6 Photographers on Hawaii’s Best-Kept Secrets

Hawaii is one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in the world. Last year, the state boasted a record of more than 8.9 million annual visitors. Hawaii takes the #1 spot Travel Channel’s most-searched list, and Maui ranks in the top ten in the 25 World’s Best Places to Visit rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

But Hawaii isn’t just one of the most visited spots in the world; it’s also one of the most photographed.

When the vacation rental site Twiddy studied a pool of more than one million Instagram photos, they found Hawaii was the third most Instagrammed destination for summer in the US. According to a TravelBird study, Waikiki is the #15 most-Instagrammed spot in the entire world, beating out the Empire State Building in NYC, Yosemite National Park in California, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and The Colosseum in Rome. As of this moment, exactly 19,494,762 photos have been posted to Instagram with the hashtag #Hawaii, and it’s growing by the second.

We know Hawaii is photogenic, but is it even possible anymore to get original pictures here? A look through the Shutterstock collection tells us it is. Despite the billions of snaps that have been taken on these eight islands, not every picture has been made. Some are out there still, waiting just off the beaten path to be discovered.

We interviewed six photographers about making pictures in Hawaii. Here, they tell us about some of the stories behind their favorite pictures and offer some tips for finding the lesser-known gems the place has to offer.

1. Being there with the right light is much more important than the camera gear you use.

Steve Heap

Image by Steve Heap. Gear: Canon 40D camera, 17-85mm F4-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 64mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f8; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Although I have taken many good photos on both Oahu and Maui, I keep coming back to Kauai as my favorite island. It has a more laid-back atmosphere and some of the most beautiful and interesting landscapes you will find anywhere on earth.

This is one of my earliest images from my visits to Kauai, taken back in January 2009 with the Canon camera I had at the time and a kit lens. It just goes to show that being there with the right light is much more important than the camera gear you use. I have always liked this particular image because it has a combination of peacefulness and drama, with the receding headlands of the Na Pali coast, along with the raging sea that you find in January.

The location is basically at the end of the road; the only way you can go further is on a hard hike along the mountain side for around seventeen miles. In the winter, the sun sets close to the mountains, which provides the right conditions for highlighting their slopes. The spray in the air from the pounding waves gives this ethereal glow to the colors.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

Many of the well-known spots in Kauai are on every tourist’s hit list, but there are places that are less obvious and offer great photo opportunities.

There is a fantastic little waterfall that falls into the sea near Queen’s Bath in Princeville. If you get there as the sun is setting, you can get a fantastic image of the last rays of the sun lighting up the waterfall. Be warned, though: this area can be very dangerous in winter with high waves! Funnily enough, I just got back from a two-week trip in Hawaii, and I blogged about that particular waterfall.

Image by Steve Heap

The other place that is off the beaten track is the old pier at Waimea, which is also great for sunset shots. It is far enough away from the main locations to not have hordes of tourists spoiling your shot.

Image by Steve Heap

Pro Tip:

The weather in Hawaii is pretty similar year-round: mid-80s or so. The islands all have dry and wet areas, with Kauai being wetter than most, which accounts for its verdant landscape and flowers. But the rain doesn’t last forever, and breaks in the rain can give you much more interesting pictures, as the sun creates rainbows, and the clouds can hang hauntingly over the valleys. Waterfalls come into their own after a heavy storm as well.

I don’t take any particular precautions with my equipment, although having lens tissues and cloths is critical when you are close to the ocean. There is usually fine mist in the air that can land on your lenses.

Getting up early is key for me. The calm empty beaches and the first light from the sun can make for some fantastic shots.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I usually read a good guidebook before I go. I then search online for best places for sunrise photos to give me a few more ideas. I also enjoy looking at the galleries of local photographers as soon as I arrive. Those people are usually there year-round, and they have knowledge of the best times and light conditions. Every image you take will be different from theirs, as conditions will always be different, but you will get great inspiration from the work of others.

2. One big difference is how fast the sun sets! You have to be on your A-game.

Shane Myers Photography

Image by Shane Myers Photography. Gear: Canon 5d Mark III, Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 lens. Settings: Focal length 11mm; exposure 1/15 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When arriving at Hanauma Bay, most people have their sights set on the beach and the water, but to the west of the bay is a ridgeline with perhaps the best sunrise view on Oahu. There is a private-access road that climbs the ridgeline. Not much of a hike just enough to get a sweat up but during the fall and spring, the sun rises just perfectly in the middle of the Bay. With Koko Head (a dormant volcano crater) to the left, it truly is a picturesque paradise.

This photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day 2015. It had rained for six or seven days, as it often does in November. Chancing it, a buddy and I rose at 4:00 in the morning for the hourlong drive to Hanauma Bay. The rains rode with us until we passed Hawaii Kai, about ten minutes from where we would park. Just enough open sky came through for a majestic sunrise. About forty-five minutes after the sunrise, the rains returned for two more days. Sometimes, it’s just better to be lucky.

Image by Shane Myers Photography. Gear: Canon 5d Mark III camera, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/5 sec; f20; ISO 50.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

Not only the oceans but also the mountains are very special to those of us living in Hawaii. On the east side, the Ko’olau mountain range runs from Turtle Bay through Waimanalo. In the middle of the mountain range in Kaneohe, the gorgeous Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden provides a serene place right in the middle of the city. The view of the mountains reflected in the fish pond, absent of any sign of man, takes you back to a time before man left their mark on Oahu. It is truly an absolutely peaceful place that many people do not know about.

Often times, the clouds build on the mountains as the day progresses. Rarely are there days with no wind in Hawaii. It just so happened that I was in the right place at the right time, and there were minimal clouds and very little rain when I took this photo. The sunlight shone beautifully on the valleys of the Ko’olaus as I relaxed under the cool December sun.

Pro Tip:

Be ready to be inspired! Hawaii truly is an amazing and remarkable place to be a photographer. Any type of subject you can think of is here on our islands, from the eclectic mix of people and the gorgeous landscapes and vistas to the ever-present celebrations on the beach. Bring lots of CF cards and a happy trigger finger because the options are endless.

Our photography seasons seem to be Surf season and non-Surf season. The big waves on the North Shore in the winter months bring in multitudes of photographic opportunities, but photography in Hawaii is not limited to any particular time of year. In the winter, we have the big waves. In the spring and fall, there seem to be the best sunsets and sunrises but also the most rain. In the summer, we have the flat waters that make underwater photography an awesome adventure.

Being close (or closer) to the equator, one big difference about photographing in Hawaii compared to the mainland is how fast the sun sets! You have to be on your A-game, as the sun quickly meets the horizon during the golden hours.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Believe it or not, my first introduction to photography was on the first date with my wife. We were in Hawaii Kai prepping for a ridge-hike. She had an entry level Nikon SLR, and I had my phone camera. At the summit, we stopped to enjoy a picnic, and I snatched up the camera to take some photos. I was instantly captivated by her and by photography.

A couple weeks later, I bought my own entry-level Canon Rebel T1i, and it has been an adventure ever since. My other job is a School Psychologist, a role that I thoroughly enjoy but can be emotionally draining. I find that my bright and bold style stems from photography being my own therapy. It’s a gift that I feel enhances my performance in both roles.

3. Do not touch anything underwater let them approach you Relax and enjoy.

Willyam Bradberry

Image by Willyam Bradberry. Gear: Canon 5DS R camera, Canon 20mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/10 sec; f7.1; ISO 320.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Klauea is the most active volcano in Hawaii, and it is a spectacular show worth visiting. There are no roads, no cars, no vehicles. Nobody can help you. To see the hot red streams, one must walk two hours one-way through the black lava fields, the steaming hot air, and smoke that smells of sulfur. The weather can change from sunny and serene to stormy and rainy in fifteen minutes, filling you with feelings of danger. Try it.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

The truth is that today there is no such thing as secret, undiscovered land. Frankly, it is not about where, but when. When you arrive in Hawaii, just leave the car. Take your backpack, fins, mask, camera, water, and energy bars.

Did you know that the symbol of Hawaii is a rainbow? The colors of the wilderness are extreme red, green, and blue. Red is for the fire of Klauea. I can’t give you the exact coordinates of the flowing lava because it changes every minute.

Green is for the waves. The biggest waves I’ve ever seen in my life were in the winter of 2016, during the Eddie Aikau surfing competition in Waimea Bay. The waves were 40 feet high. Imagine this: a powerful monster and a brave little man on top, standing on a longboard, trying to tame the giant.

Image by Willyam Bradberry

Blue is for the underwater wildlife. More than ten species of dolphins live here, along with huge pods of humpback whales. The best time for whalewatching is winter.

The seals, albatrosses, sharks, and turtles are not afraid of people and don’t try to escape. Fortunately, Hawaii is quite expensive and less crowded than places like the Philippines or Indonesia, and traveling on boats and ships is prohibited for tourists. For this reason, the underwater world is still wild and full of life.

