Shooting Mount Bromo at Sunrise
Most people visiting Indonesia think of Bali with its glorious beaches or the crystal clear waters of Lombok, but the country has so much more to offer. Java is the central island which holds most of the population of Indonesia but it’s one of the best places to explore in all of South-East Asia. From the thriving urban sprawl of Jakarta to the tranquillity of the Borobudur Temple, Java has so much to offer but seeing Mount Bromo at Sunrise is one of the most incredible experiences.
I was lucky enough to go on this trip with the Trip of Wonders 2017 organised by Wonderful Indonesia. If you’re planning a trip to Indonesia then this site has so much information about what to do and what to see. I didn’t have to organise a single thing on this whole trip and even though I was only there for a week, we packed so much amazing stuff in that is solidified Java as one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited.
This was the best trip I’ve ever been on, and the morning I spent at Bromo was the highlight. I’m going to be entering this into Yellow Zebra Safaris competition to go visit them in Tanzania. I’ve been on safari in Sri Lanka and in South Africa and I’ve been dying to go to more ever since. The rush of seeing an animal like a lion in the wild is almost incomprehensible, and the chance to see the wildebeest migration would be a dream.
Get there early
The biggest mistake beginner photographers make is arriving to a location AT sunrise. I did this a lot when I was starting out in photography, I would turn up while the sky was on fire but by the time I got my tripod set up the golden light was gone. It’s important to remember that the “golden hour” is roughly the half hour before sunrise and the half hour after it. You want to be on location an hour before to scope out some shots and make the most of the light when it hits. This is also crucial when shooting a popular tourist attraction so you can get an unobstructed view. The other reason to get there extra early is to enjoy the vast amount of stars that pepper the sky above the famous volcano.
Look at the stars, look how they shine for you
Since our Mount Bromo Sunrise expedition was at the end of October, the sunrise was just after 5 am. We left Malang just before 2 am and when we got close to the volcano we switched from our minibus into an amazing old 4×4. A bumpy ride later and we had a quick 10-minute walk up to our viewpoint. This meant that we were at the location just after 3.30 in the morning.
We were rewarded for our early wake-up call by one of the most stunning skies I have ever seen. We could just about make out the outline of Bromo peaking out of a blanket of cloud in the dusty basin that surrounds it. The sky seemed to be dancing with the sheer volume of stars. The only light on the ground was from the small village of Ngadas and the fleeting orange glow coming from the sulphur mines hidden by the low lying cloud.
Shooting the stars
I was shooting with my 14mm Rokinon f2/8. This allowed me to get a huge field of view and show just how many stars we were dealing with. It really was one of those moments where you look at the screen on the back of the camera and gasp.
I think where this image really comes into its own is with a vertical shot. The night sky really seems to dwarf the impressive Bromo, and you can start to see the sunlight creep up from the left of the frame. I was still very new to astrophotography, and I didn’t know about stacking exposures, so these shots are a single frame and I pulled up the shadows from the foreground. In photography, there is always something to learn, and it simply means that I’m just going to have to go back and shoot this again!
The magic of Mount Bromo at Sunrise
We were already overawed with how stunning the stars were here and we were certainly not ready for the show the sky put on once the night gave way to the light. I decided that I wanted to get in close and compress the sky and the volcano into one shot. To do this, I used my 70-200mm lens and fully zoomed in to 200mm.
This resulted in one of my favourite images I’ve ever taken. It just has so many elements that came together. The subtle pink/orange glow on the clouds, the slight movement of the clouds around the peak and the texture and detail of Bromo itself. It just all happened and capturing an image like this is just one of the most rewarding feelings.
I was happy with that image and the light was changing quickly so I stuck my 14mm back on, and tried to take it all in. Generally, when you shoot this wide, you tend to lose your subject in the frame but there is so much going on in the foreground and in the sky that it really just creates a full, balanced image.
Once the sun was fully up, we packed up and headed back to the truck. While we were taking the short trip back, I looked behind me this is the scene I saw. The viewing area with barriers in the foreground where most people watch the sunrise from.
If you go to Bromo, this is where you will be directed to, but we were on the rocky outcrop up to the right. It’s up a small dirt track off the path on your right, so keep an eye out for that and you’ll get the same unobstructed view we got.
Horseriding across the sand plain
Once we got back to our 4×4 we ate breakfast and drove down to the smokey area surrounding Bromo. The thick layers of cloud and fog had been hiding what’s known as “The Sea of Sand” and a Hindu temple called Pura Luhur Poten.
We hopped on horses and our guides brought us through the smoke towards Mount Bromo. Five minutes into the ride the temple revealed itself. With the riders appearing out of the mist, the whole scene felt like something out of a movie.
With so many horses and riders going back and forth, there are so many photos to be taken! I decided to only bring my 50mm 1.4 with me and it was perfect. I didn’t fancy my camera bag bouncing up and down on the poor horse’s back!
The 50mm lens is also a great portrait lens, and I managed to snap this photo of my guide. He is cooler than I will ever be.
Walking the edge of a Volcano
Once we got across the plain, we dismounted and walked the last few minutes up to the rim of Mount Bromo. The crater really is awe-inspiring, and everywhere you look there are photos to be taken. Walking along the huge crater gives you a perfect leading line, and it’s perfect for a “hero image”. This is when you have a single person small in the frame to give scale to the landscape.
The smoke plumes out of the crater reminding you that this is still an active volcano and the smell of sulphur lingers in the air. The smokey effect it has looks incredible and adds so much mood and drama to photos.
At around 7.30 am, the sun had begun to cut through the smog a little and we could see a lot further. The landscape surrounding Bromo is truly stunning, and it’s one of those moments that really makes you appreciate the world we live in.
Once we came down from Mount Bromo, we went back to our hotel and got some well-needed rest!