Jordan’s archaeological sites and natural vistas have been immortalized on their fair share of postcards and travel brochures, so your personal photos should embody a unique perspective of the country’s offerings. If you’re traveling to the Hashemite Kingdom and planning to bring your camera along, check out these tips and tricks to photographing Jordan’s cities, ruins, and markets.
Jordan’s most famous site, Petra is worth visiting for its historical and architectural connotations alone. Built in the early 5th century B.C., the ancient city was thought to have been an ancient trading hub, though it was abandoned in the years following its construction. Rediscovered and shared with the world in the 1800s, the site has remained a highlight for any who visit the country.
If you’re interested in photographing the towering facade, be sure to bring a wide-angle lens so that you can capture the enormity of the sandstone structure. Consider visiting at dawn or dusk to avoid harsh shadows, and properly expose your images by “metering” or exposing for the image’s lightest parts. Though the photo may look dark on your camera’s review screen, you’ll be able to balance the exposure in post. Play with perspective and angle as you photograph, and stick around even after the sun has set. At nightfall, hundreds of candles grace the courtyard below Petra, so open your aperture, keep your ISO low, and choose a fast shutter speed (1/500) to capture the glow of the lights without the grain and blur that typically plague low-light photographs.
Visit this vast, desert expanse and you’ll feel like you’ve dropped onto another planet. Needless to say, it’s no surprise that this Jordanian desert has been used to replicate otherworldly settings in some of Hollywood’s most iconic films.
To photograph the dunes and archaeological sites in Wadi Rum, use a wide-angle or zoom lens. That way, you can capture the enormity of the desert expanse while also zeroing in on its gorgeous architectural details. To avoid harsh shadows, photograph during the early morning and evening, when the light is dreamiest. Use a low ISO setting (100-200) to avoid unnecessary grain, and consider utilizing a tripod during times of low light to avoid shaky images. As with most landscape shots, you’ll want the majority of your images to be in focus, so settle for a middle-range f/stop value (f/8-f/11). For high-contrast desert shots, it may also be beneficial to use a polarizing filter, which can minimize glare and maximize the gorgeous tones of this sandy site.
You’ll likely fly into Jordan’s capital — and most populous city — but you should stick around and explore the region before you jet off to see the rest of the country’s natural wonders, archaeological sites, and ancient cities. Founded in 7250 B.C., Amman has a rich history and offers much to discover, especially for avid photographers.
Amman’s monochromaticity and uniform sprawl makes for aesthetically pleasing photographs, so seek out the city’s many viewpoints while you’re there. Your best bet for elevated views of the Jordanian capital is to visit the Roman Theater or the hills that frame the metropolis. This is one instance where midday shadows may act in your favor, as they can create an interesting textural pattern amid the graduated levels of Amman’s sand-colored buildings — so go ahead and sleep in through sunrise! Utilize a wide-angle lens while there to capture the enormity of the cityscape, and photograph with a low ISO (100-200) and a middling aperture value (f/8-f/11) to ensure that the image is properly exposed and in focus.
Roman Ruins in Jerash
You’ll likely feel as though you stepped back in time as you wander among Jerash’s famous Roman ruins: ceremonial gates, colonnades, temples, arches, and theatersy. Due to the Roman conquest (and subsequent construction) in 63 B.C., this Middle Eastern city is home to the world’s second-largest collection of ancient Roman architecture outside of Italy. If you visit, don’t miss photogenic stunners such as Hadrian’s Arch, the hippodrome, the Temple of Zeus, the nymphaeum, or the Temple of Artemis.
Upon visiting, challenge yourself to photograph with a prime (fixed) lens so that all of your photos have a sense of uniformity, and also so that you have to traverse the entirety of the site to capture a variety of different angles. Experiment with different perspectives and get as close to the ruins as you can, so as to photograph their unique architectural details. For macro shots, shoot in aperture-priority mode, open your aperture as wide as possible (choose an f/stop such as f/1.8), and hone your focus on a particularly interesting element. For landscape shots, be sure to utilize the Rule of Thirds so that your image contains visual interest. We also recommend visiting the area during dawn or dusk, as the strong sun creates a lot of glare on the light-colored stone — there isn’t a lot of shade, so keep this in mind when planning your excursion (remember: the earlier the better!).
Mosaics in Madaba
Madaba is a site of longstanding religious and historical significance, and most visitors travel there to view the city’s array of stunning, ancient mosaics. Home to myriad multicultural populations since the Bronze Age, Madaba is a site rich in archaeological treasures, including its most cherished, the Map of Madaba — a mosaic that depicts sixth-century Jerusalem with over two million colored fragments.
To see and photograph the famous stone map, head to the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George and set your camera to aperture-priority mode. Choose an aperture between f/4 and f/8 and keep your ISO low (100-200) so that your images aren’t fuzzy. Keep your camera stable with a tripod, a steady hand, or another surface, and be prepared to adjust white balance and color profiles in post processing, as the dim light of the church may impact the hues of the mosaic. If you’d like to photograph a smaller section of a mosaic in greater detail, adhere to the rules of macro photography, open your aperture (f/1.8-f/4), focus carefully, and snap away.
Markets in Al-Salt
Located just 30 minutes outside of Amman, Al-Salt is an ancient Ottoman administrative center and agricultural trading post that plays host to elegant architecture, natural vistas, and bustling markets.
As you wander the streets of Al-Salt, you’ll notice the fine architecture and the golden-hued stone buildings for which the area is known best. Be sure to capture these tinted facades when they glow in the early evening with the setting sun. And, if you can, visit on a Saturday, when the markets are especially busy. Once there, venture to Hamman Street and witness a variety of vendors selling fresh produce, meat, household goods, and bags of colorful spices. Experiment with both landscape and portrait orientation to capture the scope of the sales, and vary your perspective to photograph the spectrum of goods available. Although markets are great opportunities for portraiture, remember to always ask before taking someone’s photo. If you plan on strolling while photographing, bring some cash to buy a snack or souvenir from one of the vendors — it’s the best way to make a connection and participate in the energy and tradition of the market.
Header image by Ryan Hafey