The highlight of many India itineraries is a visit to Agra, the home of the famous Taj Majal. The “Taj” as it is known to locals, is an ivory white mausoleum commissioned in 1631 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his late and beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Later, Shah Jahan was also entombed. The Taj sits on a 42-acre plot, one of the largest areas dedicated to a single tomb.

The Taj is a hotspot for tourists making it extremely crowded. Even arriving when it opens is not good enough, there are people everywhere. So, how do photographers get a clean image of the Taj? Chutzpah turned out to be the answer. We arrived just as the gates opened. Immediately after entering, there is a spot to take a photograph, the Taj in all its splendor.  There are rows of people, sometimes ten or more deep, all crowded around this one spot. After pushing my way through, pleasantly annoying a few tourists, I took this not-so-good shot.

Even enhanced with PhotoShop, I was left with people in the photo, poor reflection of the Taj, and flat lighting. Altogether yucky.

David (our guide) informs me there are two other places that are better. The light is still flat, but we visit each place so that I would know where to return to in an hour when the light improves.  I took a few test-shots and they looked promising. Fast-forward 53 minutes, the light is nice, it is time to take my shots.

It is now very crowded. And I fight to be able to take a picture. As I step in, I get yelled at by a “pro” who sits atop a set of steps directly behind me, taking photos of tourists doing selfie-type poses in front of the Taj. The Shah would be appalled. I realize that I need to use a bit of New York bullishness to get my shots. “Get away” the pro (and many tourists) yell in harmonic unisononce I start to move into position. I now notice there is a very long line of tourists waiting to get their photo.  The “pro” takes another photo set and I try to move in. Everyone complains again as they want their photo now. Well, so do I! I retreat and survey the scene some more. Time is ticking and the light won’t stay nice forever. I jump in, everyone yells, but I hold my ground. I get to my knees, not to pray but to maximize the reflection opportunity in front of me, and start shooting.

A square crop of a vertical shot that enhances the Taj in the background and emphasizes the reflection in the foreground.

I horizontal orientation provides a better sense of the surroundings but just cuts off part of the reflection.

I’m very happy with both of these shots but I lean to the first one because of the reflection. What are your thoughts?

With the photos complete, I can now enjoy the rest of our visit. We walked to the side of the Taj to see it from a different perspective. To my luck, there are wedding photos being taken.  Of course I jump in for a shot. Unfortunately, there are many other people, tourists, that are in my photo. No worry, I have the power of Photoshop’s Remove Tool to take care of them. One swipe and they are gone!

I removed twenty people and a head. I thought about selling this photo to the bride and groom.

We then ran into a local hustler, I mean businessman, who wants to take our photo using two iPhones, ours and his. We agree because, why not? He places his phone on the ground with ours propped behind it. His screen becomes a point of reflection giving us some interesting photos. He runs the gamut of setups and proclaims he is done. “You happy?” I respond in the affirmative. Now, he won’t leave us alone until I give him some money. I hand him 500 rupees (~$6 USD). How about 500 more he says. How about “no,” and we quickly exit the area.

The hustler’s photos came out better than I expected, perhaps he was worth more than 500 rupees.

There was a break in the crowd so he quickly snapped this one.

There was one last photo shoot the day before, in the late afternoon, where we visited a field where locals play cricket on a hand-made pitch. Kids and adults play until it is so dark that you can’t see the ball. We got there with just a little light left in the day. Our leader, David, found a good spot with the Taj in the background. All we needed was a cricket player to do cricket things with the Taj in the background. With no one wishing to give up their game, bribery was needed.  A few rupees later and we have a volunteer.

A Cricketer, a bat, and a ball in front of the Taj.