Balinese Dance: 2 Things You'll Need to Photograph Low Light Ceremonies

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There's a lot to love about the Indonesian island of Bali. Even after the many tidal waves of tourism through the years, Bali is still considered by many travelers to be "one of the most peaceful places" they've visited. Bali has friendly people, stunning natural scenery, ancient temples, and an intriguing Hindu culture.

There are so many photo ops here, it's very likely that even the hotel you stay in will demand hours of your time to photograph at all hours of the day and night. It’s just that kind of place. Things you’d never imagined could be interesting and scenic will draw your attention, particularly the street scenes: people placing offering baskets around their property, on their car, in their driveway, kids cooling off in the stream, Moms playing with their children. Bali is a true fest for eyes and all the senses.


Long after I fell in love with Bali and could finally afford to visit, I learned more about the beautiful Balinese dances and wanted to photograph them for myself. But I was a little nervous at the photos I was seeing in my online research. Most of them were shot in ancient temples in what looked like very low light, even candlelight. There was no harsh flash or glare - not a red eye (nor corrected red eye) in sight. I had read where many temples and other Balinese dance venues restrict photography to natural light only - NO FLASH ALLOWED. Some don't even allow tripods, only mono pods.


So how were people getting such amazing, tack sharp photos in candlelight without any blur from the dancers' movement? Pretty simple answer - good, low-light camera equipment!


Whether your camera body and lens systems are "pro-sumer" or professional grade, good low-light equipment is essential. So upgrade now, ladies and gentlemen! Fork over the big bucks.


2 Things You Need to Photograph Balinese Dance Performances


Well, if you're like me, and the airfare alone took a long time to save up for, the last thing I could afford was to spend more money upgrading to better equipment. But then I came across the website of a photographer whose work I greatly admire. And I sent him an email asking about his equipment for several shots he'd taken. He was kind enough to share the greatest tip I've ever gotten on low-light photography. Which leads me to:


TIP #1: The Nifty Fifty

Say what? Since I shoot only Canon (this is not a sponsored post) the "Nifty Fifty" is their 50mm EF lens, designed for use with Canon EF bodies. There are 3 versions of the 50mm lens: the f/1.2L USM lens is a prime Canon lens and will run you up to $1,400 (and well worth the investment, I'm sure); the f/1.4 lens is mid-range up to $400; and the f/1.8 is dirt-cheap at under $100. I'm not kidding! Guess which one I chose?


This photographer swore by it, so I took the leap of faith and spent the $98. I figured I'd get what I paid for, and sure enough when it arrived, I thought someone played a joke and switched a kids plastic toy out for my new Nifty Fifty lens. The housing is primarily plastic, and felt lightweight and cheap. But then I played around with it, taking pictures of things in pitch dark rooms lit only by candlelight. The resulting shots were amazing - sharp, nice bokeh (that good background blur), with little noise. When a cheap plastic lens performs this well, I call that an excellent investment!


Want to try it out before making the investment? I don't blame you. So rent it! I love (again, not a sponsored post - I just really love these guys) for their selection, easy shipping and returns, and amazing business model. They rent lenses, bodies, and all sorts of equipment for a reasonable fee. For instance, I once rented a prime 17-55mm Canon lens for 3 weeks in Peru, with insurance, for $144.) Try it before you buy it!


TIP #2: Take a Monopod

If your goal is to take crisp, clear natural light evening shots - in Bali or anywhere - if you can't take a tripod, at least take a monopod. For the dances and temple ceremonies we attended in Bali, I knew I would be in tight spaces with other tourists. You can position yourself to the side of the crowd, but probably won't be able (or allowed) to use a tripod. So bring a monopod! Even crouched down on the ground, a monopod is the perfect way to steady your camera with that 50mm lens. There are many good ones to choose from but all you need is a sturdy model to keep your camera steady and secure. 


Selamat Jalan ~ Have a nice trip!

Balinese Dance