Photographs of Bali are iconic to eyes all around the world, ranging from stunning, terraced padi fields, beaches and surfing, to ancient temples. Here are some favourite spots of renowned photographer David Metcalf, including his professional tips and tricks.
This 11th century temple complex is a photographer’s delight with a variety of photographic subjects, allowing you to capture stunning images. You will have the shutter going into overdrive. There are ancient terraced rice fields in classic Balinese style, farmers working in the fields, massive candi (shrines) built into the rock-face and a gentle, flowing river at the bottom of the 270 steps to tempt you into some frozen-action water shots.
TIPS: Bring your tripod and some filters. There is also a smaller, very beautiful temple to wander around with very ancient statues, which allows for some great, detailed photography. The walk back up the 270 steps is a bit of an effort, so you need to be in reasonable shape. The key point is you must get to Gunung Kawi no later than 7am. The sun is just coming over the top of the valley and you can get about one hour of really nice light on the rice fields. This place gets really popular with tour groups after 10am, so get there early and take in the peaceful ambience of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monument.
LOCATION: Located in Tampak Siring, 20 minutes north of Ubud. Please note, there is another Gunung Kawi in Sebatu, so do not get confused.
JATILUWIH and BATUKARU
World Heritage listed, these century-old rice terraces are about 1.5 hours drive from Ubud. Try and time your visit around the rice harvest, but if that is not possible, any time of the year is good for capturing the shapes and curves of the terraces and the ever-changing light. I suggest you make your way down from the main road and get amongst the rice fields. Be sure to turn up your vibrancy to really emphasize the greens. Black and white photography here is very effective with the many shapes of the rice fields as they curve around the hillsides.
After a couple of hours here, proceed along the one-way road to Pura Luhur Batukaru. It is a good idea to get out of the car and walk along the quiet country roads for a kilometre or two. You will be able to photograph rural Bali scenes with farmers and lush, green rice fields.
The temple itself has a very misty, rainy, ancient look and again wonderful to photograph one of Bali’s most spiritual temples. It is more than likely you will be the only one here, as it is seldom visited by tourists. Please be respectful to the local devotees praying to the Gods and be quiet. Do not walk in front of people praying. There is also a small river that runs through the back of the temple, accessible by a few steps; worth a photo or two.
TIPS: Wide-angle lens is best to take in the architecture of the temple.
LOCATION: North of Ubud, and if you mention Jatiluwih, your driver will definitely know how to get there.
KINTAMANI and LAKE BATUR
An absolute must-do for serious landscape photographers. The main road, which runs along the ridge, affords spectacular views over Mt. Agung and Mt. Batur, however you must arrive here before 6am, which means an early start. At this time you can often catch the mist as it rises from the valley floor and the sun’s rays reflecting off the clouds, offering an array of colours as the light changes quickly in the high altitude.
TIPS: Use a range of lenses here, but a 14 – 24mm wide angle will get most of the use. ND filters and a tripod is a must. It can be very cool in the early morning so rug up.
Allow an hour for photographing and grab a strong Balinese coffee and head down to the large lake below and photograph the fishermen as the sun bursts through the early morning misty rays. The steep hillsides that rise out of the southern side of the lake make for a dramatic backdrop. After the mist clears, the green, turquoise colours of the lake reveal themselves and you will get some great shots of the lake and the active volcano.
Use a wide angle lens for the landscapes and zoom up to 300mm for the fishermen working on the lake.
LOCATION: A 40-minute drive from Ubud at 5am with no traffic, but allow about 1.5 hours to get back from Lake Batur to Ubud after 11am when the roads get busy.
This is not a place but a temple ceremony. There are odalans happening all the time, especially around the Ubud area, and they occur on or around the full moon. Ask at your hotel or you can refer to the Balinese calendar, if you can understand it! The size of the temple will depend on how long the odalan will last for and how elaborate it will be. Some of the larger temples, such as Samuan Tiga Temple can hold an odalan for up to three weeks.
TIP: This is wonderful portrait photography, so a fixed prime lens, for example 50mm 1.4, will get a lot of use and a mid range zoom 24 – 105mm is very useful.
Bali is a photographer’s dream with so many different subjects, combining very special light and a spiritual energy for many kinds of landscape photography. But the real beauty of Bali, I feel, lies in the people and in the faces and eyes of the children. If you wander into their world with an open heart and a smile and give them the respect they deserve, you will be able to capture some unforgettable moments and extraordinary beauty. Go for it!
David Metcalf, masterclass photographer and his Balinese photography partner Nyoman run regular half-day and one-day photo tours in the Ubud area. Their tours combine the places mentioned above and many hidden places that tourists would never discover. The tours are suitable for beginners to advanced photographers. The one-on-one personal tutoring offered and many tips of the trade will set you on the right path to improving your skills and taking home memorable images of Bali.