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If you are planning to visit Agra to see this unforgettable icon, use these tips to capture unique Taj Mahal photos. To maximize your visit, spend more time and get more sleep than I did. After arriving to my hotel at midnight, I jumped in a car at 2:30 AM, returning at 5:00 PM for a work meeting.
For those who don’t know me, I’m the less interesting half of (and part-time photographer for) Epic 7 Travel. Since the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are two of the few places on this planet that I have visited, but Marielena has not, I wanted to share some helpful tips I discovered as I was capturing my Taj Mahal photos.
1. Arrive at sunrise for the best Taj Mahal photos
I started my trip from my hotel in New Delhi, which is a three-hour drive from Agra. Book a Taj Mahal tour with one of the infinite operators or directly with your hotel. Based on a very positive experience we had in Venice, I opted to book a Viator tour online. To maximize time and flexibility, I booked the private Taj Mahal and Agra Fort sunrise tour. The $180 USD tour includes an air-conditioned car (this is key!), lunch and an excellent guide for a 15-hour day.
Getting there at sunrise is a MUST. By arriving early, you’ll minimize the heat and crowds and maximize your time during the best light for Taj Mahal photos. Also, with Viator, you get access to the “locals” line. This saves additional time getting through the entrance gate.
2. Limit what you bring
Keep in mind that Taj Mahal security is very strict. You can ONLY bring in your camera(s), lenses, a bottle of water, and lens filters.
You cannot bring in anything that resembles a pen (e.g. a lens brush) or anything with which you would write. Tripods are NOT allowed. I commend their dedication to preserving this amazing monument.
I took in my Nikon SLR camera, BlackRapid Strap, a wide-angle and zoom lens, a lens cloth, and a variable neutral density filter. If you bring extra stuff (including snacks), your tour operator should be able to lock them in the car trunk.
3. I’m in, now where do I go for the best Taj Mahal photos
For those of you that have a good internal GPS, which my lovely wife does not, here’s where to b-line once you enter. With most tours, you will enter via the West gate. From there, you’ll take a left and head through the Great Gate. The Taj will be straight ahead.
4. The reflecting pool is not the one you think
Once you get through the Great Gate, you’ll almost immediately see a reflecting pool that leads up to the Taj in the distance. After taking a shot or two here, quickly walk closer to the Taj. For some reason, everyone seems to stop at this first pool, which is quite far away from the Taj.
The iconic Taj Mahal photo reflection shots are usually from the reflecting pool right in front of Diana’s bench, a short walk from the Taj. I highly recommend you go here first and get your Taj Mahal photos before the crowds figure out they’re at the wrong pool!
5. Use your slippers wisely
As part of the entrance ticket to the Taj, you’ll get a pair of “slippers” to put on over your shoes. You must wear these to walk on the platform on which the Taj sits as well as explore the inside.
Since you only get one pair, think carefully about how you plan your visit to the Taj. If you want to bounce back and forth between being on the Taj platform and wandering the gardens and the grounds, you’re going to have to carry a very dirty pair of “slippers” with you. Not the best idea from a sanitary or photography standpoint. So, long story short, when you go up to the Taj platform, try to get all of your shots before you leave.
6. Try something different for unique Taj Mahal photos
I know it’s hard to be original when photographing an iconic monument that has stood for nearly 500 years. However, it is still possible. The most popular shots on the Taj Mahal grounds seem to be the head-on shot with the reflecting pool and the sunrise shot from the alcove of Kau Ban (small Mosque to the west of the Taj). Capture those and quickly move on. I didn’t bother with the Kau Ban shot as the light and clouds were not going to yield anything great the day I was there. I’d suggest that there are different angles of the Taj and aspects of the beautiful grounds themselves that are equally eye-catching and more unique.
Below is another example of a “different” shot I took. While you won’t typically see these when you search for Taj Mahal photos, these angles caught my attention.
7. Leverage the change of light for gorgeous Taj Mahal photos
You’ve probably read many articles that note how the light changes at the Taj. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with the worst air quality New Delhi had in a very long time. Despite this, the light changed significantly over the course of an hour or two. So, it’s always good to be aware of how it changes to capture the Taj in all its glory.
8. Don’t forget to zoom in for detailed Taj Mahal photos
Because the Taj Mahal is such a large monument (especially if you try to capture the four minarets on the corners of the platform), your natural instinct will be to shoot wide. When you visit, be sure to take time to zoom in. Get close to capture the astonishing carvings and stones that comprise the Taj. Even if they don’t yield the best Taj Mahal photos, you will be in awe of the craftsmanship that went into this amazing building nearly 500 years ago.
9. Agra Fort is amazing in its own right
You’ll notice almost all of my tips here are about Taj Mahal photos. That’s mainly because I think you need to be prepared to prioritize and navigate the crowds to capture your best Taj Mahal photos. I found Agra Fort amazing as well, but have very few tips to offer. Since there were hardly any crowds, I had plenty of time to get a lay of the land and think creatively about shots.
If the air is clear, you will get amazing views of the Taj. Unfortunately, the day I visited, you could barely make out the Taj in the distance. The carvings in the walls are unbelievable, almost surpassing the Taj. As you wander the halls of Agra Fort, look up frequently and marvel at the intricate ceiling and wall designs. Imagine what it must have looked like when it was fully painted and gilded in gold.
10. Don’t forget to bargain
Many of the tours, including the one I did, will make brief stops at craft stores (typically a rug maker, stone sculptor and jewelry designer). The crafts people will also show you how they make some of their truly impressive pieces. I highly recommend picking up a small piece or even an amazing rug if you have a special place for it in your home. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bargain, bargain, bargain! The prices are always negotiable. If you buy more items, they will give you a larger discount and maybe even throw in free items.