Travel Notes for Photographers

by Bonnie Pelnar, Under Watercolours

Topside Photography
The cultural and religious diversity of Indonesia is something that all photographers will take advantage of. Everywhere you look in Indonesia is a picture waiting to be captured.

The rice terraces in Bali are breathtaking while the rugged coastline ridges stunning sunsets. Volcanic mountains jet up into crystal blue skies and waterfalls trickle to the streams below.

The people of Indonesia are very photo-friendly and in most cases, don't mind having their picture taken. Those of us that have become so accustomed to our Western culture will marvel at the beauty in the simplicity of their lifestyle.

Temple ceremonies are going on all the time in Bali. Entire villages celebrate these events by decorating the streets and houses of their village, as well as the temples. Bright umbrellas and streamers contrast the black volcanic rock that most the temples are built from.

Indonesian dance is also exotic and colorful. Most public performances are at sunset or after dark, so you might not be able to get close enough to get a good flash shot. A great solution is to visit some of the many restaurants that offer the traditional dance as entertainment to those dining there. Its a great way to get right up to the subject for crisp detail and brilliant colors.

Underwater Photography
The reefs of Indonesia are a treasure chest of photo opportunities. Many photographers enjoy the variety of odd tiny creatures and opt to shoot macro. Your best results will be with a housed SLR and 105 or 60 macro, but tiny, colorful nudibranchs, and even frogfish can be found and can easily be shot with less expensive cameras using macro setups and framers.

Wide angle is also great for many of the reefs and walls around Bunaken National Park and Banka Island (from Manado) and around Nusa Pendita (from Bali). Large schools of fish circle overhead and healthy hard and soft corals are filled with marine life. Bother areas have dramatic walls that drop off to the abyss. Often you'll find local fishing boats overhead, which add an interesting element to your wide angle shots.

Currents depend on where and when you dive and can range from dead calm to a raging ride into the abyss. Underwater photographers who have dived around Lembeh Straights near Manado may think they've died and gone to critter heaven. But before you shoot, think about the colors, contrast and conditions... black volcanic sandy bottom, with many of the critters almost the same color.

E6 Film Processing
It is possible to get slide film processed in some of the major cities in Indonesia. In Bali you can get same day processing at Bali Fotographica, sleeved for about $3.50 per roll of 36. Slide mounts are expensive, so wait to mount till you get home. The quality is also very good. In Manado you will need to wait a bit longer, up to four days as the film gets flown down to Makassar (another city in Sulawesi) for processing. It is unknown how careful those transporting the film will be and whether or not the film could be put through the Indonesian x-ray devices at the airport, so you may want to consider this option only for those rolls you must see asap. Print film can be processed just about everywhere in Indonesia.

Airport Luggage X-Ray
All the airports in Indonesia require that ALL checked luggage be send through the X-Ray machine upon entering the airport. So don't pack your film inside your suitcase thinking its going to be safe. Carry on bags go through a different X-Ray machine on your way to the gate. All the signs say "FILM SAFE", but your better off to not believe it. This does depend on what kind of film you are shooting - ASA 50 is less likely to show fogging than ASA 400 or higher - but if you take on a "better safe, than sorry" attitude, you won't have to worry about it.

Buying Camera Equipment in Indonesia
One might think that since everything else in Indonesia is so incredibly cheap, that camera gear might be a bargain too. This is not the case. Most camera gear is much more expensive than if purchased via mail order in the US. In the event you fly through Singapore on your way in or out, don't count of finding much better prices there. Keep in mind also that camera equipment purchased there does not have a US warranty.

Camera Repair, Floods
Plain and simple... don't break or flood your camera. Bring back-ups if possible. Most camera repair is done in Jakarta, which means you'd be better off to just have any broken or damaged equipment repaired when you get back home.

Battery Chargers
For those shooters who regularly use rechargeable batteries, keep in mind that 1) the power in Indonesia is 220 so you'll need a converter or a 220 charger, and 2) the power is very unstable. If your charger requires a constant uninterrupted power source, you may want to pack some extra disposable batteries. TIP: Olympus makes a NiMH charger that is compact, charges in 2 hours, and uses either 110 or 220 power. If you fly in through Singapore, you can pick one up at one of the many electronics stores at the airport.

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