Image by Willyam Bradberry

Pro Tip:

When visiting the volcano, take a lot of water. Buy a windbreaker, military pants, and shoes with a thick base and metal toe. You will feel the heat from significant distance. The weather can change at any minute, and the ground under you can break at any second. Put safety first. Find a guide. Do research. Talk to locals.

It is real, powerful fire, and the ground there it is not really ground. It’s frozen lava, crispy and breakable. It is very hot in places, even if it’s not red.

For photographing animals underwater, use wide-angle or short focal length lenses. Use a reliable backpack for your gear, and make sure it’s waterproof. It can start raining in two minutes without warning. Check more than twice to make sure your housing is sealed and waterproof. On my last Hawaiian trip, in spite of my experience, I completely killed my Canon 5D Mark3 with salt water because of a fault by the equipment manufacturer. Trust me, it is a pain.

Do not touch anything underwater. Do not try to catch the animals. Let them approach you instead, even the sharks. Relax and enjoy.

The best times are the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. I use the PhotoPills app when planning times and places to shoot.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I am inspired by the Elements The Sun, The Earth, The Air, and The Ocean and the miracles they show me.

4. Each island has its unique feel, flair, nature, and climate.

Ralf Broskvar

Image by Ralf Broskvar. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

During my short trip in Hawaii, rain was my constant companion. It rained so much that the roads got flooded, and the trails were closed. The Pipiwai Trail was only partially open, but it did grant access to some of the smaller waterfalls. While most of the trail had dried up, some parts were extremely muddy, slippery, and dangerous to hike.

Halfway up the accessible part of the trail stands this gigantic Banyan tree. And for just a minute, the thick cloud cover broke open and threw some light on this otherwise gloomy scene. I had just stepped a few yards off the trail and happily took this shot.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

When I first read up on Hawaii, I learned that each island has its unique feel, flair, nature, and climate. And boy, is that true.

I had the opportunity to visit five of the eight main Hawaiian Islands. But even on Oahu, the most crowded island with Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and Waikiki Beach, there are still plenty of places that not many people go to or know about.

The usual beach-going Hawaii tourist does not make the hike out to Kaena Point on Oahu or up the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. On Kauai Island, I found the Ho’opi’i Falls, the ruins of the Russian Fort Elizabeth, and the Menehune Ditch to be quite interesting.

Image by Ralf Broskvar

The quaint Kahakuloa Village on Maui Island is a must-see, but the road to get there is not for the faint-hearted. So is the road to the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o on the opposite side of the island. The diversity of the vegetation along the Pipiwai Trail is just miraculous.

Image by Ralf Broskvar

The Ironwood forest with the Phallic Rock on charming Molokai Island high up in the clouds is a very special place. So are Kepuhi Beach and the area around the old Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, which is perfect for corny sunset photos. On the Big Island, everything is about the two big volcanoes, but one of the nicest places I saw was the short but scenic Old Mamalahoa Highway just north of Hilo.

Image by Ralf Broskvar

Pro Tip:

I have only one piece of advice, which I always follow, not just in Hawaii: Deal with it! Just go out there and try to do the best you can do. For me, the travel experience comes first. I don’t have the luxury of selecting the best time of the year, so I don’t even attempt to plan like that.

I try to use common sense. When traveling by car, getting in and out a lot, don’t run the A/C at full throttle. You might miss a great shot because the lenses can steam up when you get out of the car. When it rains, have a plastic bag to protect the gear. Keep it simple.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

First and foremost, I like to travel to interesting places. Whenever I go somewhere, inspiration just hits me in droves. I slow down, turn around, or walk in different directions. Taking just a few steps off of the main road can offer amazing experiences. Just stop for a moment, and you’ll see there’s always something interesting, fascinating, and mind-blowing.

5. One of the most out-of-the-way places is Lana’i There is not one stoplight on the entire island.

Joe West

Image by Joe West. Gear: DJI Phantom 4 Drone. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f5.6; ISO 100, 24mm equivalent focal length.

What’s the story behind this photo?

One of my favorite spots is a landmark on the Island of Lana’i known as Puupehe, located in Shark’s Bay, which is walking distance from the Manele Bay Harbor. This sea stack is often referred to as Sweetheart Rock, but the proper Hawaiian name is Puupehe.

