Travel Photography in Sri Lanka [the photographer’s guide]
When I am in Sri Lanka, photography is always my primary activity. I travel and I love taking out my camera to document this beautiful country.
The great thing about Sri Lanka is that as a photographer, either amateur or semi-professional, you can always find great situations for street photography, lovely sceneries for landscape photography, and great opportunities for travel photography.
My experience with the Sri Lankan people has been great. The fact that most of the people can talk basic English obviously helps a lot.
People like to be photographed (without demanding money), they have fun. I usually approach them, talking about the place they live, introducing myself and once I see a connection, I take out my camera.
I am aware only of one location in Sri Lanka where the locals demand money to be photographed, and it’s a very famous spot too. It’s up to you to decide what to do. I will talk later about it.
This guide to travel photography in Sri Lanka will help you answer these questions:
- what photography opportunities you may experience
- what gear should you take and setting in some challenging cases
- where to stay
- what photography shops are in Sri Lanka, handy in case of problems with your gear
Table of Contents
- 1 Photographing the water in Sri Lanka
- 2 Photographing the streets
- 3 Photographing the temples
- 4 Photographing the tea plantations of Sri Lanka
- 5 Street and landscape on the tea train
- 6 Making photos of the famous Sigiriya
- 7 Photography Shops in Sri Lanka
- 8 Where did I stay in Sri Lanka
- 9 Don’t miss these guides to the country
You can read also
- The 9 best areas to visit in Sri Lanka
- 10 great itineraries of Sri Lanka
- 21 Great Things To Do in Sri Lanka [including 5 hidden gems]
- Best time to travel to Sri Lanka
- Top things to do in Kandy
- 19 Unique things to do in Colombo [day & night]
- Essential travel guide to Jaffna in the north of the country
- Where to go and how to experience a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
- What to see and where to stay in Sigiriya
- A guide to Kalkudah and Pasikudah Beach on the east coast
I also want to mention two great resources:
- my Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography, a FREE (no need of leaving the email) 70 pages handbook that you can also download as PDF file for future reference. It has all you need to start and take you to the next level in travel photography
- 18 lectures on Digital Photography published by Prof. Marc Levoy, a great free course sourced from the Stanford University for Google
Another interesting website you may want to check is the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka, a great source of inspiration.
Photographing the water in Sri Lanka
Water is literally everywhere in Sri Lanka. You will have plenty of possibilities to take a nice travel photo at every place you visit.
There are so many opportunities.
Start with the main beach in the city, Galle Beach, facing the central area of the city.
I personally suggest catching also the train and go to Mount Lavinia, the most beautiful beach in Colombo.
Other great beaches are on the east and south coast. One of my favourites is in Pasikudah Bay.
Beside the sea, look out for lakes and reservoirs, literally everywhere, especially after the raining season.
Waterfalls are another great subject.
In my last trip, I pushed myself for a long trip to visit the Parwiyan Ella Falls, great spot, almost alone, no other tourists.
There are so many waterfalls that you will be spoiled by the options.
Photographing the whales is another popular activity, usually done in the south of Sri Lanka, leaving from the Galle area.
My personal suggestion is to shoot in shutter priority at 1/800sec and ISO/200 or manual mode at F/8 or F/11, shutter speed at least 1/800sec and ISO based on the correct exposure for the day.
If you need, go over 1/800sec (quicker shutter speed).
It’s a long day of navigation, leaving the hotel at around 5am, however, well worth the early call.
Below is one of the most beautiful and controversial place in Sri Lanka, for photography, Hikkaduwa.
This is where you will find most of the sites for stick fishing, together with other small towns on the south coast of the country.
It’s an easy 30 minutes trip from Galle.
Why is it controversial?
Because most of the locals on the sticks are acting as fishermen, once you pay them (around $10-15). They will approach you and ask for money. It’s mostly staged.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and if you are after that photo then do it. The important thing is that you will not be disappointed because there is nobody there actually fishing.
It’s part of the game. Aditya Siva above did a great photo with a long exposure setting.
You can read here more on the staging process and how the locals approach you. Sara Melotti on her website describes nicely her disappointment. As I said, we should not get upset, it’s part of the photography globalization process, and we are all part of it.
Photographing the streets
Sri Lanka has been one of the easiest places for street photography in my whole life.
