Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oh Look! More Hieroglyphics!

We've been visiting lots of temples since we left Cairo. Philae, Kom-Ombo, Edfu, Karnak, Luxor and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Each of these are covered in hieroglyphics telling stories and proclaiming the greatness of Egypt and its rulers. At first, these are amazing things to see. They have been there for thousands of years and in many cases are spectacularly sharp as if they were just cut today. Some of the temples still have original paint on them and you can just start to get a sense of how awesome the original temples must have been. After a couple of days of seeing so many sites rich in these hieroglyphics you can become numb to them. Just like when we were toodling around Germany after Photokina a couple of years ago and the numerous castles dotting the countryside first made us stop each time we saw one and later we would zip past them with a brief "Oh look - another castle... Yup."

Many of the temples create some unique challenges for photography. The sun and shadows intermingle on walls, pillars and the floors creating very compelling scenes but there is so much dynamic range that it is nearly impossible to capture what you see. If you expose for the sunlit parts, then the shadows will be too dark and you won't see any detail in there. If you expose for the shadows, then the sunlit areas will be blown out and again you lose the details. Shooting raw helps because at least you can play around with some of the exposure settings when processing the image but often it is not enough. We've been playing around with high dynamic range images where you take anywhere between 2 and 7 pictures at different exposures and they merge them together to create single image that can selectively render the detail in different parts of the image. The result can be pretty flat but with some work in Photoshop you can start to get pretty good results. I'm still working on a bunch of those shots.

Again it is Bob and Pat who made the temples and their inscriptions come alive. I am typically running from place to place trying to get a unique view on the ruins but when I see them standing by some wall full of writing I usually stop just to listen to his storied of the events that unfolded nearby or how the priests or pharoahs or just about anyone else lived. Bob is himself a bundle of energy -- rushing from spot to spot saying things like "Oh! This is interesting..." or "There's a really great shot over here - this is the only place you'll see this..." It's really too bad that I can't keep all of the annotations of what Bob and Pat shared with us during the tour.

One interesting tidbit. When later civilizations came upon the temples, they would often co-opt them for their own use. The early Christians (the Copts) would often chisel out the faces of the Egyptian gods and pharoahs and add their own coptic crosses on the temples. It is from this practice that the word "defacing" is derived.

Hieroglypics from the Temple of Edfu

An obelisk at Karnac meets the lens baby

Hieroglyphs at Philae

A coptic cross at the Temple of Philae


Adam said...

Hi, I was wondering if you could indicate what period that Hieroglyph from the Temple of Edfu was from, it looks Late Period/Ptolemaic?

Duffergeek said...

Honestly, I'm not sure. I bet Bob Brier would know :)