Israel may be a fifth the size of Iceland, but it’s a land overflowing with visual milk and honey: crimson canyons, fluorescent coral reefs, white beaches, towering rock formations, and crumbling religious monuments. All of this geographical diversity and religious history is jam-packed into 223 miles, making travel–even to the most remote areas–a cinch, so you can power your portfolio with these eight Middle Eastern photography destinations.
1. The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea (Yam Hamelakh)– a hypersaline lake bordering Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan–sinks 1,388 feet below sea level, making it Earth’s lowest land point. It’s also 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, allowing visitors to float effortlessly on its surface.
Forty-two miles long and 11 miles wide, the Dead Sea also littered with archeological ruins. It’s best known for being the biblical site of Sodom and Gomorrah. Near Eilat, south of this”The Salty Sea”, stands a rock salt formation known as “Lot’s wife”. The area was a refuge for many historical figures including King David, Jesus or Nazareth, and Herod the Great, making it the perfect destination for a portrait, landscape, or seascape photographer.
Make sure to drag along a waterproof camera, a camera extender, a pair of sandals or water shoes (the seabed is composed of large boulders), a lightweight tripod, and a bag full of props– local newspapers, religious texts, flower crowns, or a mustache on a stick. If your camera isn’t waterproof, you’ll want to snap your photos before you get into the Dead Sea or slather yourself with its therapeutic mud because salt will form a film over your lens, ruining your action shots. If you camera does come into contact with salt water, though, turn it off immediately, take off the lens, pop out the batteries and memory card, dunk it into fresh water for five seconds, and seal the camera in a bag of white rice.
2. The Red Canyon
The Red Canyon, 984 feet long, is made up of red, white, and purple sandstone. It’s narrow and winding, dotted with tight chasms, and surrounded by towering, 98 feet walls.
Part of the Nahal Shani riverbed, hikers can choose three routes: the circular, green, or black route. The circular route, 75 minutes long, stretches around the canyon and is appropriate for most agile people. It’s perfect for wide-angle cameras and boasts views of white broom and saltbush. Koreh, or sand partridges, will also accompany you part of the way. These ruddy colored birds blend into the scenery, which makes getting a picture of them difficult. But they’re chatty and can’t resist picking seeds and flowers out of the sand.
The green route runs through the river bed. Descents are small and 9 to 12 feet in some areas. Many visitors enjoy sliding down the rock, but metal poles, handholds, and footholds are available. The black trail allows you to scale to the top of the Red Canyon– which is completely level– using climbing ropes. If you’re on the green or black routes, you’ll want to bring along an Adventurist Camera Kit featuring: a GoPro Head Strap, a QuickClip, a GoPro Tripod Mount, a GoPro Suction Cup, a GoPro Vented Helmet Strap Mount, and a GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition.
3. Dor-Habonim Beach
Dor-Habonim Beach, managed by the Mediterranean Coastal Nature Reserve, stretches for three miles. Dor-Habonium Beach hosts yellow sandstone pillars, white sand dunes, shallows pools, and natural rock sculptures–such as the turtle and camel. It’s also home to “Shell Bay”, a section of rock embedded with thousand of seashells, and Tel Dor, an ancient marine city where Canaanites, Zebulun Hebrews, and Phoenicians produced indigo dye from medium-sized marine snails.
4. Timna Park
Timna Natural Park, 16 miles north of Eilat, houses King Solomon’s mines. Among rock arches, geological mushrooms, and giant columns of King Solomon Sandstone, you’ll find engravings of chariots. You can also visit the crumbling temple of Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess that stood for joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Visitors can also view a replica of the tabernacle, collect green and blue sand in bottles, imprint a King Solomon coin, and paddle boat on the Lake Timna.
5. The Coral Reef
Eilat’s coral reef is home to 270 different species of coral, including fluorescent green and yellow varieties. Its coral walls descend to depths of 9 to 105 feet. This underwater jungle boasts 2,500 species including sea turtles, sea urchins, sea anemones, octopi, cuttlefish, crabs, oysters, and dolphins. On the northern end of the reef, you can view two huge rocks known as Joshua and Moses; on the southern end of the reef, you can view the Japanese gardens.
You’ll want to shove your digital camera into underwater housing or purchase a waterproof camera with a telephoto lens, for wildlife photography, or a wide-angle lens, for reefscapes. You’ll want to take your reefscapes in sunny weather, which will create even exposure in the coral wall’s splits, with calm water conditions. In rough conditions, shooting vertical provides more room for error.
6. The Wailing Wall
The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is a surviving remnant of the Solomon’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. This “Wall of Tears” is also a part of Mount Moriah, King David’s capital, and is the closest location to the “holy of holies” or God’s throne room. Jews and Christians stick prayers in the cracks of the walls during their three major festivals Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), making it an excellent spot for snapping portraits.
7. Haas Promenade
The Haas Promenade, locally dubbed “the Tayelet”, provides a 2/3 mile panoramic view of the City of David, Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, and Hurva Synagogue. It was built by the British in the 1930s for their high commissioner but later was handed over to the United Nations, who still uses it to observe the armistice line that once divided the city.
The Haas Promenade is most beautiful at sunset because the Holy City is caressed by the sun’s soft light and its white stones reflect a golden hue. The best sunset pictures require you to: ditch your filters and polarizers, grab a tripod, and underexpose your images– by using manual mode and selecting a fast shutter speed. If you want the sun to appear large in your sunset photo, use a telephoto lens. If you want the sun to appear small, use a wide-angle lens. Another rule of thumb: place the horizon of a lackluster sunset in the top third of your photo and the horizon of a breathtaking sunset in the bottom of third of your photo.
8. Soreq Cave
The Soreq Cave is located 12 miles west of Jerusalem inside of the Judean Hill’s western slopes. It’s the largest cave in Israel, measuring 200 feet wide and 200 feet long, and was accidentally discovered after a quarry explosion. Its stalactites are 12 feet long and were formed 5 million years ago. Other rock formations resemble tree branches, coral clusters, cloth sheets, or wooden shelves. The best time to visit is during the winter when rain drops drip onto the cave floor and form reflective puddles. You’ll want to bring a headlamp and wide-angle lens with flash. To reduce noise–black patches creeping into your photos–lower your ISO to 800 or lower.