Ini Bali / This is Bali

In Search of the Real Bali

Bali is a global tourist destination. So, it makes sense that Bali seems to be overdeveloped.

People may complain about it–the overdevelopment. Most definitely there are less rice paddies (sawah) in Ubud than there was when I first arrived in 2010.

But, if one is wanderer/adventurer, one doesn’t have to go far to find the real Bali.

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Strangers Are Friends We Haven’t Met Yet

Photographing People

Photographing people is a hot topic for street photography. This particular subject comes up a lot. Today, I’m sharing with you how I approach photographing people on the street.

“Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.” ~Peter Swanson

Tip #1 Commit This Quote to Memory

This endearing quote is my mantra. First tip, make this mantra yours too. Repeat these words silently in your head often. The message in these words will set the tone when you are out on the street.

Tip #2 Set a Clear & Pure Intention to Make Art

In my humble opinion (IMHO), street photography is about mindset. It’s because of this philosophy, I wrote the Bali Street Photographer Manifesto.

Mission Statement for Bali Street Photographer

  • To see rather than look.
  • To create rather than take.
  • To explore rather than visit.
  • To connect rather than separate.

More mantras to practice 😉

The mindset makes the difference. Taking photographs and making photographs are two different things. Photography is an art. Making photographs is making art.

The vibe you give off behind the lens will be noticed. If your intention is ego-based (e.g. getting likes on IG), it will show. Your facial features will be more intense—maybe even aggressive looking. Your movements will be rough and noticed.

If you have little-to-no expectations, have an open attitude, or treat everything as a gift, then your face and body language will be more relaxed. You’ll blend-in easier. You’ll give off a more genuine and welcoming vibe.

Woman through a bemo window - Pasar Ubud Bali Street Photography Tours
“Looking for Saul” in Ubud, Bali.

Artistic Inspiration

Tip #3 Understand the Different STYLES

  1. 3+ Metres Away. If people are more than three metres away, they are basically in the open. If you have a wide angle lens (best for street photography), they’ll be in the frame. Do you need to ask permission first? Generally, no.
  2. 2 Metres or Less. Unless you are in a crowd or someone walks right in front of your camera while clicking, always ask permission to click when you are two metres or less away. I try not to make a big deal when asking—maybe make eye contact, point at your camera, and smile. Why? Because street photography is about capturing daily life. Once people pose for the photo with the gratuitous high sign (or thumbs up), game over. The candid moment is gone.
  3. Be Lost in the Crowd / Be a Tourist. Be a tourist. Get lost in the crowd. When you have these two things going for you, most people expect you to make photographs. If they even notice you at all. In crowded places, people will be walking into your frame at all distances. It’s not practical to ask everyone for permission. Unless, of course, you come into a face-to-face one-on-one situation. If this is the case, ask.
  4. Click and Smile. I’m talking about a genuine smile, of course. I actually don’t prescribe you smile all the time. But, if you enjoy photography, then a natural smile is inevitable.
  5. Body Language. If you see someone in front of your lens shy-away, frown, or give you the stop sign, don’t click the shutter. Maybe even say you’re sorry (with a smile) in their native language.
  6. Make New Friends (Saving the Best for Last). Be curious. Be authentically interested in what people do. No matter how mundane. I love chatting with the ladies at the market who make the banten (offerings) from scratch every day. Some of the vendors that I make the time to speak with, have been doing what they do starting at 4 am every morning for 20 years. This might seem like the most banal thing for them or for most photographers. For me, it’s exciting and new every time. Now, these “former strangers” are friends. And, opportunities to photograph them come often. It’s fun all around.

Caveat: please abide by your local rules and regulations. Above all, be polite.

Chasing harsh light - Pasar Ubud Bali Street Photography Tours
Moments before I made this street portrait, this woman and I were talking about the food she was selling. I asked her permission to make a photo. I said I like the light on her face. She said no problem.

Tip #4 Don’t Take Things Personally, Yet Be Empathetic

Be empathetic. Say you are on your lunch break after a crazy hectic morning at the office. You are sitting at your quiet place (in public), enjoying your sandwich. You feel this morning’s stress start to melt away. Then, along comes a 80 mm lens aimed right at you from 2-3 meters away—click. Arrgggh.

Don’t take things personally. If someone says no or waves you off, it’s not about you. Respect their space. It’s ok. As with life in general, don’t let rejections discourage you.

Parting Exercise

Count the number of times in the article you see these words or phrases.

  1. Take a picture/photo.
  2. Shoot the camera/person.
  3. User.
  4. Canon.
  5. Nikon.
  6. FujiFilm.
  7. iPhone.
  8. Samsung.
Photographing People - Balinese Bapak on 35mm film
I asked this kind gentleman if could make a portrait of him. He adjusted his posture a bit, then nodded ok.

All photos were made with a 23mm or 55mm lens. No zooms or excessive cropping done.

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Cantik means beautiful in the Indonesian language.

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Can Street Photography be Artistic?

You Decide–Artistic or Not?

Above is an unconventional street portrait of a hat vendor in the foreground framed by a Balinese woman in the middle layer.

For more on using layered street compositions, check out this article.

Want to learn more about artistic street photography? View the dedicated gallery on Artistic Street Photography here.

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Inspired to Get Back Into Photography

Loved the tour, it has inspired me to get back into photography. I learnt a lot and got some great shots. Looking forward to going again next time I’m in Bali.

