Petra, Jordan

tourists and Bedouin guides reach the end of the Siq and emerge before the Treasury at Petra, Jordan.
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I always wanted to go there. I wanted to take this photo from the first time I saw one like it. This is Petra. Iconic star of tourism posters for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, burial ground and former capital of the Biblical kingdom of Nabatea, visual setting for dramatic movie scenes, and star of magazine photo spreads and posters of exotic travel destinations. So when I found myself in Jordan, I just had to take a day and go there. I spent that entire day on my feet, exploring ancient Nabatean Petra and the ruins of the town the Romans built there. Taking pictures. Thousands of pictures.

After paying for admission, the visitor follows the ancient road into a steep-sided rift between two matching rock faces. This is the Siq. It runs for about 1.2 kilometers over historic paving stones and past the remains of ancient carvings, between sheer rock walls at the bottom of a deep rift made not by water, but by some prehistoric seismic event that literally split the rock. It takes 15-20 minutes or so to walk the length of the Siq to enter Petra. You can do it faster and easier if you pay one of the local Bedouins to ride a camel, mule, or cart. Add an extra hour for a shutterbug on foot who can’t pass up a single chance for a picture of these remarkable surroundings.

The end of the Siq road appears without warning. Suddenly, there it is! I realize I am right in the middle of the shot I came for — the photo I first saw in some magazine like National Geographic; the image that made such a huge impression on me over 20 years ago. This is the view that probably brought me to Petra. Between the sheer walls of the Siq, I catch sight of the most famous ancient Nabatean monument. This is Al Khazneh, “the Treasury” — a massive edifice carved by the ancient Nabateans into the face of a cliff facing the Siq. (Though now called the treasury, it was probably really intended as a tomb. There’s no treasure there. Really. I looked.)

In Jordan the sun is very bright and shadows very deep. The stones are light colored and very reflective. Despite my best efforts with exposure compensation, f-stops, and filters, it was incredibly hard to control contrast. Many of my photos were very unbalanced, with too-dark shadows and blown out highlights. This image of the Treasury viewed through the end of the Siq was possible only at the very end of the day, when I was actually walking out. The sun was down and light was fading. In the Siq, the stark contrast and deep shadows of daytime had faded. The facade of the treasury was still illuminated by the remaining light from the sky, but no longer blazingly bright and throwing everything else into shadow.

(Available light shot with a tripod using a Nikon D200, 35mm prime lens at f/2, shutter 1/4 sec., ISO 800.)