Hiking Rice Terraces in Sagada

luzon //
Hiking Rice Terraces in Sagada

Philippines / Luzon / Mountain Province / Sagada

While not as famous as the nearly 2000 year old rice terraces in the nearby town of Banaue, the terraces of Sagada will offer travelers on a limited budget (both time and money) an up close and personal experience with very similar structures. Sweeping views of the valley offer an impressive look at the construction marvel that the locals have performed in building these terraces with little to no modern equipment. Perhaps the most impressive fact, and one that is often overlooked, is that the terraces are a constantly moving irrigation system (as stagnated water would not support agricultural needs) and are fed by water sources such as the cloud forrest above. As you walk the valley, you can see the water lines coming down from the same natural spring that feeds the waterfall.


The Photography

Having a good polarizer filter is essential for pulling out the detail in the sky, catching the reflections in the water, and cutting through the fog and haze since you will be looking 3-5 km into the neighboring mountains. On the right you can see a lightly edited jpeg from an iphone 6s plus, and on the left an edited RAW file from a SONY a7S.

Even though a polarizer is typically used to cut reflections OUT, that is NOT something that you want to do when shooting the rice terraces from this distance. Their muddy brown color can easily be lost in the mix without the highlights of the reflected sky. During the height of growth, the hills will appear more green or yellowish, but you still want that water to reflect the sky for the most dramatically pleasing effect.


The hike down into the valley is a seemingly never-ending network of stone stairs. While quite impressive in person, they can be very difficult photography subjects as height and perspective are a very different "field of view" to you in comparison to a wide angle lens. Our eyes see the world at about 50mm, which is why that field of view is considered 'normal' when referring to lenses. Also, because our brain works hard to always "see level" things appear more dramatically taller, and steeply inclined in person than in photographs.


To fight this, you can do a few things:

  1. Shoot lower. Get that lens closer to the ground to maximize the height that you your subject fills the frame with.

  2. Shoot closer. Using the same principal as above, get the lens closer to your subject in order to fill the frame. Just note that both of these techniques will create more barrel distortion, so I like to shoot at around 35mm, sometimes backing out to 24mm if necessary.



There are many additional subjects available to help you complete your photo story as you get further down into the valley. If you are lucky, you can catch a farmer and a water buffalo working the terraces. Regardless of your subject, static or moving, isolating and creating separation from the rest of the scene is the goal or you will be left with a flat, uninteresting image.

An open aperture and shallow depth of field, high contrast, and creative composition are your best tools for doing this.

Royalty-Free Stock Video at Pond5

Overall these are very difficult subjects to create not only an interesting photo story with, but interesting images overall. Keep all these tools and techniques in mind and shoot, shoot, shoot! You will definitely have the time on this hike. Enjoy!