This place carries the romantic legend of a beautiful Hawaiian woman who died and was buried on top of this sea stack by her lover, who then jumped into the ocean and was transformed into a shark. You can still see a man-made structure on top of this virtually unclimbable natural structure. Many believe this to be the tomb of Puupehe.

I was one of the first in Hawaii to begin using drones for aerial photography. I hiked to Shark’s Bay and flew my drone out over the ocean to capture this dramatic shot of Puuepehe.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

One of the most out-of-the-way places that I’ve found in Hawaii is Lana’i. I actually lived on the island for twenty-five years. At this point, most of the island is owned by Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle Corporation. There is currently one major resort in operation: the Four Seasons Manele Bay Resort. Much of the island remains blissfully untouched by development. There is not one stoplight on the entire island.

Image by Joe West

Pro Tip:

Hawaii is a unique environment for photography. Even though there are beautiful subjects to photograph, there are unique challenges as well. Between dealing with airlines, taxis, and rental cars, transporting photography equipment can become a real challenge. I encourage photographers visiting from the mainland to travel as light as possible. Don’t even try to cover every conceivable photographic possibility with a truckload of photography gear. This can become incredibly frustrating and can turn an enjoyable vacation into a travel nightmare. One camera with a good zoom lens will make life much easier. The old saying The best camera is the one you have with you holds true for Hawaii vacations. Sometimes a good point-and-shoot camera will yield more memorable and pleasing shots than a heavy DSLR.

More and more photographers seem to be interested in bringing drones to Hawaii. I highly encourage those wishing to fly a drone in Hawaii to do their homework on transporting drones on airlines. There is a unique set of rules and regulations that are developing for drone use in Hawaii. Unfortunately, we have had a number of drone operators come to Hawaii and fly with little or no regard for either FAA rules or local guidelines. Because of all the restricted airspace in Hawaii, it’s vital that drone pilots be able to research and understand local airspace rules, regulations, and guidelines.

I encourage all drone operators, whether you are doing commercial aerial work or not, to obtain the FAA’s 107 certification. This helps ensure a thorough understanding of the do’s and don’t’s of drone operations.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I find inspiration for photography in God’s amazing creation. I never seem to tire of just packing up a camera and taking a hike. I think the key is taking the time to stop and look at the things we tend to take for granted. Aerial drone photography has opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve been blessed to have been able to learn drone photography, from the early beginnings of the technology, here in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands.

6. Be prepared for changing weather conditions.

Luc Kohnen

Image by Luc Kohnen. Gear: Nikon D7100camera, 17-55 2.8 Nikon zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f6.3; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When I went to the summit of Mauna Kea on Big Island, there was snow. The road was closed because of the snowfall, so we had to wait several days to drive to the summit for this rare event.

What spots have you found off the beaten path in Hawaii?

I visited four islands: Oahu, Big Island, Maui and Kauai. On every island, you find special places, some remote and only reachable by trekking for hours.

Image by Luc Kohnen. Gear: Nikon D7100camera, 17-55 2.8 Nikon zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 44mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f9; ISO 100.

My favorites include the summit of Mauna Kea and the lava field of Kilauea on Big Island, the moonlike landscape of the Haleakala volcano crater on Maui, the 1000-meter deep Nualolo valley on the Napali coast of Kauai, and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on Oahu, where you can snorkel with turtles and colorful fish.

Image by Luc Kohnen. Gear: Nikon D7100camera, 17-55 2.8 Nikon zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f11; ISO 100.
Image by Luc Kohnen. Gear: Nikon D7100camera, 17-55 2.8 Nikon zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 19mm; exposure 1/50 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

The Kalalau trail on Kauai is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world, and the Hana coast road on Maui has a lot of waterfalls and dense vegetation. It is a wonderful but exhausting drive, and you have to find the right angles to shoot the waterfalls.

Image by Luc Kohnen. Gear: Nikon D7100camera, 17-55 2.8 Nikon zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

Pro Tip:

Travel independently with your own car, and be fit enough to hike. To access some spots, you have to drive and/or walk for hours. Be prepared for changing weather conditions: sun and rain appear simultaneously, and it can be cold on the summits of the volcanoes. Carry enough water, and have good shoes.

Don’t use entry-level gear because it won’t be weather-proof enough.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

My inspiration is nature and wildlife, with their ever-changing conditions and colors. I am also inspired by architecture and cities when it comes to forms and spaces. I’m also interested in portraits of people throughout the world in their daily lives.

The post 6 Photographers on Hawaii’s Best-Kept Secrets appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.


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