Photographing Borodubur Temple

Sunrise at Borobudur temple with Merapi and Merbabu active volcanoes in the distance

The one of the most visited place in Indonesia is Borobudur temple. There are countless photographs to be found on the web as well as many tours offering a visit to the temple. One of most popular are the Borobudur sunrise tours.

Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside a perforated stupa. (Source: Wikipedia)

Borobudur is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thus no business activities are allowed in the area of the temple. One exemption is Manohara hotel that is located just 10 minutes walk from the temple. Officially it is listed as Borobudur Research Centre. There is a possibility to buy early entrance ticket at the hotel that allows to enter the temple complex at 4am morning. It comes with discount for those that stay at the hotel. There is a possibility to do a sunrise tour that starts in Yogyakarta but if you intend to photograph sunrise I would not even consider that. Due to limited time I booked a tour with Borobudur Tours and Travel. They offered reasonable price and very good service. For anyone with limited time I recommend their services.

Tips for photography

As far as photography goes, you have to expect lots of people in the temple. There will always be somebody stepping into shot or will use flash that will affect exposure. Nothing can be done to prevent this. Being armed with patience is probably the way to go. It is also a good idea to do multiple exposures and the blend it is later in the post and get rid of the people. Increasing dynamic range will require multiple exposures by default. This is not a documentary or photojournalism so I am perfectly fine doing that.

Indonesia is very humid and hazy in the morning. Unless staying for few days, most of us will have only one morning available for photo shoot. It is good idea to be well prepared. After staying in air-conditioned room over the night (I bet you will) your lens will fog up when you enter the heat outside. Thus lens cleaning kit can be very handy. Switching of the aircon well before leaving the room allows the camera slowly adjust to the outside temperature.

It is dark at 4am morning so a torch is useful accessory. Prepare your camera ahead, zero the settings out and set up your camera the way you expect to shoot. Lowest possible ISO is always way to go for landscape shots therefore tripod is very useful if not necessary. Double check the Auto ISO function is turned off!

Bracketing your shots is a good idea. They can blended together later to get higher dynamic range in final photograph and retain the highlight and shadow detail. Do use remote shutter or at least self timer which is delayed by few seconds to avoid any unnecessary camera shake. Mirror lock-up is also an advantage if camera allows to do so.

Sunrise is the main attraction, however do not forget to walk around and take pictures from all angles and all sides. There may be interesting shots there as well.

Long exposure shots might be attempted with ND filter. Most of the time the sky is interesting and can result in nice blurred structure in those shots. Torch, if it strong enough, can be used for painting the light in foreground stupas.

Borobudur sunrise is the main attraction but there is lot more to photograph.

There are few other locations for photographing the temple from a longer distance. As they are relatively far from the temple, a telephoto lens is needed to have the temple in the photograph at reasonable size. These locations are suitable mainly for sunrise shots as during the day temple blends with foliage which is not resulting in a nice shot. That may greatly depend on the weather though. The following shot was taken with 80-200mm telephoto zoom lens.

Borobudur is probably most visited place in Indonesia and also one of the most photographed one. It is challenging to come up with shot that hasn't been seen before. I was hoping to get some buddhist monk in the shot which would play nicely with temple but at the time of my visit there was none. I was hoping for rain (i am not crazy) as I never saw a photograph of the temple in rain. Although it was rainy season, it usually comes afternoon. So I ended up with pretty standard sunrise pictures. I wish I could stay longer and wait for "different" weather pattern.

Mornings in the area of Borobudur temple are usually very hazy.

Borobudur sunrise. Statue of Buddha is overlooking the distant Merapi volcano.

Dawn at Borobudur around 4:30 am. Light at the temple are still on. Merapi volcano is puffing some steam in the background.

All shots were taken by Nikon D800. Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik Software Filter Collection were used for postproduction.