Though Petra is a sizeable site most of the classic sights stretch along a well-trodden nexus after emerging from the narrow cleft of the Siq at the Treasury. The path then fans out into Petra’s equivalent of downtown where the traffic flow of tourists, donkeys, touts and camels congregates along a wide snaking backwards ‘S’ route until the great temple.
The Treasury in particular is a difficult place to fire off a photo without someone’s head in the way but it is possible to maintain the illusion, and even at times enjoy the reality, of having the iconic building to yourself.
Though the rest of the site is not quite as crowded, the ebb and flow of humanity necessitates the use of a few tips and tricks to get the best photos during your once in a life time visit to Petra.
Get there early
Of the tips offered here this is the only one I can’t vouch for. The site opens to visitors at 6am but at this time breakfast is a distant, unconscious thought and any attempt to wake me would be met with a grumbled ‘Petra, smetra’ and vague threats to leave off with the shaking and prodding.
Once we had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, a couple of coffees and a slow amble down the hill at a more civilised time of day the place was abuzz with people, including some that had got there early. After speaking to the early birds they told me that, yes, the place was mostly empty early in the morning.
Petra closes for the day at 6pm but it is a big site and it takes a while to get from one end to the other. The trick is to be at the other end, as far away from the entrance as possible, at the close of trading.
For the half an hour or so it can take to get to the Treasury Petra belongs to you, a few other stragglers and the occasional guard or tout chivvying you along.
Unfortunately Petra is aligned the wrong way for a great sunset and once the sun has gone down over the cliff walls the light starts to get a little gloomy. If the light isn’t good enough for good photography just put down the camera and drink in the sight with your eyes and enjoy the relative solitude.
Playing with the ISO and standing very still are the limits of my skills when taking photos in poor light. Though I got many shots without anyone in the way of the classic view of the Treasury peeking through the Siq walls they are just a little too gloomy. So I’ve cheated with a bit of cropping.
Get the three day pass
The rock subtly changes colour as the day progress and it is impossible to be everywhere at once. If you can afford the time, get the three day pass. Not only will you have more time to discover different areas of the site but you will be able to take photos of the same locations at different times of the day in varying light.
Shoot at different angles
Pointing the camera upwards a degree or two can take the crowds out of the viewfinder. Clamber up steps and onto ledges or lay on your belly to get a different perspective.
Put a bit of effort in
Everyone will use the main thoroughfare every day of a three day pass but most people only go up to the Monastery once. The 45 minutes’ of energy sapping steps upwards means most people won’t do this again and though the single files of people snaking up and down can look like a lot of people, the reality is one of Petra’s most spectacular buildings can be relatively quiet, particularly in the later afternoon.
And, though we didn’t make it with so much else to see, there is a trail starting from the Royal Tombs that leads to a point overlooking the Treasury.
Get off the beaten track
Even if it can seem that Petra is teeming with tourists, the site is big enough it is easy to get away from the crowds. On one trail I took, past the Lion Monument and Garden Tomb, I barely saw another soul for two hours aside from one other foreigner and a handful of Bedouin.
Use the crowds
If you can’t beat them, join them. Other people are helpful with providing a sense of scale and the camels, cats and donkeys that inhabit the area can focus the eye and enliven what can become a series of dry shots of buildings and rocks.
Though I got several shots of the Monastery without any one in the way I prefer the ones with a couple of people in to help convey the formidable size of the building.