Where to take the best photos while exploring the amazing ancient city of Petra
You just have to say the name aloud and it immediately evokes images of rose-coloured temples, its columns and statues as part of the desert landscape as the surrounding terracotta cliffs.
Close your eyes and you can almost imagine walking through the Siq, a pathway you already know about though you’ve never walked it yourself. As you near the end of the Siq you know what awaits – Al Khazna, the Treasury, the beautiful great temple – hidden from view, almost as if shy, before the veil is finally lifted.
You can almost feel the heat radiating off the rocks. You can almost taste the dust in the air. It is a place you feel just as much as you see.
And do you know what the beautiful thing is? No matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of Petra, no matter how many times you’ve imagined what it would be like being there, nothing will ever come close to seeing if for yourself for that first time. That I can promise you.
I’ve just come back from spending eight days exploring Jordan and my biggest highlight by far was wandering around the ancient city of Petra.
With family living in Jordan, I’ve grown up with stories from Petra ever since I was a little boy, of Bedouins riding camels, of people sipping sweet mint tea in the shadows of these temples, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Still, nothing could prepare me for seeing the Siq and the Treasury for myself. It was a seriously special moment and one will live with me forever – party thanks to the photos I took there.
When it comes to taking photos at Petra it’s a bit of a numbers game – the more time you have, the better photos you’ll be able to take.
Saying that though, by far the majority of people who visit Petra do so in a day (a day ticket costs 50 JD, a two-day ticket costs 55 JD and a three-day ticket costs 60 JD) which means time is everything.
When I visited Petra I only went for the day.
As I wanted to maximise my time there I really wanted to keep weight down so I left my Manfrotto Befree Live tripod in the hotel room. Even though I would’ve loved to have had my tripod from some long-exposure shots of people moving around at Petra, with a long day of walking ahead of me I didn’t want the extra weight on my camera bag.
Weight is key at Petra though. I walked 18 kilometres the day I was there, so obviously the less weight I had on my back the better.
The reason I walked so far is that the four best photo opportunities are quite far away from each other. The Monastery (which many consider the most beautiful temple to see at Petra), is a two to three-hour hike from the entrance of Petra, and the Al-Khubtha trail is another heavy hike up 700 steps, so make sure you pack comfortable shoes!
The Siq is the main pathway into Petra. This is the one where you walk through the canyon with 80-metre high cliffs either side of you worn smooth by weather, water and time. The Siq pathway twists and turns for over a kilometre, and with the marbled rock face and towering cliffs there are some great opportunities to take some photos of the surrounding landscape with wonderful leading lines.
Camera settings – f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 100
If there’s one image that sells a destination it is this one. Once you get to the end of the Siq it opens up onto Petra’s most magnificent façade – the Treasury, or as locals call it Al Khazna. At 40m high the Treasury is huge so make sure you’ve packed your wide-angle lens with you! Seriously, I really struggled to fit the whole temple in with my 24-70mm lens.
Camera settings – f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 100
Another bemouth of a temple. Standing at 48m high and 47m wide, the Monastery (also known as Al Dier) is arguably even more impressive than the Treasury, especially when you take its location into consideration. Hidden away up 800 steps in the mountains, it’s hard to believe how man created something so magnificent here. Again, make sure you’ve got your wide-angle lens with you. Another tip – get someone else in the frame so you get a sense of perspective of the place (like below). Then you really get a feel for how big the Monastery really is.
Camera settings – f/6.3, 1/160, ISO 100
The Al-Khubtha trail loops around the back of the Royal Tombs and takes you high up into the mountains to a viewpoint directly above the Treasury. This is where you can get one of the most iconic images of Petra – sitting on the edge, looking at everything going on below you. Again I used my wide-angle lens a lot but I also liked to detailing of the columns and the statues from my telephoto lens. It’s well worth the hike to this place.
Camera settings – f/7.1, 1/200, ISO 100
Is it possible to see all these sites in just one day while at Petra?
Yes, it is. You’ll be rushed, you’ll wish you had more time at each place, but it is possible. And when it comes to the photos – it’s definitely worth it. Now, who wants to visit Petra?