Bali Street Photographer tour with Lauren

~Lauren from Australia

I’m inspired by your kind words, Lauren! I can’t wait to see some of your photos from the tour.

Bali Street Photographer - Mark L Chaves
News Photography

Priceless Smiles, Details, Bali Dogs, & Mad Photography Skills – Photos by Guest Photographer Simon Gray

October 2018 officially Marked the first anniversary of Bali Street Photographer

Having guest photographer Simon and his daughter Aurora join me in October was a perfect way to celebrate the first full year of the Pasar Ubud Street Photography tour! And, there’s more. The icing on the cake is that Simon recently opened a solo exhibit (24 November) in his home town of Perth. His exhibit featured many of his incredible photographs from the Pasar Ubud tour. Simon is even donating some of the proceeds to our donation partners!

Simon’s Gallery posted on Bali Street Photographer

Recently, Simon generously shared many of his images. I am now honoured to host some of his beautiful work on this site for your viewing pleasure.

See Simon’s Bali Street Photographer gallery here.

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Culture Photography

The Colours of Canang

Each colour of a canang sari offering symbolises a Balinese Hindu god. The red is for Brahma, the white is for Iswara, the yellow is for Mahadeva, and the green is for Vishnu.

See more at the Bali Street Photographer Canang gallery.

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Editorial Photography

Street Photography – How to be Different from the Rest

How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter?

Being Different or Like Other Street Photographers - Bali Street Photographer
Looking for Saul in Ubud Bali–A double-take composition influenced by master photographer Saul Leiter.

Should I be like all the other street photographers, or should I be different? How can I be different–is this even possible?

If you’ve been into street photography for even a short time, these two questions should have crossed your mind by now. We humans are influenced by many conscious and not so conscious factors. How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter? Is it our individuality or because we’ve seen it done by someone else?

Here are four heuristics I practice to be a more unique photographer.

  1. The double-take test:  If I’m going to photograph in a well known place, I look to see what photos are already out there. I take notice of what images make me look twice. Then I try compositions I hope will make people do a double-take. E.g., it can be looking at the scene upside down to discover a unique perspective, pointing my camera in the opposite direction of everyone else, or finding a spot off the beaten path that hasn’t been snapped yet.
  2. Research the masters: Looking at the masters is always inspiring to me. But, their work gives me more than mere inspiration. Take Saul Leiter for example. His photographs allow me to put myself in his shoes. When I do that, I can ponder, “What made Saul so special? What made him stand out? What was Saul thinking when he decided to stand where he did when he pressed the button? Why did he approach who he did when he captured a portrait?” Perhaps we may never know the answer and leave it at that. Or, we can see if the answers are out there in books, interviews, and documentaries. The bottom line is that we can let the masters impassion us to be unique.
  3. Inside job: Some times it’s who you know. A good number of my favourite photographs (the ones that break the mold) are pictures of people I know. I’ve photographed priceless moments of my wife in Surabaya, my barber in Ubud, my tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai, my waitress in Bhutan, my scuba instructor in the Maldives, and my media colleague in the Philippines. These acquaintances, former strangers, and friends give me an inside angle that can literally serve as a backstage pass for street portraits. Use it, but don’t abuse it. Your relationships are privileges not potential exploits.
  4. Be yourself: Being yourself requires meditation time away from the camera. Spend time reflecting and searching for your true self. One way to do this is to detach from your ego. Start practising street photography for the joy not the ego-based competition. Be mindful or your surroundings and empathetic to people. Once you start shedding your ego and become more mindful, your individuality and creativity blossoms. When this happens, your uniqueness and personal perspective will be reflected in the art you create not the pictures you “take” or “shoot”.

Portrait of Iman - Bali Street Photographer Ubud Bali
Portrait of Iman Inspired by The Morrison Hotel album cover by Henry Diltz – photographing who you know is a back stage pass to hidden gems.

Sunset Portrait at Sanur Beach Bali - Bali Street Photographer
Sunset Portrait at Sanur Beach Bali – while everyone was tripping over themselves to photograph the sunset, I pointed my camera the other way to catch the fading light on this man’s face. On Ilford HP5 Plus 400 35 mm film.

Yearning for more inspiration? Visit our Artistic Street Photography gallery here.

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Culture Photography

The Story in the Eyes – Street Portrait

The story is in the eyes

A Balinese family makes canang sari offerings for sale in the early morning light at Pasar Ubud, Bali.

Read more about layered compositions.

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Bokeh – How to Make Portraits Pop!

Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality.” Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.

~According to Nikon USA’s website.

Bokeh is a technique that generally gives portraits a pleasing aesthetic while drawing the eye towards the subject–making the model pop out. The trick is to have a lens that can open up to at least F 2.8 or wider (e.g., F 2 or F 1.4). These wider apertures are referred to as fast apertures.

So, making a portrait with bokeh (soft blurry background) using a DSLR can be as simple as:

  1. Setting your camera to aperture priority.
  2. Adjusting your aperture to F 2.8.
  3. Having your model stand in front of a wall with the wall about two metres behind them.
  4. Focusing on the model and then clicking.

Check out the examples below.

Portrait using wide aperture — more bokeh

Portrait using narrow aperture — little bokeh

Happy bokeh-ing!


  • Feature image: talent – Tara; location – Surabaya, Indonesia.
  • Aperture examples: talent Wiet; location – Aletheia Backhouse in Ubud, Bali.

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