Monumental Photos

Temple Of Kukulcan, Chichen Itza, Mexico



I use Singh-Ray polarizers to reduce unwanted reflections and to enhance blue skies, as well as the company’s graduated neutral-density filters to bring back a sky that may otherwise be lost to a contrasty situation. HDR software (high dynamic range), which combines different exposures of the same scene into one image, is another popular technique for contrast control and image enhancement, but needs a tripod to be most effective.


One piece of equipment that I’ve found indispensable for successful monument photography in low-light situations and night photography is a small, but sturdy carbon-fiber tripod with a ballhead. Too often photographers leave tripods in their car or hotel room because of the hassle of carrying it and the time it takes setting up and breaking down. But a little advance preparation can make working with a tripod easier. For example, I have the ballhead’s quick-release baseplates attached to my camera bodies, so I just have to slip the camera into the ballhead, lock it down, attach a cable release, compose and shoot.

Temple Of The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan



Even if an on-camera flash could project itself far enough to illuminate a distant object such as the Crazy Horse Memorial, it would ruin the carefully constructed light design that was created for the monument. Setting the camera to the lowest ISO will produce the least noise (digital grain) in the resulting image. The long exposure required for a night shot with a low ISO necessitates using a tripod. Proper tripod usage means making sure to turn off the lens’ vibration reduction, using a cable release and, if possible, locking up the camera’s mirror to eliminate any potential camera shake. For the best results, shoot in RAW and fine-tune the Kelvin color temperatures as needed using programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture.


Many historic sites have specific days that can yield the most dramatic images. Twice a year, for example, on the spring and autumn equinox, the northwest corner of the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico casts a series of triangular shadows that create the pattern of a serpent descending its steep staircase. If this was by intention to represent the feathered-serpent god Kukulcan on the equinox, it’s both an incredible engineering and scientific feat. Getting to the site early and staking out a position elevated above the soon-to-arrive throng is the only way to capture this dramatic display. A little advance planning goes a long way toward capturing memorable photographs.

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