My experience is that the locals are either not interested in you making photos or they nicely pose for you, which is absolutely unexpected.
My approach with people is very simple. I always try to start a conversation with a few smiles. Once I see there is a connection I ask to make a few photos.
Alternatively, if I see a great spot, either because of the good light or the great background, I stop and wait for interesting people passing by.
I call it fishing technique, seat and wait. In my own circle of confidence. You can read much more and some unusual tips on my street photography when travelling guide.
I was personally never asked money or a tip. I did, however, tip a lady in the tea field which was absolutely super nice.
When I visited Jaffna, in the top north, I was lucky enough to experience a great sunrise with the perfect light
And I met some interesting people along the day
The train is always a marvellous transportation system. In Sri Lanka, it is also an incredible place for photography.
If in Colombo, catch the train to Mount Lavinia that follows the coast till the famous beach.
Spend some time at the Central Station of Colombo, another hot spot for street photography in Sri Lanka. You need a ticket to enter, however, it’s only a few cents.
And finally, one of the photos I love the most, inside the kitchen of a family in central Sri Lanka.
Photographing the temples
As interesting as it may sound, the temples are absolutely a must visit-place to understand the local culture and religion as well as taking some good shots.
My suggestions about photography in a temple:
- make sure photography is allowed inside the temple area, in a few cases it is not and you should not do it
- sit and wait. If you find a great spot or a great corner, just wait for the right people (in case you want to include someone)
- try to use the back monitor instead of the viewfinder. This will create less of a wall between you and your subject
- monks are happy to be photographed once you have a talk with them
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is probably the most beautiful one in Sri Lanka, unmissable. By night it becomes so mystical.
Jaffna has also some interesting temples, especially the Nallur Kandaswamy.
And lots of beaches have the own little temple to protect the local village from the tsunami
Whenever possible look for some flowers to sub-frame the temple.
Photographing the tea plantations of Sri Lanka
The tea plantations are one of the most beautiful subjects for travel photography. I have visited a few and explored the tea production inside the factory, at the Norwood Tea Factory.
I personally suggest both experiences. Norwood is a great boutique company, therefore, with plenty of time to roam around.
Try to wear closed shoes as leeches are not uncommon (I had my foot literally attacked in a matter of minutes, I was wearing stupidly enough just flip-flops)
If you have a drone, the different patterns of the plantation can be a great subject.
Street and landscape on the tea train
It drives slowly through amazing mountain drops and green tea fields. It’s like watching a documentary.
The landscape is incredible and the train has open doors and windows, so it’s easy to get a good spot.
I personally suggest setting the camera in Shutter Priority at least 1/800sec to have a sharp photo. Alternatively go manual, keeping a 1/800sec or shorter as shutter speed.
Add the train in the photo to give a perspective, an information of where you are.
Panning is of course another option.
Of course, photographing people on the train has been an absolutely amazing experience. Whenever I asked I was never said no.
And here is the cost of the train journey, less than $2!!
Making photos of the famous Sigiriya
Sigiriya can be experienced in two ways:
- climbing Lion’s Rock (Sigiriya), with the fortress on top
- hiking the rock facing the fortress, called Pidurangala Rock (amazing view and much cheaper too)
I did both and honestly, they are two different experiences. Pidurangala Rock can be done at sunrise.
Sigiriya can be seen also from the roads around
This is a gallery of photos I took during the climb and on the Sigiriya peak
On the hiking to the peak of the Pidurangala Rock, I also met a monk which I eventually got to speak with. He was so interested in the drone’s technology.
Photography Shops in Sri Lanka
The best bet is to buy in Colombo, the capital city. There is also a limited choice in Kandy. Elsewhere it is very hard to find anything except memory cards
I would personally not buy overseas unless the warranty is International, which nowadays it is very rare to come across.
These shops offer repair service as well, which can be useful in case you need the sensor to be cleaned for example:
- Shanika Photo: right in the centre of Colombo. They have also DJI products
- CameraPro: they have mostly Canon gear
- Photo Technica: the Nikon agent for Sri Lanka
- Pictures Kandy City Center: the best option is Kandy
Where did I stay in Sri Lanka
I mostly stayed in Hotels, which are a real bargain for western standards, especially considering the quality of the accommodations.
I wrote a full post of the best area to visit and stay, including the hotels.