Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Calakmul, Mexico — five stelae at the foot of Structure II:
Calakmul has no shortage of the vertical monuments called stelae, 117 at last count (the most of any site in the region). Sadly, the local limestone is fairly soft, so most of them are eroded to the point where much of the once-rich detail has been lost to weathering. But they can still make strong elements of a photographic composition if you’re careful with the lighting you’re working with.
An angled shot of Building 2 (Temple of the Cormorants) at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibanché in Quintana Roo, México:
Dzibanché is an amazing little site to visit — it doesn’t get the press of the bigger sites (so there are never crowds), but it still has lots of interesting structures to see.
The Temple of the Cormorants is the site’s tallest structure, but sadly you can’t climb it. Still, plenty to see from ground level. This structure contains three burial chambers, one stacked atop the next in its core. In the bottom one, archaeologists found the tomb of a member of the city’s elite, with a wealth of grave goods — including a polychrome vessel decorated with cormorants (giving the structure its modern name).
This shot’s taken from the northwest of the building — even from here you can see some of the structure’s many layers of construction, and you can just make out the stucco carvings under the sheltering roofs along the steps on its side.
Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico:
The more I read about Maya sites, the more complex I find the ball courts to be — or at least, the myriad forms they often take. If you’re curious, this ball court was built in an older, somewhat classic form — the side walls are mostly sloped, and the ends of the court are open. To take in this scene, though, you’re standing with a modern structure to your back — a covering for some pieces of sculpture. This calls for a wide lens, and a stitched multi-image panorama on top of it.
In Palenque‘s Cross Group ruins, the Temple of the Sun is definitely the “cover girl” of the group’s three structures. This is a bit ironic since it’s the shortest of the three temples, as it was dedicated to the most minor of Palenque’s triad of patron deities. But for one reason or another, it has weathered the intervening years more gracefully than have its siblings. So, its relatively good condition makes it the most photogenic member of the group.
This image was made from the steps of the tallest group member, the Temple of the Cross.
A compact string of five ruins, the North group sits at the north side of the cleared part of Palenque. You can walk around all of the group’s structures, but you can’t really get a good frontal shot of the five together due to a few pesky trees. I took this photo from the front steps of the Temple of the Count, probably the best vantage point if you want to photograph them together.
Probably one of the most-photographed sights at the ancient Maya ruins of Palenque, it’s the Palace’s tower:
On the days we visited Palenque, we had to deal with pretty persistent clouds — not a huge deal, if you have a few ways to handle them. In this case, I used NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 to avoid losing the shadowed parts of the tower and get a little drama in the otherwise-featureless clouds. It’s on the edge of looking “over-cooked,” but I think it works for this image.
The funny thing in retrospect is that in order to get this shot, I had to stand on what once were the Palace’s toilets. Good thing they haven’t been used for a thousand years.
If you’re planning on travel to Palenque in the near future, I’m doing final edits to my ”Photographer’s Guide” eBook for the ruins at Palenque. Should hit the (metaphorical) streets by Wednesday. Stay tuned…
A panorama from the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal, Mexico:
This shot is looking roughly southeast across the quadrangle — from the top steps of the quadrangle’s North Building. On the horizon, you can see the Governor’s Palace and the Great Pyramid.