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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

#HelloFrom Indonesia: Romantic Lighting in a Bali Rice Field

2022-07-01
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An Indonesian island with its own unique culture and flavour and stunning scenery, Bali is a popular holiday destination for domestic and overseas visitors alike. Some may associate it with pristine beaches and beautiful coastal views, but why not head further inland and check out its breathtaking emerald green rice terraces? Bali-based photographer Suta Rahady (@sutarahady) knows them well—he especially loves them in the morning, where the beautiful lighting inspires the imagination. He shares a couple of the stunning images he shot, completely in natural light, and gives us some advice. (Images by: Suta Rahady; account as shared by Suta Rahady to the SNAPSHOT team)

In this article:

 

Bali’s rice terraces: Visual beauty that runs deep

What do rice terraces mean to you? How are they important to Bali?

Bali’s rice terraces are my favourite place to shoot, whether I am doing client work or just photographing for my own pleasure. It’s not just because of the breath-taking, panoramic view or the beautiful light and tranquillity especially in the morning. It’s hard to put in words, but there is just something special about the atmosphere.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that these rice terraces have always been significant to Balinese culture. It’s not just because rice production is important to our economy and our heritage. These rice terraces were built with the traditional subak irrigation system, which is over 1000 years old and based on a philosophy that emphasises harmony between humans, nature, and the spiritual world. The same philosophy also influences a lot of Balinese life and culture. So, in many ways, Bali’s rice fields represent the essence of Bali. The more green we see, the more it is a sign that we’ve preserved not just our natural beauty but also our rich culture.

There are many rice terraces in Bali, but the most easily accessible is probably the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, a 20-minute drive north from Ubud. It’s where the images in this article were shot.

 

The sun, palm trees, rice fields—the ultimate combination

EOS 5D Mark IV + EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ FL: 21mm, f/4, 1/250 sec, ISO 100

The scenery and the calm yet exotic atmosphere of the place attracts many people looking for outdoor portraits, especially for couple or honeymoon photos. I get a lot of rice field shoot requests! To me, light rays, palm trees, and rice fields are an unparalleled combination. They harmonise well together and evoke the idea of tropical beauty, so I will always try to include all three in my images.

 

What I paid attention to in this shot

A) Choose a wide-angle lens
B) The sun’s position: right behind the main coconut palm tree
C) Place your subjects in the backlight for beautiful rim lighting

 

A) Which lens to use? - Wide-angle

The main image was shot from a higher angle and position at 16mm on my EF16-35mm f/2.8L lens, allowing me to show the scale of the landscape and include the entire main palm tree in the frame.

Of course, Tegalalang is full of different photo opportunities so don’t limit the lenses that you decide to bring! Different lenses give different perspectives and possibilities. A standard zoom lens is also good, or fast prime lenses if you want beautiful bokeh for portraits.

For couple shoots, I usually bring the following:
- EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
- EF35mm f/1.4L II USM
- EF50mm f/1.2L USM
- EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM

For landscape photography, you may want to bring a telephoto zoom lens too, so that you can capture the scenery on the other side of the valley.


What else should I bring?
- Beach sandals: The rice fields may be muddy and wet especially if you step into them.
- A hat
- Drinking water
- Mosquito repellent

For the photographer:
 Wear simple clothes, comfortable shoes, and pack light. Beach sandals and shorts are the best attire for moving around as it’s hot and can get muddy.

For those being photographed:
It depends on what you prefer, but flowy clothes seem to be a favourite, probably because they go with the exotic, tropical atmosphere of the place. Be extra careful with attire like long white jeans and other white clothes as they may get dirty. I will advise my clients about this when we are planning their outfits for the shoot.

 

B) What kind of lighting? - Sun from right behind a palm tree

The sun plays a very important role in shots like this. Check the weather forecast before you go—you need a clear, sunny day for the beautiful light rays to happen.

The sunlight starts to stream through the branches of the palm trees around 45 minutes after sunrise, so go early and be ready to shoot by then. You may see the official opening hours indicated as 7am or 8am online, but in reality, the terraces are open 24 hours. In fact, Tegalalang is also a well-known spot for sunrise pictures! There are several entrances to the place other than the main entrance, so if the first one you try is closed, just look for another.


