Religion and Photography

Cameras are now showing up everywhere. They are more prolific than mushrooms in rains. Everyone has them. Some use the cameras in mobile phones, others use compact cameras. Combine this with the cultural insensitivity of tourists and we have a big nuisance being faced by religious places. It is therefore natural that photography is prohibited in many such places.

I have a special attraction to religious places. Regardless of the religion, the peace, the atmosphere of faith combined with the mystery of religion which has trickled down the ages, makes these places intriguing for me. I have an urge to take my camera out and click everything that I see.

I have found some effective ways that help me photograph in these places. First and foremost, I have respect for all the religions and respect people for the faith they have. Whatever is in the heart always reflects on the face. People understand that I have respect for them and their religion.

Way to Church

(Road to a Catholic Church on a Sunday, Nikon Df with Zeiss 25mm lens)

Once I have an emotional connect with the people praying there, I take permission from the head of the establishment if I can click photographs. The usual answer is an uneasy ‘yes’. People are generally good and want to let photographers click photos but they are scared of the nuisance it may cause and the reaction from the general public present there. I proceed on to express my concern for their fears and alleviate those fears by talking to them.

On the technological front, I use small cameras and lenses. No flashes, no tripod and not even a monopod. I prefer to focus manually which further does away with the auto-focus sound. I do not carry heavy camera bags and try to be as stealth as possible.

Stained Glass Windows

(Stained Glass Windows inside a Church)

Photographing the statues, icons or representations of the Almighty again should be done very discreetly, without disturbing anyone praying there. I prefer to make myself seen and then without bothering anyone, I click photos. The fact that people coming walking around see me, makes them comfortable with the fact that a person with a camera is sitting in the premises. Sneaking around quietly is not very pleasant for most people. I spend sometime in the premises, becoming a part of the place. Sometimes I pray too, before I start clicking. It does not matter to me if I am in a Catholic Church or a Buddhist Temple.

Lord Buddha

(Lord Buddha in a Buddhist Monastery in India)

Understanding some of the basic religious practices is also useful. They offer opportunities for capturing some candid moments. Some of these might be slow and others might happen in a fleeting moment. Once the people are comfortable, it is easy to click their pictures too.

Buddhist Monks Praying

(Young Buddhist Monks undergoing religious training)

Everything becomes easy when one is surrounded by friends and supporters. This is what I strive to create first.


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