Described by Rabindranath Tagore as a “teardrop on the cheek of time” the Taj Mahal was built by the 17th-century Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife, whose death plunged him into unshakeable grief. As a physical symbol of the devotion of a man to a woman, the Taj Mahal is unsurpassed.
There is so much written about the Taj Mahal, we thought we would keep our post simple in terms of how to get some great photos at this iconic location. In case you missed it, we covered in our previous post tips for Traveling to Agra the city where the Taj Mahal is located.
We would also highly recommend visitors to download the Audio Compass app for a great self guided tour. There are a lot of individuals who will offer to be your tour guide upon entering, but if you are able to find a rare quiet corner it is also quite magical to have the palace “to yourself.” Having a tour guide makes this almost impossible.
Arrive Early (And Not On A Friday) & Pre-purchase Tickets
One of the best ways to have a few moments of solitude at the Taj Mahal is to go early. The Taj Mahal is open six days a week from sunrise to sunset- it is closed on Fridays! There are also special night viewings five days every month on the full moon night and the two nights before and after. We were not lucky enough to be there on one of those nights but imagine that it is a can’t miss!
Our visit was in November and sunrise was around 7, but the gates opened at 6:30. We would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time here. As with our other experience booking train tickets online in India, we ran into some issues with the site. We found that booking on mobile doesn’t work, but found the site easy using a laptop.
Where To Enter the Taj Mahal
The East and West gates both open early for sunrise. We heard great things about both, but ended up entering via the West Gate. For both gates there is a bit of a walk from the tuk tuk drop off point to the queue to enter, give yourself an extra 10-15 minutes for this walk. There are also separate queues for men, women, foreigners, and Indian Nationals. At the west Gate, there were 4 gated entrance lines right next to each other from far right to left they were: Indian Men, Foreign Men, Foreign Women, and Indian Women. Security is quite strict about extra electronics. You are allowed one camera and one phone. We were a bit nervous about the headphones we brought to listen to the audio tour so hid them in our money belt.
Work Backwards: Entrance Last
Similar to our post on Acropolis – Tips for Avoiding the Crowds, the key upon entering is to not dawdle. As you enter you see the magnificent gate and then there is a raised platform where you can take your first Taj Mahal photo:
SKIP THESE and take the photos on your way out. If you keep going there is actually a second raised platform much closer to the Taj Mahal and the sooner you reach it the more likely there won’t yet be many people around as most dawdle back to take photos of the early grounds. We typically like to work backwards and admire the entrance on our way out:
How To Get Great Photos
We will get straight to the point here, our phenomenal photos were taken by Faizan Khan a photographer who works with his dad at the Taj Mahal. We had been warned that there are many photographers who work tourists for photos. Most of them carry large DSLR cameras and offer to print them on the spot. We had not planned on hiring a photographer for our visit, though Quan had bought a sari for the visit and wanted to get some nice shots at this iconic landmark.Faizan’s dad first approached us and we politely said no and then asked another tourist to take our photo. He stood behind the tourist and directed her on the angle and how to focus the photo by tapping on the IPhone. Quan, a self proclaimed Asian Photographer was impressed and intrigued. She then approached him and asked him how much for his service and what kind of shots he could take for us. This is when he crawled under a bench and took this shot using the bench’s filigree as a frame in this photo we call Postcard from the Taj from Man Laying Under Bench:
He also said his price was 500 rupees which is $7.70. SOLD! After taking a few photos with us he handed us over to his son Faizan who is the real artist in their operation. Below are the shots he directed us for in and around the Taj Mahal. Father and son picked plastic bottles out of a small puddle in order to get this clear shot for us. No this was not a pool, just a small puddle they made look like a pond, Reflections at the Taj:
This shot they called the Princess Diana, they posed Quan telling her where to put her hand and how to arch her back:After this Jesse asked for his dream shot of “Godzilla At the Taj” which they were able to angle right away. Quan then requested to jump in, which resulted in this composition:
Father and son had a good laugh at us after seeing this shot. Fazain’s dad left us shortly after this and we were left with the prodigal son.
He then took us to a bush and instructed Quan to step into the bush and lunge forward onto the sidewalk. We both think Jesse did a much better job at this pose. We call this Gorilla in the Mist:
Next came the Bench Engagement Photo, although at this point the morning fog was starting to set in. We also happened to be visiting on a week when the pollution was at hazardous levels so the haze is part fog, part pollution.
This was followed by the Tree In Front of Wonder of the World:
Since we already had the engagement photos, he then led us to the right of the Taj Mahal to a beautiful archway. This building is called Mehman Khana or Guest House the words means a drawing room where guests are entertained. It was originally used as an assembly hall to accommodate guests who gathered for the anniversary of the queen’s death. This area offers some of the best shots of the Taj Mahal. It is much less crowded than the area in front of the Taj Mahal and the arch ways of the assembly hall provide great frames for the shot.
There he told Jesse to get down on one knee and placed Quan in front of him for the Proposal At The Taj money shot:
The Taj Twirl:
A Taj Rendezvous
We wanted him to join in on the fun so this is Jesse and Faizan doing Jump For The Taj:
Here the morning mist / pollution fog really started setting in to the point where it looked like the Taj Mahal was floating in the air so this is how we got this shot we call David Blaine as it looks like we’re making the Taj Mahal levitate.
As the mist set in we captured this one called Got Him In The Palm of My Hands:
At this point the Taj Mahal was completely shrouded by the mist:
This is when we visited the mosque to the left of the Taj Mahal which has some beautiful architectural elements. Please note: you are required to wear shoe covers on the Taj Mahal marble but in addition take off your shoes for the mosque as it is a place of worship:
Here Faizan gave us some lessons in using the iPhone camera filters to capture architectural details. He also took these amazing candids against the backdrop of the mosque architecture:
We also requested this pose which we’ll call Welcome to Bollywood!:
In total we spent about 40 minutes with him taking photos around the Taj Mahal. He led us expertly around the grounds and knew exactly where to go for each shot. This gave us a good lay of the land and we were then able to comfortably explore with the details of the buildings using the audio compass app for a self guided tour. His father had asked for 500 rupees but we felt the value of the service was much more so tipped accordingly. They are not an agency but independent entrepreneurs working each day at the Taj Mahal. We can’t recommend them enough and hope you’ll reach out to them via their Instagram here. Here we are in this final photo with our new friend and photographer extrodonaire: