Places that are regarded as sacred are always interesting. They are often located in beautiful or unusual places, and designed in a manner sympathetic to their natural surroundings. Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, monasteries, spirit houses and shrines of all religions and types, are a daily focus for local activity and invariably regarded with great respect. Recognition of their significance is therefore a good starting point for travel photographers.
In such locations it is more important that ever to capture the feeling of the place as well as is location and physical characteristics. A photographer who is not sensitive to the atmosphere of the particular site is unlikely to capture the best images. Walk around for a while and immerse yourself in the environment. Observe not only the activities of the faithful but also their devotion and emotion. Notice how the worshippers respond to locations within the site and how they direct their prayers.
Approach any scared place with visible respect and sensitivity. People will notice your demeanour and activities and may be offended by excessively casual or revealing attire, the use of a camera or flash, or your presence in the area at inappropriate times or without explicit permission. Most sacred places, but not all, can be approached and photographed from outside without permission. In a few cases photography may be restricted to areas beyond particular open-air courtyards or sanctuaries. Ask if there is any doubt, and always check the acceptability of a camera or flash before working inside. The use of tripods may be restricted with a view to avoiding obstruction and protecting floors.
Places of worship usually have a steady flow of people passing through them. Wait near a main entrance and you will see local people, worshippers and visitors buying flowers, preparing offerings, lighting candles, turning prayer wheels and so on. Inside there will be silence or a t least a respectful lowering of voices. When religious services are in progress it is particularly important to remain unobtrusive, and respectfully in the background. Flash and noisy power winders should be switched off under such circumstances. At other times, try to avoid disturbing or walking in front of those engaged in private worship. Sacred places were not built for tourists or photographers.
If photography is allowed, look not only for grand views of windows, aisles, archways and roofs but also images of smaller features such as works of art, motifs and symbols of the particular religion. Details that might be regarded as incidental, such as burning candles, incense sticks, butter lamps or prayer texts, can say a great deal about the religion and locale.