The crown jewel of India.
“A teardrop on the cheek of eternity,” opined Rabindra Nath Tagore. “The embodiment of all things pure,” declared Rudyard Kipling. The Taj Mahal’s creator, Emperor Shah Jahan, proclaimed that its beauty made, “the sun and moon shed tears from their eyes.”
Awed by similar lyrical appreciation, countless photographers the world over have sought their own visual expressions of this treasured gem.
I’ve tried my hand on more than twenty visits to Agra.
|“Blue Taj Mirage”|
Poetic license allows unique interpretation. Beauty dwells in the mind.
This image was captured at sunrise when the sky was deeply layered in amber and gold. But it’s possible to pre-visualize something completely different . . . way beyond the banal existing reality. I own this blue, nuanced by manually shifting the ambient color toward twilight lavender hues. This radical, though subdued flip in perception, brought my mind closer to the serene sensations I had experienced that morning when I gazed upon the Taj.
However, the reality of the moment when my shutter clicked was anything but serene. Lying at my feet six inches behind me was a dead dog. I couldn’t move away. I couldn’t escape the stench. I was perched on a narrow concrete embankment next to the river. I needed to move back and diagonally left but I couldn’t. The sun was creeping up fast, only seconds away, and I wanted it positioned exactly centered between the two minarets. You’ll notice that it’s not. That’s because my tripod would have been straddling that dead dog. No way.
Later in Lightroom I chose to shift color toward the serenity of blue with it’s inherent calmness and this made me feel much better. Hey, we photographers can add creative flair but you wouldn’t believe the shooting conditions we often encounter in the creation of magic.
Yes, with the ease of simple PhotoShop manipulation I could quickly center the sun and it’s reflection after the fact. I can change the color at whim but I choose not to move the sun for this image even though it would power a more perfect composition. To do so would be not celebrating my persistence in living through the shooting circumstances.
On another day at the Taj there was no color at all. No sun. Just drab gray.
But drab, too, can be flipped toward magic.
While I’m a vagabond traveler for the love of it, ultimately this is a business venture and it can be expensive to visit exotic locales. So, no way was I leaving the Taj without a salable shot that day. Later in Lightroom I transformed a socked-in overcast sky into an ethereal glow by simply moving the clarity slider all the way to the left. Voila! Now Getty Images would accept this photo.
No decaying dead dogs that day.
Typically I try to maximize the relationship of image elements as I encounter them on location. But sometimes the end visualization must be crafted on the fly.
No, I didn’t just happen to bump into this camel on the riverbank below the Taj. I went to Rent-A-Camel. There aren’t many camels in Agra but when I spotted this one ambling down the road, I asked my taxi driver to pull over and to negotiate a deal. Afterwards, the camel with it’s rider, Maneesh, loped along behind my auto rickshaw following us to the river. Along the way we stopped at a shop where I could buy a Rajasthani turban so that the scene would look more authentic. By the time we arrived at my pre-scouted location the sun was setting fast so I quickly asked Maneesh to ride his camel back and forth till I got my shot.
Hey, sorry to undermine your perception of what might have been a National Geographic moment of serendipity. These kinds of scenes get set up all the time. Not that you wouldn’t see such an occurrence in real life but you might have to sit there for twenty years waiting for it to happen at sunset.
I don’t often make full composite creations but when I do, I duly inform buyers that the image was digitally composited. The photo on the right above was created from a silhouette shot of the Taj as I stood there but with a fluted arch from a Mughal palace somewhere else on another day and with a sunset from Bali.
Now for the real deal.
This image happened as you see it.
When I arrived at this vantage point, the sky was fully overcast but I never give up. A half hour later the clouds broke and I was gifted God rays from heaven. I went ecstatic.
A few months later I was on a flight somewhere and saw this photo gracing a double page spread in the inflight magazine. It was used in an ad placed by the India Tourist Board for their “Incredible India” campaign. I couldn’t resist showing it to the flight attendant. She gave me a full bottle of wine. Hey, it was later I realized I should have kept that magazine for similar use on a future flight.
Shah Jahan ordered the Taj Mahal be built as a magnificent mausoleum for the deceased wife he had loved so much. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. He was so heartbroken that his hair, it is said, turned grey almost overnight. He spared no expense in the construction of the Taj. It’s marble inlay work is encrusted with thousands of semiprecious stones. Twenty thousand highly skilled craftsmen labored more than twenty years to construct this incredible edifice. Before it’s completion, however, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his own son and imprisoned in the Red Fort two kilometers away. He was left with only a small window to view this sacred burial site until his dying day.
Rabindra Nath Tagore’s full quote in tribute to Emperor Shah Jahan:
“Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish. Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.”
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