Travel Photography Subjects: Religion

Travel Photography Subjects: Religion


100304-183454-9742 This post is number four of twenty one subjects that will help you focus when on your next journey and wish to bring back a well rounded story of where you were.  If you’re just going on vacation and only want pictures of yourself by the pool sipping boat drinks, then you can probably skip this one.  These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and ask thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.

Now then, religion.  Like water, it will be everywhere you go.  Sometimes on the surface and pervasive to a culture.  Sometimes more subtle and maybe kept private.  As a  traveler, excited and open eyed, it may be easy to spot the religious influences in a distant land.  For one thing, if the religion is predominant to a particular area and it wasn’t obvious back home, it’ll be in your face.  The photo at right is Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the USA where Islam is not a high profile religion, so when I traveled to Morocco with its rich Islamic culture and mosques around every corner, it was fairly easy to spot its influence and importance to the culture.

But beyond the obvious, it takes some effort to go a little deeper, especially in areas with a large mix of religions.  Tucked into an unassuming section of the large souq in Fez, is a centuries old Jewish Synagogue.  Our guide goes on to tell us of the history of Jews in of Morocco, a slice of history for which I was totally oblivious until this trip.  After the visit to the Synagogue I started noticing more and more Jewish and Christian influences here and there.  Small, subtle and often tucked away, but they too had an influence in the architecture, language and customs in some form.

While discussing religion can certainly be a powder keg in different areas of the world (and some areas you’d never expect it to be a hot button, too!) my best advice, as with most things while traveling, is approach the subject with an open mind.  If what you’re doing is trying to bring back a representation of the lands you are visiting, then you may need to bend outside your own view of home and try to see the home land through the eyes of those that live in this ‘foreign’ culture.  It’s only foreign to you, others are living it every day.  It may be that the religious influences you find are close to your own and that familiarity will help.  But invariably there is something different about where you’re traveling, for that is one of the main reasons for travel!

Exploring religion photographically takes a bit of courage because it will probably require you to step outside your comfort zone.  But the rewards are worth it.  Find out from a local (hotel clerk, taxi driver, bartender, food vendor, etc…) if you are allowed to visit a place of worship if the religion is different than your own (assuming you have a religion as not every one does).  Witnessing a worship service with your camera put away will help immerse you in the cultural differences.  Also ask those attending the ceremony or directing it, if you get a chance to meet them, if photographs are allowed.  Treat photography inside a place of worship with the same respect as if you were the guest in a house.

And don’t forget to look for religion in the little things.  How does it influence the art, language and clothing where you are?  How is it practiced in the home, if you get a chance to visit a local home?  How does it influence the food and eating habits?  History and even city layouts?  On the opposite side, some areas you visit may have very few signs of religion which is an expression of the culture as well.

Religion need not be a point of contention when traveling.  Chances are, you’ll find differences, large and small, to what you are accustom to back home.  Explore them with an open mind and lens to see learn more about the culture you’re visiting.  And you’ll return home with a well rounded story of where you’ve been.

By all means, please share your religious travel photographs in the comments section below.

Previous subjects in this series include Water, Old People and Young People.  Be sure to subscribe to the this site to receive the other 17 subjects to follow!

Read more from our category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Toccatamundi December 12, 2010 11:09 am

    [eimg link='' title='monks in desert' url='']

    These Eastern Rite Catholic monks caused quite a stir at Calico Ghost Town in Newberry Springs, CA.

  • James September 16, 2010 05:26 am

    I genrally find it very diffcult to take people in prayers. Religious buildings are usually fine. But people in prayers is always a little touchy to me, and it's difficult to interrupt them to ask for permission.
    wonder what are your experiences?

  • Rodney Howard Browne August 20, 2010 03:40 pm

    This has a lot of picture of temples and religious artifacts, its very ineresting to see it personaly.

  • angad singh August 8, 2010 05:32 am

    when your in cant help noticing the temples

    people at wat arun in the rain -

    a view of the kings! -

  • David July 28, 2010 10:01 am

    In Jerusalem where at the temple where Jesus was buried.

