“Blue Taj Mirage”
The Taj Mahal—this Blue Taj Mirage—is the crown jewel of India.
“A teardrop on the cheek of eternity,” opined Rabindranath Tagore. “The embodiment of all things pure,” declared Rudyard Kipling. The Taj Mahal’s creator, Emperor Shah Jahan, proclaimed that its beauty made, “the sun and moon shed tears from their eyes.”
Awed by lyrical appreciation, countless photographers have crafted unique visual interpretations of this treasured gem.
I’ve photographed the Taj Mahal more than twenty times in about as many years.
(All Images Copyright © Glen Allison – Click Photos for Fine Art Prints)
“Blue Taj Mirage”
Poetic license allows creative interpretation. Beauty dwells in the mind.
This image was captured at sunrise when the sky was deeply layered in amber and gold. But it’s possible to pre-visualize something completely different . . . way beyond the banal existing reality. I own this blue, nuanced by manually shifting the ambient color temperature far, far away in an opposite direction in degrees Kelvin toward twilight lavender hues. This radical, though subdued flip in perception, brought my mind closer to the serene sensations I experienced that morning when I gazed upon the Taj.
However, the reality of the moment when my shutter clicked was anything but serene. Lying at my feet six inches behind was a dead dog. I couldn’t move away or I’d lose the moment and my precise alignment of the sun with the Taj. I couldn’t escape the stench. I was perched on a narrow concrete embankment next to the sacred Yamuna River. I needed to move back and diagonally left but I couldn’t without falling into the water or straddling the maggot-eaten dog carcass. The sun was creeping up fast, only seconds away, and I wanted it positioned exactly centered between the two minarets. You’ll notice that it’s not. That’s because my tripod would have needed to be centered exactly above that dead dog. No way.
Later in Lightroom I chose to shift the color toward the serenity of blue with its inherent calmness and this made me feel much better. Hey, we photographers can add creative flair but you wouldn’t believe the shooting conditions we often encounter when creating magic.
Yes, with the ease of simple Photoshop manipulation I could have quickly centered the sun exactly between the two minarets after the fact and moved it’s reflection slightly to the left, as well. I changed the color at whim but I purposely chose not to move the sun for this particular image even though it would power a more perfect composition. To do so, however, would not be celebrating my persistence in living through the shooting circumstances with that smelly dead dog nipping at my heels. So, I’ve gone euphoric with this image’s imperfection. Now you know why.
On another day in another year the Taj sky had no color at all. No sun. Just drab grey.
But drab, too, can be flipped toward magic in post-production where I can easily add glowy haze.
By the way, I didn’t pay those two guys to row their boat into the perfect position. Serendipity.
Yes, I’m a vagabond traveler for the love of it but ultimately this is a business venture and it can be expensive to visit exotic locales. So, no way was I leaving the Taj that day without a salable image in my wallet. Later in Lightroom, I transformed a socked-in overcast sky into an ethereal glow by simply moving the clarity slider all the way to the left. Voila! Now Getty Images would accept this photo.
No decaying dead dogs that day.
Typically I try to maximize the relationship of image elements as I encounter them on location. But sometimes the end visualization must be crafted on the fly.
No, I didn’t just happen to bump into this camel on the riverbank below the Taj. I went to Rent-A-Camel. There aren’t many camels in Agra but when I spotted this one ambling down the road, I asked my taxi driver to pull over and negotiate a deal. Afterward, the camel with its rider promptly loped along behind my auto-rickshaw following us to the river. Along the way, we stopped at a shop where I bought a Rajasthani turban for the occasion just to make the scene look more authentic. By the time we arrived at my pre-scouted location the sun was setting fast so I quickly instructed the rider to guide his camel back and forth till I nailed my shot.
Hey, sorry to undermine your perception of what might have been a National Geographic moment of serendipity. These kinds of scenes get set up all the time by professional travel photographers. Not that you wouldn’t see such an occurrence in real life but you might have to sit there for twenty-eight years waiting for it to happen.
I don’t often make full composite travel photo creations but when I do, I duly inform buyers that the image was digitally composited. The photo above was created from a silhouette shot of the Taj as I stood there late one afternoon but the fluted arch came from a Mughal palace somewhere else in India on another day and I shot the sunset in Bali a few months earlier.
Now for the real deal.
This image happened as you see it.
When I arrived at this vantage point, the sky was fully overcast but I never give up. A half-hour later the clouds broke and I was gifted God rays from heaven. I went ballistic.
A few months later I was on a flight somewhere east of Krakatoa when I spotted this image gracing a double-page spread in the onboard inflight magazine. My photo was used in an ad placed by the India National Tourist Board for their “Incredible India” campaign. I couldn’t resist showing it to the flight attendant as I pointed out the byline and handed her my business card for validation. She was so excited she gave me a bottle of complimentary wine.
Hey, it was later I realized I should have kept that magazine for similar use on a future flight. 🙂
Shah Jahan ordered the Taj Mahal be built as a magnificent mausoleum for the deceased wife he had loved so much. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. The Shah was so heartbroken that his hair, it is said, turned grey almost overnight. (But I’m guessing that after fourteen kids his hair probably turned grey with the stress of trying to remember all his kid’s names.) Nevertheless, he spared no expense in the construction of the Taj. Its marble inlay work is encrusted with thousands of semiprecious stones. Twenty thousand highly skilled craftsmen labored more than twenty years to construct this incredible edifice. Before it’s completion, however, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his own son and imprisoned in the Red Fort two miles away. He was left with only a tiny window to view this sacred burial site until his dying day.
Rabindra Nath Tagore’s full quote in tribute to Emperor Shah Jahan:
“Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish. Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.”
Watch this “Tribal Wild Steampunk Train” YouTube video of my PCEC presentation in Thailand. It depicts a visionary adventure of personal growth launched from the pit of misfortune and bankruptcy that propelled me along a self-awakened path forward. It’s a light-hearted story of struggle, missteps, reinvention, perseverance, and resilience—a trajectory rekindling impossible dreams almost buried by lessons needing to be learned. The slideshow is jam-packed with dazzling photos and concludes with an uplifting message.
Read the “Pattaya Mail” press article about this PCEC slide presentation,“Reinventing Yourself.”
Read snippets and see thumbnail photos from all my previous Travel Blog Posts.
Click these thumbnails to see the full range of fine art prints for these Taj Mahal images.
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I only use Lonely Planet guidebooks.
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