule for the average of one release a week.

Remember that voting has now started for the “Sound!” assignment. You need to register on the member’s gallery site at to vote, but once logged in, you will be able to voting using the small black vote button above the images in the Assignment album. To see the assignment album scroll down to the middle of the page and click the thumbnail. When you click on vote the button your vote will be added, but remember each member only has one vote. You can change your mind anytime though until voting stops. Just hit the button again and the system will ask if you want to reassign your vote before going ahead and doing so. Again the quality of the images entered has been incredibly high, so please do take a look. Voting will be turned on until the end of December 31st and I’ll announce the winner in the first show of 2007.

And with that, thanks for listening. Although I’m going to try and get another episode out before Christmas, if I don’t, do have a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you everything you wanted, and more. Happy holidays. Bye bye.

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