loader image

10 Tips for Photographing Petra

Petra, situated in the southern region of Jordan, is an iconic destination and a once-in-a-lifetime location to visit. It is the great Nabatean capital city. At it’s zenith, it was home to over 100,000 people. Made internationally renowned by the film Indian Jones and the Last Cruise, Petra lives up to the hype and excitement. It’s buildings tower high overhead, carved directly into the rock face of a narrow canyon.  Photographing the site of Petra is on my travel photographer’s bucket lists, as I’m sure it’s on yours.

Below are my top 10 tips for photographing the ancient city of Petra. Hopefully this will help you come away with some amazing photos of this incredible site. This article also contains a video where I go in-depth on my tips for photography Petra.

Tip # 1 : Visit the Site Early

Arrive to Petra before the site opens to be one of the very first people into the site. Petra is a popular destination – particularly amongst photographers and instagramers. As a result, many people arrive right when the gates open so they an get to Petra when the light is good and before the crowds. I recommend arriving before the site opens to get in line, so you can be one of the first people to reach the Treasury. Also, the famous Treasury receives the soft morning light for only a very short window of time – and then light starts to shine quite harshly. Arriving early also lets you maximize your time with the few crowds.

Later afternoon is also a good time to photograph the Treasury. The afternoon light bounces off the far call and illuminates the Treasury facade with soft light. The quality if light is different in the morning and later afternoon, so I recommend photographing the Treasury at both times to get the best conditions and to also see which time has the fewest crowds.

The Treasury is one of the most popular locations in Petra to photograph. Arrive when the site opens to have the best light and fewest people. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway

Tip # 2 : Hike The Trails Around Petra

There is much more to see beyond the main stretch of buildings at Petra. After photographing the Treasury at sunrise, use the remainder of the morning light and fewer crowds to explore the hiking trails around Petra. Many of these routes offer unique views of some Petra’s most iconic buildings – such as the Treasury, the amphitheater, the Royal Tombs, as well as the Monastery. Due to its geographical location and desert climate the light can get quite harsh pretty quick in Jordan, so it’s important to maximize the morning hours for photography.

The old Bedouin trails around Petra having captivating views and offer a unique way to explore the sprawling Nabatean capital city. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Tip # 3 : Take Time to Enjoy Petra

From mid-day until the afternoon the light in Petra is quite harsh. This is a great time take a deep breath and enjoy exploring the site. Go inside builds to see how the Nabateans carved their buildings into the cliff faces. Location scout for good late in the day places to photograph. Visit the open-air museum with well preserved mosaics. And spend a few hours marveling that you are at the incredible ancient city of Petra. Sometimes as photographers we can get so busy with taking photographs that we don’t always stop and absorb where we are. This couple hour window when the light is harsh is a great time to metaphorically stop, smell the roses, and explore Petra as a traveler.

Petra's main commerce area district. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Video: 10 Tips For Photographing Petray

Tip # 4 : Photograph the Royal Tombs and the Monastery in the Late Afternoon

The best time to photograph the Monastery and Royal Tombs is late in the afternoon when these buildings are cast in a nice pre-sunset glow. I recommend hiking up to the Monastery (which takes about an hour each way from the Royal Tombs), photographing as long as you can there late in the afternoon, and the photographing the Royal Tombs as you’re heading out. You will need to time this just right so that you can exit before the site closes – that will depend on the time of year.  Some of the best light for photographing both these sites is right before sunset. That last afternoon glow brings out the oranges and red colors in the rock.

Tip # 5 : Photograph Petra By Night

Photograph Petra By Night – an event taking place 3 nights a week where the entry to Petra along the Siq as well as the Treasury is illuminated with hundreds of candles.  Staff light the entrance through the main Siq and the gorge floor in front of the Treasure with hundreds of candles. It’s spectacular to photograph the twisting canyon and the iconic facade of the Treasury under a blanket of stars. During the show lights and colors are projected onto the Treasury, the best photos are before the show starts and right when it ends. Don’t forget to bring a tripod and a fast lens if you have one. The canyon is pretty narrow so ideally a 24mm or wider lens is best to use.

Tip # 6 : Spend At Least 2 Days At Petra

There is more to see and photograph at Petra beyond the main set of buildings. Add at least one more day to capitalize on two sunrises and sunsets, as well as to have more time to get off the beaten path and get great photos. Petra isn’t limited to the Treasury, Royal Tombs and Monastery, in fact it is a sprawling city which stretches for miles through numerous siqs and canyons. Visit the site of Petra – beautiful carved Nabatean buildings like Petra with the added bonus of hardly any visitors. Hire a local guides and spend a day hiking through other Nabatean ruins outside of the main site. They are just as beautiful for sunrise and sunset photos and it will help your travel photos stand apart. Multi-day entry passes are available and make it affordable to spend a few days photographing many aspects of Petra.

Aerial view of the Monastery at Petra. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Tip # 7 : Show Scale

Utilize people, donkeys, camels, horses and any other ground level elements to show the scale of the massive buildings in Petra. Because the buildings are cut right into the rock wall of a network of canyons how tall the buildings are can get lost in the height of the cliff faces. To show this scale utilize the tourists who are visiting to the site to show the scale. Instead of waiting for all the people to clear away (which can often feel like an exercise in futility given the number of people who visit Petra each day), instead put those tourists to work as scale models. Photograph people in your frame to show how tall and immense the buildings are at Petra.

