Mount Ijen was a dramatic introduction to Indonesia’s island of Java, but my volcano experience didn’t end there. After a night trek to the blue fire of Ijen and a quick rest the next day, my new companions and I were off again to the next volcano, Mount Bromo.
I had been dreaming of photographing a Mount Bromo sunrise for over a year before I finally got my chance. I had read up on the ways in which I could get to a quiet viewpoint for sunrise and my intention was to find my own way up by hiking from the nearest town. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) things didn’t turn out how I had expected.
But wait, there’s more…
The driver who took me to to Mount Ijen began to offer “deals” to everyone at our guesthouse who had gone up to Ijen with him. We all had plans to continue our journey west and our driver offered us an amazing group discount to continue on to Bromo. The deals continued as he offered us accommodation in the town nearest to Bromo, a ride up to see sunrise the next day, a ride to the crater, and a ride to the next town on our westward itinerary.
If I had not taken him up on his offers, I would have paid quite a bit more to continue on alone just to have that quiet sunrise that I had been hoping for. So I succumbed to peer pressure (because of my thinning wallet, but also because I enjoyed the company) and stayed with the group. Just as I feared, we were taken to a VERY crowded viewpoint the next morning, so there was no hope for any solitude.
Mount Bromo Sunrise
Accepting my fate, I hustled up to claim the best spot I could find and set up my small tripod on a wide post to wait for the sun to rise. People crowded all around, standing shoulder to shoulder, taking selfies in turns. People were not dressed appropriately for the chilly weather, so many of them came and went before the sunrise was even over. Fortunately, I have had my fair share of chilly mountain sunrises and I was prepared to stay for the duration.
As the dark faded, my heart sank when I saw that clouds had settled in the Tengger Caldera, home to five volcanoes including the erupting Mount Bromo. Fortunately as the sky lightened more and the clouds dispersed a bit, all of the volcanic cones began to emerge. This cloudy Mount Bromo sunrise was not quite what I had in mind after seeing so many others during my photo research, but at least it was unique. I decided that if I really hated what I came away with, I could always go back. Back to Bromo and back to Ijen too!
Ash covered Sand Sea
After my sunrise appetite was satiated, we were driven to the ash desert at the base of Mount Bromo. Here we were dropped off along with the other hoards of people who had just been at the viewpoint. The volcano was spewing a cloud of ash and I could hardly believe that we were about to walk right up to the crater! It was so surreal to be walking through the desolate field, thick with layers of ash, towards an erupting volcano.
People walked or hired ponies to continue the journey up to the crater rim through the Tengger Sand Sea. It was a long walk, and parts were pretty tiring… especially after a few nights in a row of very little sleep. I considered hiring a pony to bring me there, mostly to have the novel experience, but I decided to save my money. I was walking faster than the ponies anyway, despite my socks and sandals.
When we finally huffed our way to the rim, we looked in and saw more ash. No lava, just ash. Clouds and clouds of it. After soaking in the surreal experience, we took some obligatory photos in front of the magnificent view opposite the volcano. Apparently erupting volcanoes create a static charge in the air, evident in some of those photos we took!
We were soon covered in chunky flakes of ash that had drifted down to land on us. The air was thick with it so we headed back down. We stopped for more photo ops along the way. The horses and their owners made great foreground subjects with the dramatic backdrop. The view in every direction really was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Hindu Temple that seemed so out of place in the middle of this barren wasteland. It made another interesting foreground at the base of ash-spewing Gunung Bromo.
This experience ended up being the highlight of my time in Java and one of my favorite travel moments of all time. I think sharing this experience with my new friends made it that much better. We all ended up spending about a week together, even after the “deals” had stopped.
My best advice for anyone arriving to photograph a popular site is to get there early. I was only able to get nice sunrise shots because we were there early enough for me to claim a spot. Later there wouldn’t have been enough space for me to set up a tripod, no matter how small.
Don’t forget to intentionally put people in your shot! Having people against a vast landscape like this will show the scale better than most anything else. I have to remind myself of this too!
When conditions are questionable for your camera gear, don’t take chances. Cover up your camera or put it away. If my camera was out in the ash the entire time, it would probably have been ruined despite its weather durability claims.
Sometimes you’ll need to weigh your options when choosing to pull out more equipment such as a graduated neutral density filter. Is this going to be more trouble than it’s worth? You can’t be lazy if you’re serious about getting good shots, but if your filters will be constantly covered with ash and difficult to clean off, maybe you’re better leaving it in the bag.
Sandy N Vyjay - The landscape looks really ethereal. The stunning photographs bring alive the beauty of the landscapes in vivid detail. Loved each one of them.Great tips too, especially about photographing landscapes and putting in a person in the frame.
traciehowe - Thank you for your comment, Sandy! I could spend weeks photographing this place. It’s so magical!
neha - A sunrise over a volcano sounds so interesting. And you got to see the volcano in action with the dust rising. That is so fascinating
traciehowe - It was both fascinating and interesting, Neha! ;)
Maxime - Really cool article, and very nice picture! I love the one in black and white from the temple.
Mont Bromo is an amazing place. Something to see out of the Indonesian holidays, to avoid the crowd!
Have you been to Kawa Ijen also ?
traciehowe - Thanks Maxime! I have been to Ijen too. Here is my article on Kawa Ijen if you’re interested: https://tracietravels.com/2016/07/photographing-blue-fire-mount-ijen/
Ami - I have never seen an active volcano and this one has always fascinated me. I wish I could have done this as well. I did Mount Kelimutu which is not an active one and loved it. Am sure I would have loved this one too.
traciehowe - Thanks for your comment, Ami. Seeing an active one is especially impressive. I hope you can see one some day!
Mansi K. - What a unique and incredible experience! Your pictures are absolutely stunning. It is my dream to witness something like what you shared…watching nature at work has got to be a humbling and unforgettable experience.
traciehowe - Thank you so much, Mansi! It is most definitely humbling to witness nature’s fierce power up close. Something well worth making a point to see!!
Debra Schroeder - Your photos are absolutely stunning! Well worth getting up early.
And how can you not love a guide who can provide everything. But wait, there’s more. LOL :)
traciehowe - Thank you Debra! Yes, it was pretty amazing that the guy kept offering more and more… fortunately we wanted it all! :)
Finding Beyond - Your photos are amazing. We are going to Java in a few days and looking forward to visiting Mt Bromo. We are very worried about the crowds there. Was it really bad? It sounds like you still had a great time though. Any other tips for Java?
traciehowe - Thank you! How exciting! I’d love another chance to visit. The sunrise viewpoint was extremely crowded while I was there (I think that was November). I would recommend trying to find another viewpoint with a guide that doesn’t insist on taking you to that same one, or you can hike up to your own private viewing area. I’m sure you can find a map online to get to one, but if you want to see sunrise, you’ll have to wake up really early!
As for the rest of Java, I would suggest seeing Mt. Ijen at night. That was a surreal experience. I have a post here about my experience there: https://tracietravels.com/2016/07/photographing-blue-fire-mount-ijen/ . Also, be sure to visit Borobudur. That’s quite nice at sunrise if you have a decent sky, and not quite as crowded. I also enjoyed exploring Yogyakarta. It’s a good base for seeing Borobudur. have fun!!
Finding Beyond - Hey,
Thank you so much for this. Will check out your tips. We can’t wait to get there.
traciehowe - Of course! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
Tonkin-Travel Vietnam - Your experiences look so authentic and inspiring. Keep up with your good work!
traciehowe - Thank you so much! Inspiring is the ultimate goal! :D