  • Kamal July 19, 2010 08:37 pm

    [eimg link='' title='Colors Of Festval faded out' url=''] End Of KALI PUJA of hindu of bengal

  • Aramalia July 8, 2010 04:21 pm

    [eimg link='' title='Minaret' url='']

  • kamal July 8, 2010 11:09 am

    [eimg link='' title='DSCN0089' url=''] 108 Shiva tample of Kalna

  • kamal July 8, 2010 11:03 am

    [eimg link='' title='Symbol of Calm' url=''] my first try.

  • Nils Sundström July 6, 2010 09:38 am

    I'm in Thailand for the first time. Didn't go to the regular tourist places, but to the north-east, the Khon Kaen/Nonkhai region. I assure you it's a fantastic place with warm and welcoming people. It's mainly farming country and the people are in general rather poor, Buddhism is very strong, worship spots are found everywhere, e.g. in the fields or outside car dealer shops.[eimg url='/media/Win Ext1/Foton/2010/Thailand/Sunday/Carshop.JPG' title='Carshop.JPG'][eimg url='/media/Win Ext1/Foton/2010/Thailand/Sunday/Tree.JPG' title='Tree.JPG']

  • Jit Roy Chowdhury July 5, 2010 03:08 pm

    I absolutely agree with Kunal. Living in India, it's really amazing how traces of religion creep in everywhere, without you really looking for them, or even noticing them!! After reading this blog, I was going through my own collections, and was surprised to see just how many of my shots have had a religious tinge.

  • Darrenmaxx July 5, 2010 02:43 pm

    Uh-oh! Someone's angry!!!
    [eimg link='' title='god is grumpy?' url='']

  • Sandi Wiggins July 4, 2010 03:16 pm

    This topic interestme a great deal. This is my first attempt at a postHerat. A lovely icon of Greek Orthodoxy on Kalymnos.

  • Amir Paz July 3, 2010 11:25 pm

    my favorite picture, from the light sabath in jersusalem:

    and paris, full of religion monuments, this one i tried to give it the gothic mood it bestoweed upon me:

    and the holiness of st. peters church in jafa:


  • Georgie mathew July 3, 2010 04:16 pm

  • scott July 3, 2010 12:35 pm

  • Mohamed Ghuloom July 3, 2010 06:13 am

    I really enjoyed your pictures and liked the topic. I am a Muslim living in Bahrain, a small island in the Middle East. I take many pictures where religion makes the most part, some in Bahrain itself and some in Saudi Arabia, and some simply normal photography of subjects and objects, then turned into a religious concept.

    Here is the link if you are interested

  • Rick July 3, 2010 02:19 am

    Iftar. Breaking fast in the streets of Cairo during Ramadan. This was a fascinating time to visit. I always asked permission, whether thru a gesture or in English. Received a few negative responses, but overall people seemed to want to share their culture.

    [eimg link='' title='Iftar - breaking fast at sunset' url='']

  • JimBob July 3, 2010 12:03 am

    [eimg link='' title='Door on la sagrada familia' url='']

    Barcelona, Spain

  • wing July 2, 2010 12:53 pm

  • TomHawkins July 2, 2010 11:35 am[/img]

    Tepotzotlan, Mexico

  • JimBob July 2, 2010 10:36 am

    I really like this one. It is the doorway of la sagrada familia in Barcelona, Spain.

    [eimg link='' title='Door on la sagrada familia' url='']

  • Flores July 2, 2010 02:51 am

    I have collection of Churches in my album.

    [eimg url='' title='2458932240068190109S500x500Q85.jpg']

    [eimg url='' title='2671371710068190109S500x500Q85.jpg']

    The rests are here:

  • Kunal Bhatia July 2, 2010 01:41 am

    Religion is such an integral part of daily life in India, that it's hard to miss it.

