A Photographer’s Guide to the Best Photography Spots in Hawaii

May 31, 2024

When it comes to incredible places for photography, it is hard to beat Hawaii. In fact, our nation’s fiftieth state is known as a Mecca for photographers, and for good reason!

Hawaii boasts a remarkable range of natural landscapes, all of which are ideal subjects for breathtaking photos. The state is also home to a number of unique geologic formations, including volcanoes. The volcanic origins of Hawaii have created dramatic geological features like lava fields, lava tubes and the amazing coastlines for which the state is well-known.

The rich Hawaiian culture, which is beautiful and deeply rooted in nature and traditions, can also make for eye-catching and poignant photos.

In addition, the state features an incredibly diverse, colorful, and vibrant assortment of flora and fauna, all of which are gorgeous subjects for photographers. Mother Nature will also paint the skies in the early morning and evenings in Hawaii, giving photographers a front row seat to some of the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets imaginable.

As a photographer who lives in Hawaii, I would like to share some of the specific differences between the many islands that make up this beautiful state. In this article, I will cover a number of topics, including:

  • The unique aspects of each island
  • What those aspects mean for photography
  • What photographers know the island for
  • Highlight of some of the best photography spots in Hawaii
a very colorful surfboard fence in the same sequence as the rainbow found in Paia on the north shore of Maui

The surfboard fence in Paia on the island of Maui is a classic scene. Arranging the surfboards in the sequence of the rainbow is just taking it to a whole new level!

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Oahu: Home to Many of the Best Photography Spots in Hawaii

The island of Oahu features a wide range of outstanding Hawaii photo spots for both amateurs and professionals. For example, you can take your camera to the popular Waikiki beach in Honolulu to capture images of people of all ages enjoying the surf and sand. The streets surrounding Waikiki offer countless opportunities for urban photography that easily show the vibrant city life and street scenes that take place in the area every day. Honolulu is also home to a number of cultural events and festivals that features diverse cuisine, all of which are highly photogenic.

Serendipity is a fine art photograph from Andrew Shoemaker at Lanikai Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu featuring azure waters and two islands on the horizon

Sometimes all of the elements just come together for an iconic scene from Lanikai Beach. My favorite thing about Lanikai is the white sand and incredible water color. I timed it right with the palm shadows in the foreground to complete this classic shot. Also available in panoramic format here.

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Maui: Diverse Beauty, Both in the Sky and On the Ground

If you enjoy taking photographs of nature, the island of Maui will not disappoint. The island is well known for its idyllic landscapes and variety of nature scenes. For example, the Haleakala volcano and the Road to Hana are both popular places for photographers to visit. Maui is also home to gorgeous scenic beaches like Wailea and Kaanapali. These locations are renowned for their amazing seascapes and colorful sunsets.

A very special panoramic view of sunset at a very special Secret Beach in Makena on the island of Maui, Hawaii.  Hawaii sunset pictures by Andrew Shoemaker

A very special sunset at a very special Secret Beach. I captured this one with a polarizer to really bring out the color in the sky and what a special, iconic scene

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The Big Island of Hawaii: Large-Scale in Size and Photographic Opportunities

The Big Island of Hawaii is another popular spot for photographers. The island is known for its geological wonders and volcanically formed landscapes. For instance, bring your camera to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and spend time shooting the lava flows, volcanic craters and “unearthly” terrain.

Another fact about the Big Island of Hawaii worth noting is its size – its larger land mass means that there is naturally a greater range of climates. This means there is a wide range of ecosystems to photograph on any given day.

lava ocean entry photography at sunrise on the Big Island of Hawaii in Volcanoes National Park

One of the most epic scenes that I've ever witnessed, lava entering the ocean with the pacific crashing against it in opposition is just truly amazing! You literally have fire and water opposing each other here so it's a battle of two forces

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Kauai: Lush, Green, and a Photographer’s Dream

Often referred to as “The Garden Island”, Kauai is one of the best islands for budding and experienced nature photographers who are hoping to see some of the best flora and fauna the state has to offer. Kauai has a number of botanical gardens and wildlife refuges, all of which are home to some of the most photogenic plants, trees, flowers and animals you can imagine.

Of course, as one of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is also a great spot for photographing the Pacific Ocean and its nearby landscape in all its glory. For example, the Na Pali Coast cliffs overlook the sea, and are surrounded by lush valleys and waterfalls, all of which provide breathtaking photo opportunities. Waimea Canyon, which has earned the well-deserved nickname of a mini-Grand Canyon, offers an interesting and contrasting lush nature of the island.

panoramic view of the Kalalau Valley on the island of Kauai with a rainbow and a dramatic sunset along the Na Pali Coast

Kalalau Valley on the island of Kauai is one of the most special places on Earth to me. Just absolutely breathtaking and if you could imagine what heaven must look like, well I think it'd look like this

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Molokai: Rugged Yet Beautiful

Molokai is less developed and is more rugged than most of the other Hawaiian islands. This makes it very appealing to photographers who are seeking an authentic and “raw” look at our state. Specifically, head to Kalaupapa sea cliffs, which boast uninterrupted views up and down the coast of Molokai. Enjoy capturing the rural charm and traditional Hawaiian culture that are almost everywhere on this small island.

a lone boat reflects in the calm waters of the pacific ocean off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  Fine art limited edition Hawaii photography

Mornings in Hawaii can be very special. I had found this beautiful boat as a subject the night before and returned at sunrise to find it so calm and serene to where the water is like a mirror. Endless beauty

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Lanai: Busy Resorts and Quiet Beaches are Photogenic Subjects

Another “small but mighty” island is the lovely Lanai, which is home to a number of luxurious resorts and secluded beaches – all of which are worthy of a photoshoot. Lanai is a great choice if you are looking for unique photo opportunities. The island is both tranquil and upscale all at once, and is well-known for its sunsets and sunrises.

The Aloha State Welcomes You

Hawaii is truly an ultimate destination for photographers of all levels of experience, as well as visitors who want to capture incredible images of the state’s incredible scenery. As you can see, each island is unique in terms of its landscape, ecosystem and culture, so no matter which one you visit, you will be sure to find an endless amount of photo opportunities.

No matter if you are new to photography or a seasoned professional, I encourage you to come to Hawaii, explore all that our islands have to offer and take your camera and capture the beauty of the islands!

As for which Hawaiian island to visit, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. All of the islands are outstanding subjects for photos, so no matter where you go, you’ll be sure to find amazing sights to capture with your camera.

If you are interested in checking out some of the photos I’ve captured of the state I’m proud to call home, please browse my online gallery where you will find fine art photography from the most beautiful locations around the Hawaiian islands.

the volcanic lava meets the pacific ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with the stars and Milky Way galaxy rising over the pacific.

One of the most epic ideas I had for an image and it really just kind of happened so I had to figure out a way to pull this one off. If you look closely, you can also see the international space station in the upper corner of this one too

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panoramic image of the biggest wave in Hawaii,  Jaws located on the island of Maui reaches heights up to seventy feet.  Hawaii big wave photography

When the lighting is right, Jaws just really comes to life! This massive wave is just really something to see in person and being this close is very intimidating and exhilirating

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