In different lighting

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF35mm f/1.4L II USM @ f/1.8, 1/500 sec, ISO 100

Even if it isn’t time for the light rays, there are still lots of shooting possibilities. This image, which was shot slightly earlier in the day in lighting that is more even, gives a totally different mood. I wanted something more candid than the main image, so I didn’t direct the couple as much.


What's the best time if I want such shoots?
Sunrise is around 6.10am early in the year, and gets progressively earlier—in October, it is before 6am. It starts to get crowded by around mid to late morning. By mid-day, the sun and heat can become too unbearable to walk around!

What time of the year should I go to get green fields?
No matter which time of the year you go, there will be some fields that are green and others that are at other stages of the harvest cycle, which is 3 to 4 months from planting to harvest. There are no fixed planting or harvesting seasons—it all depends on the farmer.

When is the rainy season and what should I watch out for?
June to August are the dry seasons, while December and February are the rainiest. If you are visiting after the rain, the walkways may be muddy and slippery!

 

C) Where should your subjects stand? - In the backlight

When I shoot in nature, I usually use just natural light and rarely use a flash. As long as you know where the sun’s position is and how to position your subjects or the camera to make use of it, there is a lot of potential!

Crop from main image

The backlight from the sun that filters from between the leaves of the palm tree creates rim lighting, which makes the couple stand out even more from the background. Notice how it outlines their hair and clothing, making them seem to glow. In this perfect moment, it draws attention to the man’s arm as he reaches out to take his partner’s hand, adding to the impact.

The mood that I aim to create in my shots depends on what kind of client I’m working for. If it’s a couple, I love to capture true happiness and candid moments so I usually give only general directions and let my clients take it from there. But of course, some clients can be really shy. I joke with them to create a more relaxed mood, but I also arm myself with poses so that I can direct them if necessary. I get my posing ideas from places like Pinterest.

Also see:
Staple Yet Brilliant Wedding Poses To Direct Nervous Clients
3 Tips to Elevate Your Wedding Storytelling

 

Notes on editing

When I post-process the RAW images from my shoot, I focus on the colours and tones to get a cinematic look. I have some custom presets for scenes that I commonly shoot, including predominantly green ones like the one here—I apply them, and then do fine adjustments as necessary for each image.

Each photo is different, and it also depends on which style I want to show. For example, if my client likes a cleaner look, I brighten the sky, increase the exposure, and lift the shadows and blacks.

An unedited image from the same scene, exposed to preserve the details in the light rays.

Also see: 
3-minute Post-Processing: Sunbeams at a Waterfall

 

Suta’s location tips

- Wake up and reach the location early. This gives you time to walk around and find different angles for your shoot. There are clear signs all around, so navigation to the famous shooting spots should be quite easy.
- You can also fly a drone to get incredible aerial perspectives, but watch out for the palm trees around!
- Be respectful of local life. The rice terraces may be a tourist attraction, but they are also working rice fields and the source of local farmers’ livelihood.

 

Facts on: Tegalalang Rice Terrace

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tegalalang Rice Terrace uses the traditional subak irrigation system, which was started in the 8th century.

- Temperature: Located about 600 metres above sea level, it is slightly cooler than ground level. Average daytime temperature: 26 degrees Celsius
- Getting there: approx. 20-min drive north of Ubud, reachable by taxi, rented car, or scooter. The road is mostly straight.
- Entrance fees: Around IDR 10,000 at the time of this article’s publication.
This does not cover full access to the rice terraces as many walkways lead to privately owned areas. The local farmers might ask for a small donation before they allow you to enter their fields. Remember to bring small change for these donations.

 

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Looking for shooting spot/photo walk recommendations at your holiday destination? Here are some places to explore, with advice and tips from other photographers familiar with the place!
#HelloFrom Singapore: Photographing 3 Eras of Architecture in Tiong Bahru
#Hellofrom Hong Kong: Breathtaking Views from Hong Kong’s Highest Peak
2 Mesmerising Winter Photography Spots in Hokkaido
Where to Photograph Autumn Leaves in Japan: 2 Spots Off the Beaten Track

 


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About the Author

Suta Rahady

A professional photographer born, raised, and based in Bali, Suta loves to capture authentic moments across Bali and other parts of Indonesia, be they in the form of portraits, proposals, engagement, wedding, or honeymoon images, landscapes, lifestyle shoots, or anything else imaginable. When photographing people, he seeks to build genuine connections as he believes it adds personality to every shot.

Website: https://www.sutarahady.com/
Instagram: @sutarahady

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