Let me start straight away with a simple question: why travel photography in Bali?
Because this island is absolutely a unique place in the world, a place that is an amazing source of inspiration, at every corner, in every field, on every beach.
Bali was the hippy capital of the world in the 70s, today is the main centre of the digital nomads’ community, the new hippy generation. A crowd made of software engineers, content managers, writers and travel photographers.
Table of Contents
I am sure you heard so many times how Bali is overpopulated, overrated, over..and over. In some respects, this is true if you decide to visit only the area around the airport (Kuta, Legian etc).
Just drive out 45 minutes-1 hour and you will find still a unique world of rice fields, incredible cliffs, beautiful beaches and lovely people.
This guide to travel photography in Bali will help you to answer these questions:
- how to move around the island
- what photography opportunities you may experience
- what gear should you take
- where to stay
- what photography shops are in Bali, handy in case of problems with your gear
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
Travel Photography in Bali – how to move around
There are a few options of which public and private buses are probably the most cheapie ones.
Just keep in mind that if you decide to catch a public bus (especially when moving locally) do not be upset if your ticket price is higher then the one provided to the locals.
They are just trying to make a few cents more from the wealthier people, still, we are talking about cents. No reason to be upset.
For long distances I usually use Perama, it has a reliable transportation network.
Sometimes you need to mix private and public buses to reach a destination and this may take lots of time.
A taxi is also an option. You need to arrange a special deal if you want it for a day. There are plenty of them in the touristy areas, less so in the other parts of Bali.
If you do not see any taxi, ask at the hotel or to the owner of your accommodation. Every local in Bali can arrange a cousin or a friend to take you everywhere you want.
You can also rent a car or a motorbike. They are both valid options if you are used to the mad traffic, especially around Kuta. Once you are far from the airport then it becomes so much easier. Download Maps.me for offline maps.
When I am after some travel photography in Bali I prefer to rent a scooter, quicker and easier to reach a place and stop wherever I want, especially in the small villages.
Photography gear used in Bali
I have had several trips to Bali (it’s a short flight from Melbourne, where I am based). I have changed my gear based on the occasion.
Let me say first that, although I took a 70-200mm on one occasion, I have actually never used it or felt the need for it for my travel photography.
The lens I have used the most is in the range of 24-120mm f/4 (full sensor).
I had different cameras on my trips to Bali (sometimes I get them on loan for reviews). They all worked great, both full sensor, APS-C and MFT.
I tend to love either full sensor (because of its overall benefits) or MFT (because they are light and small, both cameras and lenses).
Now, if you are unfamiliar with these acronyms and you want to learn more then I suggest reading the first part of my guide to travel cameras. It explains in simple words all you need.
My present kit for travel photography in Bali is :
- Sony A7Rii
- 2 lenses: 24-105mm f/4 and 35mm f/2.8
- Drone Mavic Pro
- 50-50 case
If your drone weights less than 2 kilos you do not need any permission, which is great. The footage with the drone can be really amazing, especially along the cliffs of Uluwatu and above the rice fields (check the first seconds of this video to have an idea).
Photographing the water
Bali is world famous for its surfing spots. I am not by any means a surf photographer, however, I just enjoy challenging myself 🙂
And I found it actually quite easy to have decent shots with a relatively cheap gear.
If you already have a GoPro then you should buy a 50-50 case ($50-$90). This will allow you to have some awesome shots, half in the water, half outside. Great also for surfing shooting.
the drawback of the 50-50 case is its size, quite bulky, although very light.
Other water photo opportunities are at the famous waterfalls and rivers, a great spot for water rafting too.
For the above photo, I used my mobile which I kept in a $3 waterproof plastic transparent bag bought in Indonesia. You do not always need a GoPro, just be creative 🙂
Photographing the streets of Bali
Even if you are staying in a resort you should not limit yourself to the touristic area.
Wake up early in the morning and have a walk around. Before breakfast, you will be less likely to see tourists and more likely to experience the local life.
If you are based in the famous travellers’ destinations, as Kuta or Ubud, then have a 500m walk out from the hotels’ area and check what’s happening around.
I had some fantastic subjects, from people to streets doctors and street vendors. In the sun and in the rain.
Photographing the temples
There are so many temples in Bali. If you get a tour then try to establish how much time you can stay around.
My tip here is to select a tour that visits fewer temples but it leaves you more time to roam around. Go for quality more than for quantity.
One of the most famous and unmissable temples is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary where you can take some amazing shots of the temple and the monkeys in the forest.
Just keep in mind that monkeys can become aggressive if they see anything sparkling like sunglasses. They will try to take them.
Beside shooting inside the temple, have a walk around it. I had some great shots of the kitchen area, on my last visit.
Another place I suggest is the Uluwatu Temple, set on a top of an amazing cliff in the southern part of Bali.
Photographing the rice fields of Bali.
There are two great areas in Bali where you can experience the beauty of the green rice fields:
- Jatiluwih, probably the most beautiful area, I would say world famous
- Tegallalang, less popular, however, still very scenic
My suggestion is to spend the night in the area. This will give you the possibility to have some amazing photos at sunset.
Also, do not limit yourself to the streets. Have a walk between the rice fields. It’s a great place to meet unique people.
Making photos of the famous Bali dancing shows
Once in Bali, you should attend one of the local dancing events. My favourites are around Ubud. They are, or at least look, more authentic.
I may suggest the Laka Leke Restaurant for a nice dinner and a fantastic dancing show.
You cannot use flashes during the show, however, there is enough light on the stage to freeze the action (use ISO 1,600 or above).
I also suggest to walk in the backstage, this is where the interesting things happen.
Do not be afraid, in the worst case scenarios they will tell you that you can’t access and you need to go back to the restaurant area.
Photography shops in Bali
I would personally not buy any photography gear in Bali unless you need to replace a broken part.
GoPros are available everywhere, however, if you are looking for a DSLR or a mirrorless then it will be hard to find anything.
Check out the warranty, an international one should be provided otherwise once you leave Indonesia you will be on your own.
This is a small list of shops, do not expect a big gear selection:
- Sinar Photo Waturenggong, a small shop that can order for you anything you need, quite handy and good service
- Sinar Photo Kuta, good selection of gear
- Sriwijaya Camera Denpasar, probably the biggest photography shop in Bali. They can service also your gear (sensor cleaning etc).
Where did I stay
I used many hotels and accommodations on my trips. I ended up writing a full handy guide about the areas of the island, what are great for and what can you expect.
Check the best places to stay in Bali