If there is one single example of architecture that can truly be considered as an icon for India then it has to be the Taj Mahal. Built out of sheer while marble, the building widely considered as the finest example of Mughal-era architecture imbibing Persian, Turkish and Indian architectural styles, is actually a mausoleum. Every year millions come to experience this ode by a Mughal emperor to his lovely wife. Photographing Taj Mahal is a necessary pilgrimage by every photographer, without which his portfolio will always remain incomplete.
Bring a Wide angle lens
If ever you needed a wide angle lens this is that moment. If you don’t have one, beg, borrow or steal one, but don’t visit the Taj without it, you will regret it for the rest of your life! The Taj is a marvelous structure, grand in proportions, something that can only be captured well if you have a wide angle lens.
. . and a tele lens!
Imperative if you would like to capture the beautiful stone work up close, embellished with semi-precious stones and delicate carvings that bears testimony to the confluence of three distinct architectural styles of that era.
Leave the tripod!
No ancillary photography items are allowed inside except for the camera, lenses and the set of batteries that are inside the camera. So leave the tripod at the hotel, unless you have a special permission for professional photography from the Archeological Society of India (ASI). It also pays to double check that the batteries are fully charged before you leave your hotel room.
Scout for locations
The Taj remains open from sun rise to sunset except on Fridays. If you need to take the best shots you will need to know the place well. Start your research even before you arrive in Agra. The one spot that every photographer loves photographing Taj Mahal is from the ‘photo-point’. But that spot is almost always crowded and if you arrive some hours into the day, you would have to jostle with scores of other eager photographers.
The view from across the Yamuna is also breathtaking and it gives you an opportunity to see what that $1000 wide angle lens of yours could do. One of the better wide angle views can be obtained from across the Yamuna from the Mahtab Bagh. This place, which is often not treaded by travelers, offers, arguably, best wide angle views for photographing the Taj.
You could take a short ride to the Agra fort and capture the distant views of the Taj from what it might looked like for the emperor Shah Jahan during the last days of his life in captivity.
Photographing the Taj does not have to be a monotonous routine, admiring the grandeur of the architecture and seeing and capturing something special is what counts. There are scores of other moments that can be captured around Agra with the Taj in the background.
When to arrive
The Taj is almost always crowded, unless you can arrive at the wee hours of the morning and be there among the first dozen or so entrants. Those are the few minutes when the Taj is entirely yours to photograph. If you’re not the ‘Photoshop’ type and don’t quite appreciate the idea of spending a lot of time editing the images, then getting early will allow you to get those truly million-dollar devoid-of-crowd photos that you always dreamt of clicking.
The Taj remains open from sun rise till sunset except for Fridays when it is closed for prayers (there is a mosque inside). Getting their early will allow you to experiment with the light. The place is vast and I suggest scouting for locations and taking test shots for one full day before getting started on the main photography work from Day 2 onwards. This way you will be able to analyze the test shots you took on Day 1 and know what you need / not need in them. The right light for the right angle etc. needs to be planned in advance to ensure that you get the most number of good shots making the best use of your stay. The place is vast and you may need to come back to the same location to capture the monument in a different light at a later time of the day.
Most travelers would spend 1 or 2 days at the Taj, I suggest a stay for a minimum of 3 days for someone who is looking for at least one non-clichéd view.