    [eimg url='' title='2010-06-06.jpg']

    This is a photo at the dargah (tomb + prayer space) of Haji Ali in Mumbai. The singers are performing a qawalli (a musical rendition) in praise of the saint.

    See the original post on my photoblog Mindless Mumbai.

  • Daniele July 1, 2010 11:27 pm

    Last one:

    [eimg link='' title='Passion' url='']

  • Daniele July 1, 2010 11:27 pm


    [eimg link='' title='Pisa' url='']

  • Daniele July 1, 2010 11:24 pm

    Last one

  • Daniele July 1, 2010 11:23 pm

    Another one

  • Daniele July 1, 2010 11:23 pm

    Here it is

  • J Brian Haferkamp July 1, 2010 01:03 pm

    I have a strong faith and am drawn to architecture. It's lent itself to photographing lots of religious buildings over the years. I love the architecture, honestly, and the uses of the space. Below are some of my better images of religious buildings / structures.

    Photographs of a historic church in Sacramento, CA:

    South Korean temple:

    Church in Chicago, IL

    Collection of photographs, 4th Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL:

  • Joey Rico July 1, 2010 09:31 am

  • Chris July 1, 2010 07:58 am

    I do have to mention though, the glow looks cool, I just wish it had better composition to help do it justice.

  • Allison July 1, 2010 06:31 am

    I haven't had many opportunities to travel outside of the US, but the presence of religion is quite obvious in the one place I have been: Ireland. This was taken outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Drogheda. Oliver Plunkett's head in enshrined in a see-through box inside.[eimg url='' title='ireland0377modw-2.jpg']

  • Photo 514 July 1, 2010 06:11 am

    In June 2007 I was given a personal and private tour of the Amersfoort Synagogue.

    My guide was the then president and was proud and excited that I, a "tourist" would be interested in his tiny synagogue.

    It was a wonderful discovery; I would have missed the building had I not been given the tour.

    [eimg url='' title='AmersfoortSynagogue#5088373377942524770']

  • Chris July 1, 2010 03:48 am

    Was that really the best photo you could find for "religion"? It's not too bad, but there is nothing special about it either. The exposure looks slightly off (that's just a matter of taste though), the colors are pretty bland, the composition is slightly uncomfortable and boring. That is just my opinion though, take it with a grain of salt.

  • Yusuke Tsutsui July 1, 2010 02:27 am

    I am not a particularly religious person, but while traveling in a land where Buddhism is a fundamental part of people's lives, I spent 2 days with a young man who turned from a novice to a monk. This is a shot of him preparing for the ceremony.
    [eimg link='' title='Shaving before the big day' url='']

  • Rajiv July 1, 2010 01:56 am

    Wonderful article and great tips, one shot of Segovia Cathedral, Spain

    [eimg link='' title='Segovia, Spain' url='']

  • AaronV July 1, 2010 01:27 am

    I love photographing religion. Since most people are profoundly involved in some type of religion, you are able to gain such deep insight into who they are, how they live, how they think and why they do the things they do. Here are a couple pics I snapped on a trip to Morocco a few years back. Enjoy!

    [eimg url='' title='photo.php?pid=3643190&l=17ee1ea4cc&id=822850570']

  • Rajiv July 1, 2010 01:24 am

    wonderful article and tips

    Here one pic of Segovia Cathedral, taken from the top of Alcazar.

    [eimg link='' title='Segovia, Spain' url='']

  • Maik-T. Šebenik July 1, 2010 12:27 am

    Interesting article. Somehow I always automatically try to capture religious buildings on my travels.
    Well then, here are some of my photos:

    Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família
    La Catedral

    Basilica di San Marco
    Piazza San Marco

    Maribor Cathedral
    Famous Church on lake Bled

    With kind regards from Germany,

  • Woods July 1, 2010 12:20 am

    Rule n°1 : Respect. Make sure it is allowed to shoot !

    It is for example forbidden to take photos in chinese temples but some foreign tourists just think the rule doesn't apply to them...

    -- Woods