Preparing for Jordan’s Petra & Wadi Rum Desert Experience

Peggy Farren 2014-01-10

by Tom Tracy

Some of the most important decisions about travel photography for a given project are made well before you leave home, beginning with what to bring and, importantly, what not to bring.

Over the years I have found no two photographers will agree perfectly on their packing strategy, which means there is really no right answer — only one that you will have to live with.

Personally, the travel-planning phase means actually writing down and revising the equipment strategy right up to the last minute until finally I find that sweet spot between bringing too little gear and too much hefty stuff — while usually including one new goodie or loaned item such as a lens that I want to field test as a way of boosting my own “fun factor.”

WadiRum copy

At the end of last year, a spot opened up on an all-journalists week-long tour of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, otherwise known simply as Jordan, a small picturesque Arab country situated adjacent to Israel and highly valued for its Biblical history and instantly-recognizable images; Petra, the ancient desert dwelling made popular in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and of Wadi Rum, a beautiful desert of red sands and Bedouin tribes made popular by the film “Lawrence of Arabia.”


During an overseas whirlwind trip in particular the emphasis has to be on traveling light: I settled on one main camera body with a less expensive backup, one flash and about three lenses including a loaner: the 100mm 2.8 macro from Canon which wedding & portrait photographers rave about.

As useful as the standard 70-200mm 2.8 lens is at home, I just can’t fathom carrying that heavy piece all day long through airports, hotels and on buses, and it’s too valuable to risk theft or damage in my view (Others would not leave out that lens.). And I am not much of a tripod-High Dynamic Range (HDR) sort of guy so I probably wouldn’t schlep around a foreign country with a bulky tripod.

From our base at the lovely Movenpeck Resort Petra, a Swiss-owned upscale hotel company with a location walking distance to the Petra entrance, our group of some 10 writers & photographers did a guided day tour of what was once the capital city of the Nabataeans of Arabia — a dwelling which dates back to as early as 312 BCE.


On most tours one really doesn't have a lot of time to spend at these magnificent sites so my constant advice to myself is to hit it hard and hit it early upon arrival because the photo ops are fleeting: the morning sunlight nicely illuminated the architectural features carved in the Petra’s crevices. And we quickly learned to be on the lookout for galloping horse & riders passing by, making for some great action shots.


The new Canon 6D body has proven to be a terrific camera for me over the last year, especially in its “silent shooting mode” which came in handy for discreet portraits of Bedouin tour guides, children and camel-operators who work inside Petra. A few of my favorite shots were silhouettes of the camel riders set against the bright red rock, which requires manual mode exposure for the background and, as always, tweaking out the RAW files back home.5

At the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan we got around in jeeps, and climbed rugged rock formations looking for exceptional sunset and landscape opportunities. It was also a good time for us to shoot portraits of each other and of our photogenic Bedouin drivers.


Jordan is frequently experienced as a three-day extension to a longer visit to neighboring Israel, but there is enough here for a full week’s visit including the Red Sea port of Aqaba, the Jordanian capital Amman, Dead Sea resorts and many Biblical and New Testament destinations like the Jordan River Baptismal Site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan.


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Tom Tracy is a writer, photojournalist and event photographer based in West Palm Beach. He has traveled extensively as a travel & religion writer.

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