THE LOVE FOR TRAVELLING, THE PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY (MADE IN MELBOURNE AND AROUND THE GLOBE)

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Travel Photography in Sri Lanka

Travel Photography in Sri Lanka [the photographer’s guide]

When I am in Sri Lanka photography is always my main 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 to 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

I also want to mention two great resources:

Another interesting website you may want to check is the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka, a great source of inspiration.

Here below a video I organised from my last trip

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.

You can start in Colombo, the capital. The main beach in the city, Galle Beach, is just facing the central area.

I personally suggest to catch the train and go also to Mount Lavinia, the most beautiful beach in Colombo.

Colombo Mount Lavinia Beach

Colombo Mount Lavinia Beach

Colombo Mount Lavinia Beach

Colombo Mount Lavinia Beach

Colombo rocky coast by train

Colombo rocky coast by train

Sunset on Colombo from the Mount Lavinia Hotel

Sunset on Colombo from the Mount Lavinia Hotel

Other great beaches are on the east and south coast. One of my favourites is in Pasikudah Bay.

Pasikudah Bay and Kalkudah Beach and 2 epic resorts

Pasikudah Bay and Kalkudah Beach

Beside the sea, look out for lakes and reservoirs, literally everywhere, especially after the raining season.

Kandalama Lake - Dambulla

Kandalama Lake – Dambulla

Kandalama Lake - Dambulla

Kandalama Lake – Dambulla

Dambulla

Dambulla

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.

Parwiyan Ella Falls

Parwiyan Ella Falls

Parwiyan Ella Falls

Parwiyan Ella Falls

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).

Whale watching & photographing

Whales watching & photographing

Dolphin Watching

Dolphins Watching

Leaving the harbour for what watching

Leaving the harbour for whales watching

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.

Stick fishing in Sri Lanka by Aditya Siva

Stick fishing in Sri Lanka by Aditya Siva on UnSplash

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.

Watching the horizon in Colombo Beach

Watching the horizon in Colombo Beach

When I visited Jaffna, in the top north, I was lucky enough to experience a great sunrise with the perfect light

Light of Jaffna #1

Light of Jaffna #1

Light of Jaffna #1

Light of Jaffna #2

Light of Jaffna #3

Light of Jaffna #3

And I met some interesting people along the day

A creative transportation system

A creative transportation system

The old lady

The old lady

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.

The train trip #1

The train trip #1

The train trip #2

The train trip #2

The train trip #3

The train trip #3

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.

The train station

The train station

The train controller

The train controller

And finally one of the photos I love the most, inside the kitchen of a family in central Sri Lanka.

Visiting a local kitchen

Visiting a local kitchen (ISO 32,000)

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
Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura #2

Anuradhapura #2

Anuradhapura #3

Anuradhapura #3

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.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

Candles of the temple

Candles of the temple

Jaffna has also some interesting temples, especially the Nallur Kandaswamy.

Nallur Kandaswamy temple, Jaffna

Nallur Kandaswamy temple, Jaffna

At the temple

At the temple

King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s House

King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s House

And lots of beaches have the own little temple to protect the local village from the tsunami

The temple at the beach #1

The temple at the beach #1

The temple at the beach #2

The temple at the beach #2

Whenever possible look for some flowers to sub-frame the temple.

Framing a temple

Framing a 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.

Tea fields of Sri Lanka

Tea fields of Sri Lanka

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Working at the tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Locals working at the tea plantations

Locals working at the tea plantations

Tea plantation in the Central Region of Sri Lanka

Modelling at the tea plantation in the Central Region of Sri Lanka

Mixing the tea leaves at the Norwood Tea Factory

Mixing the tea leaves at the Norwood Tea Factory

Drone view of the tea plantation #1

Drone view of the tea plantation #1

Drone view of the tea plantation #2

Drone view of the tea plantation #2

Drone view of the tea plantation #3

Drone view of the tea plantation #3

Street and landscape on the tea train

Try to catch the train leaving Kandy and going to Ella. This has to be one of the most scenic trains in the world. 

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.

Landscape photography from the train

Landscape photography from the train

The bored kid on the train

The bored kid on the train

Through the lavish jungle

Through the lavish jungle

Watching the beautiful tea landscape

Watching the beautiful tea landscape

The smiling people of Sri Lanka

The smiling people of Sri Lanka

Of course, photographing people on the train has been an absolutely amazing experience. Whenever I asked I was never said no.

People of the train

People of the train

A tiring trip with the kid

A tiring trip with the kid

The busy train (mostly at weekend or special events)

The busy train (mostly at weekend or special events)

Looking into the future of Sri Lanka

Looking into the future of Sri Lanka

Looking to me

Looking at me

Selling local snacks on the train

Selling local snacks on the train

Train crossing

Train crossing

Food sellers, at literally every station.

Food sellers, at literally every station

The busy station

The busy station

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:

  1. climbing Lion’s Rock (Sigiriya), with the fortress on top
  2. 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 

Sigiriya Rock from the road

Sigiriya Rock from the road

The Water Garden hotel in Sigirya

The Water Garden hotel in Sigiriya

This is a gallery of photos I took during the climb and on the Sigiriya peak

View of the Lion's Rock from the gardens

View of the Lion’s Rock from the gardens

The start of the climb of Lion's Rock

The start of the climb of Lion’s Rock

The end part of the stairs carved in the rock

The end part of the stairs carved in the rock

View from the peak of Sigiriya

View from the peak of Sigiriya

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.

Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala Rock

Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala Rock

Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala Rock from a drone view

Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala Rock from a drone view

Pidurangala Rock and the monk

Pidurangala Rock and the monk

Descending the Pidurangala Rock with the monk

Descending the Pidurangala Rock with the monk

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:

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. 

Read about the best places to stay in Sri Lanka

Don’t miss these guides to the country

Travel Photography Stefano FerroStef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.

Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry. 

Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world. 

 

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Stefano Ferro
Photographer
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry. 

Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.

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