Note: Updated 19 January, 2018
If you take a look at my Places page you will quickly see that one of my favourite things to shoot is waterfalls. To me there’s nothing that compares to clambering down slippery steps in the jungle, the sound of the rush of water gradually progressing from a whisper into a roar, and the excitement of finally behold nature in all of its glory. This is our fifth time in Bali and it truly is a waterfall lover’s paradise. Over the course of this time we have visited eight of the best waterfalls (in my opinion) and below I will discuss them, as well as a bit of the technique I use when shooting waterfalls.
Map of Bali’s Best Waterfalls (in my opinion)
A quick look at this map will indicate that the majority of Bali’s best waterfalls are in the north of the island. If you’re just coming for a few days then Ubud is a good base, but it still takes quite a while to get to some of the northern falls. If you have longer I highly recommend Munduk. It’s a beautiful village situated in the mountains and offers easy access by car or motorbike to the majority of the waterfalls listed.
Quick Guide: how to shoot waterfalls (if you aren’t interested in the technicalities please skip to the photos and information of the falls)
In terms of my setup for shooting waterfalls, I usually alternate between two lenses, the Canon 24-70 f2.8L and the Canon 17-40 f4L. I like to use the 24-70 from further away for a bit of compression at 70mm and the 17-40 when I want to get closer to the falls and add a wider element. Two accessories that are of paramount importance are an ND filter (I use a B+W 1.8 6 stop ND filter) and a tripod. The ND filter effectively darkens the lens so that you can increase the shutter speed in order to shoot that silky smooth look, and the tripod is for stability. I also highly recommend a towel, patience, and a model who is consistently willing to get wet.
I usually shoot with the ISO around 100 for the highest image quality, with an aperture around f11 or above. I always use manual exposure and try to balance my settings so that the shutter is open from between 0.5-1s per exposure. This gives the flowing look of the water that I love while being short enough that Jaime can hold steady for the duration of the shot (it’s tough to stay in a pose for more than 1 second and the resulting blurriness is evident on the image). I used to shoot more landscapes without anyone in them, but I find adding a human element really adds a dramatic sense of scale. My advise is really get to know your camera setting. Adjusting exposure on the fly while battling mist and the elements is not an easy feat.
Anyways, enough with technicalities. Onto the waterfalls. Be prepared for some serious arm raise poses here, it seems it’s the natural reaction to seeing these falls. I have given each of the falls a rating out of 10, but again it’s completely subjective.
1. Tegenungan Waterfall – 8/10
Probably the most popular waterfall in Bali, owing in large part to its close proximity to Ubud. Despite that, it is a beautiful spot, and if you arrive early (we were there around 7AM) you can have the whole place to yourself. It’s also one of the easiest to get to in terms of difficulty of the walk.
2. Nungnung Waterfall – 9/10
About halfway between Ubud and the northern villages lies Nungnung waterfall. Getting there is a bit tricky and the walk itself involves hundreds of relatively steep stairs. Completely worth it though as the sheer power of the singular fall is unbelievable. Because it’s a bit trickier to get to you’re unlikely to find many people while you visit.
3. Gitgit Waterfall – 6/10
Gitgit has to be the most touristy of all of the waterfalls I’ve visited. The walk is lined with tons of shops selling knick knacks and while I understand that people need to make a living this definitely detracted from the experience for me. Still worth a visit, though. We visited Gitgit, Sekumpul and Aling Aling in one (long) day trip from Ubud.
4. Sekumpul Waterfall – 10/10
The crown jewel (in my opinion) of Bali’s waterfalls, Sekumpul is also probably the most difficult to get to. You drive along a pretty shitty road until you think you’re lost and then keep going, finally you will get there. This is the one place where you may wish to have a guide (although we didn’t) as there are a few twists and turns on the path. You first see the falls from above soaring deep into the jungle, it’s an unreal sight. Despite it’s beauty, Sekumpul is tricky to photograph because the spray comes from so high that wind causes the mist to fly everywhere. You’re lucky to get one good shot in before your lens is completely soaked (hence bringing the towel I mentioned above). Another thing to bear in mind, my camera is weather sealed. You’ll want to check if yours is before you try some of this. I live by the motto “anything for the shot” but if your camera is destroyed in the process it’s not really worth it.
5. Aling Aling (not pictured) – 8/10
Actually a series of waterfalls, Aling Aling offers a lot for adrenaline junkies. Unfortunately we were pretty whipped on stairs by the time we got there after the prior two waterfalls and didn’t feel like partaking in any activities. Still a beautiful spot, though. The light was crazy harsh when we were there, and my patience was limited, so no photos.
6. Banyumala Waterfall – 10/10
I had been wanting to visit Banyumala for some time and we were able to do it staying up here in Munduk. Again, we went really early and had the whole place to ourselves. Although Sekumpul is probably the most spectacular fall, Banyumala may offer the most beautiful surrounding landscape. There are so many good angles to take photos from, and because it’s not as powerful you can take your time and set up without getting blasted with mist. I highly highly recommend visiting this one.
7. Red Coral 7/10 and Melanting Waterfall – 9/10
Melanting and Red Coral (not pictured) are both walkable from Munduk Village, a big bonus. It’s a pretty nice hike of about three hours return taking you through steep jungle and small mountainous villages. Red Coral is cool because of the volume of the singular fall, but there’s not really much in the foreground and it makes adding any drama to your image somewhat difficult. Melanting is a stunner, also more of a singular fall but very powerful (and consequently very misty). You can see from the two shots posted below the difference between using the ND on my 24-70 and just a normal filter on my 17-40 and shooting handheld in terms of the silkiness of the water.
9. Tibumana Waterfall – 8.5/10
I had been wanting to visit this waterfall for some time, and finally had the opportunity while here in Ubud. It’s a short motorbike drive (about 8km) from Ubud centre and quite easy to find. From the parking lot it’s only about a ten minute walk, far less of an effort than some of the more remote ones. The waterfall itself is beautiful and as usual we were the first people there. The advantages here are proximity, the water is relatively shallow, and you can manage to take a few shots without your camera getting drenched in mist. The second and third shots are framed in a similar manner but show the difference between using an ND filter and a normal UV filter in terms of your shutter speed. Highly recommended!
Well, there you have it. There are actually so many other waterfalls in Bali that we haven’t visited that this list is obviously very subjective. We plan to visit a few more while here in Ubud so this list will likely be updated. If you’re like me and addicted to seeing these beautiful spots, then Bali is the place for you.