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.
(Road to a Catholic Church on a Sunday, Nikon Df with Zeiss 25mm lens)
If I feel the same reverence inside me as the people praying there, it tends to show in my body language. Subconsciously people around me also feel this and we have an emotional connect by being present in that one place of prayer. 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 a very 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. Sometimes they feel a sense of insecurity that the photos may be used in a wrong way. I proceed on to express my concern for their fears and alleviate those fears by talking to them. Nothing works better than a truthful hearty talk.
In one of the places of worship where I photographed, the religious head and his helpers were very offended by my request initially. Later when I explained them my intention and interest, they actually helped me in photography. I also handed them prints of the photographs after a week.
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 stealthy as possible. Being stealthy doesn’t mean being sneaky. It just means that I appear to be a part of the place with just a small difference – with a camera!
(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.
One small pointer – learn the specifics of religion. Photographing icons, statues or various representations of God might be frowned upon in some religions. So, avoid doing that. Clicking selfies is also a big No.
(Lord Buddha in a Buddhist Monastery in India)
Understand the Religion
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.
A sound understanding of the religion gives an idea of what’s happening and what might follow. This will make you ready to capture some of those rare fleeting moments in such places of worship.
(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. In a nutshell, understand the religion, make friends, take a prior permission and click without causing nuisance.