The great reveal as the Siq gives way to the Treasury. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Tip # 8 : Visit Little Petra

Just as spectacular as it’s big brother, Little Petra is part of the once great Nabatean capital city. It’s a series of Nabatean buildings carved into a near by siq. Located about a 20 minute drive from Petra, the hike between the two sites is a must-do if you enjoy hiking or are looking to make beautiful landscape photos of the terrain around Petra. The hike begins at Little Petra – start right at sunrise to have the best light for most of the hike. It takes around 3-4 hours to complete the journey on foot from Little Petra to Petra. The hike ends at the Monastery.

An industry and entrepreneurial Bedouin set up this pop-up cafe at one of the impressive overlooks on the hike from Little Petra to Petra. They serve piping hot coffee and tea with a breathtaking view. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Tip # 9 : Photograph the Bedouin at Petra

Whether you focus on portraiture or prefer to photograph a variety of travel photography topics, I recommend spending time with the local Bedouin. They are warm, friendly people, many of whom grew up in the caves of Petra before the government required them to move to a town near Wadi Musa. They have a strong connection to the land and many of the Bedouin now work as guides at Petra. The best way connect with the Bedouin is to hire a local guide for the day who knows the people in the community and can help translate your photography goals as well as the language (though most of the Bedouin speak pretty good English). And remember to always as before taking someone’s photograph.

Take time to get to know the people of Petra. The local Bedouin are friendly and many of them lived in the caves of Petra until recently. The site of Petra isn't just the rock facades, it's also the story of the people who still like in and around the area today. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Tip # 10 : Pack Your Sense of Adventure

And this is the most important tip – pack your sense of adventure! Travel photography can be challenging with many of the best laid plans going awry. Do your homework. Research well in advance. Plan as much as you can. And then be prepared for plans to change. This can be a great opportunity to make unique photographs that other people don’t have the opportunity to make. To make the most of any travel adventure – pack your sense of adventure, humor and flexibility. You’ll end up with great photos no matter what curve balls are thrown your way and you’ll come away with great stories to tell too.

Camera gear packed - check. Sense of adventure packed - check. Sunrise in the Siq. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Genevieve Hathaway is a travel and documentary photographer and filmmaker. She is passionate about telling stories that empower women, local communities and conservation. Genevieve is the founder and storyteller-at-large for ArchaeoAdventures.

6 thoughts on “10 Tips for Photographing Petra”

  1. Hi, could you please share what time of the day the photo of treasure was taken? I’v read due to the fact it is hidden between rocks there’s no light during sunset while the photo looks so sunsetish 😉 Thanks in advance

  2. Genevieve Hathaway


  3. Hi Genevieve,
    Thank you so much for your rich advice. I and my family are planning to visit Petra in December. Photograph the Treasury is one of the reason that we visit there. For the first picture of Treasury, it was taken from a high place. Can you advise me where it is and how to get there?
    I looked the map and I felt that the Monastery is facing the east. But you suggested that we should take picture before sunset. Is that right?
    What focus length of lens is the best for Treasury (from the high spot) and Monastery?

    Very appreciated!

    Zong Liu
    Houston Texas US

    1. Genevieve Hathaway

      Dear Zojng,

      Thank you for the wonderful comment. I’m glad you found this post very helpful. There was a trail on the wall opposite from the Treasury. I’m not sure if it is still open and accessible. You could see if that trail is still there. I recommend a wide angle lens for photographing the Treasury – such as a 16-35mm. The light is best for the Monastery late afternoon/closer to sunset. The Monastery – you could shoot either a telephoto to compress the background or a wide angle. The Monastery is on a high plateau so you’ll have lots of room for both a telephoto or wide angle lens. Between the two I would recommend a telephoto to compress the shot and also help with architectural distortion you can get with a 24mm and wider. Hope that helps. Have a great trip.



    1. Genevieve Hathaway

      Hi David,

      It was shot in May right after the site opened. I think that was at 6am. So it’s early morning light. I used a 70-200mm lens. I think that photo I shot at 200mm. Hope that helps.

      Cheers, Genevieve

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top

Hello we noticed you were visiting from the Microsoft Alumni Network website.
Please note that members receive 10% off all regularly priced tours.
Use coupon code MSFTAN10OFF while booking.

Walk inside the Great Pyramid where Egypt rests her mighty king

· Explore Egypt’s fascinating history with expert Egyptology guides.

· Walk in the footsteps of Pharaohs at the Great Pyramid and Sphinx.

· Meet a local farm family and learn how my Egyptians live along the banks of the mighty Nile River.

· Discover the beauty, mystery and artisans of Old Cairo.

Fill in your details and we will contact you once the tour is available

Beyond petra to the north lies jerash the Antioch on the Golden River

· Discover Jordan’s thriving, modern capital city Amman.
· Explore the ancient wonders of Petra.
· Marvel at the beauty of Petra By Night.
· Enjoy the spectacular desert landscape of Wadi Rum overnight under the stars.
· Relax while floating in the Dead Sea.
· Explore Jordan’s Roman heritage at the ancient site of Jerash.
· Walk through the wonders of Ajloun Nature Reserve and Forest.
· Spend time with local artisans who still produce crafts and olive oil in the traditional way.
· Stay in a comfortable Jordanian guesthouse and enjoy a homecooked traditional meal.

Fill in your details and we will contact you once the tour is available

Share our passion for travel?

Sign up for our travel newsletter!

Inspiring articles, photos, videos, news and discount offers.