Best Places for Photography on Each Hawaiian Island

Having just returned from another incredible trip to Hawaii, I can say without a doubt that islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island are among the most beautiful places to escape to anywhere, let alone in the United States. Over the years, we have explored all of the major Hawaiian Islands and in this guide, we will share with you our favorite places for photography on each one.

Surf's Up
"Surf's Up", Pa'ia, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

Top Places to Photograph on Kauai

Often considered the most picturesque of all the Hawaiian Islands, the island of Kauai known as the Garden Isle is a photographer's dream. As the oldest of the large Hawaiian islands, its landscape has a prehistoric feel to it. The crown jewel of the island is the Na Pali Coast, famed for its steeply ridged coastline. When you see it for the first time, Jurassic Park will certainly come to mind! Some of its other well known features include the Waimea Canyon, Mount Waiʻaleʻale and Hanalei Bay.

Na Pali Coast

With its lush green jagged cliffs towering 4,000 ft over remote white sandy beaches and the bright blue Pacific ocean, the Na Pali Coast looks like something you’d only imagine in a movie. The best time of day to photograph it is late afternoon through sunset when the sun is high enough to cast light and shadows on the “Pali” or towering cliffs. Whether you visit the Na Pali Coast by land, sea or air you MUST make this a stop on your Kauai itinerary! You won’t be disappointed.

Land Of Aloha
"Land of Aloha", Na Pali Coast, Kauai. Photo © Max Foster

Waimea Canyon

If you visit the Na Pali Coast by land, you will likely pass through Waimea Canyon on your way to the Kalalau Lookout. Don’t miss this gorgeous stop along the way as it is the largest canyon in the Pacific at 18 miles long and up to 3,000 ft deep. After a good rain, the canyon will be bursting with waterfalls in almost every direction!

Wonders of Waipoo
"Wonders of Waipoo", Waimea Canyon, Kauai. Photo © Max Foster.

Shipwreck Beach

Making your way toward the southern coast of Kauai, Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful beach for sunrise and sunset photography. This beach is also the start of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, a great hike to explore the otherwise inaccessible coastline.

Queen’s Bath

Formed by lava rock millions of years ago, Queens Bath is nature’s version of a saltwater bathtub. Once used by Hawaiian Royalty, these large tide pools now draw locals and vacationers alike to take a dip in their refreshing salty waters. Located in the town of Princeville, the hike to get to Queen's Bath is not for the faint of heart as you will be hiking down a muddy, slippery slope in between fallen trees and roots. Hiking shoes are highly recommended. Also, be aware of the ocean conditions and never get in the tide pools during the winter months, high tide or a storm as fatalities have occurred.

Water Ballet
"Water Ballet", Queen's Bath, Kauai. Photo © Max Foster

Hanalei Bay

The fairytale “Land of Hanalei” comes to life on the north shore of Kauai in Hanalei Bay. Set against a backdrop of lush green mountains and a picturesque two mile long crescent shaped bay, this place is pure magic by the sea.

Understudy Panoramic
"Understudy Panoramic", Hanalei Bay Pier, Kauai. Photo © Max Foster

Ke’e Beach

At the literal end of the road on the northern most part of Kauai lies Haena State Park, home to Ke’e Beach and the famous 11 mile Kalalau trail which traverses the Na Pali Coast. Ke’e Beach is known for its large waves that crash into the cliffs, especially in winter, making it a great spot to photograph when swells are high.

Shock Wave
"Shock Wave", Ke'e Beach, Kauai. Photo © Max Foster

Top Places to Photograph on Maui

Maui, also known as The Valley Isle due to the isthmus that connects its two dormant volcanoes, is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is known for having arguably the best and most swimmable beaches in all of Hawaii. Some of its most well known attractions include The Road to Hana, Haleakala National Park, Lahaina and Makena Beach.

Makena Beach (AKA Big Beach)

At 1.5 miles long, Makena (AKA Big Beach) is Maui's largest beach and is a fabulous place to photograph the bright turquoise water on a sunny day. This beautiful stretch of sand is found within Makena State Park and is a popular spot for bodyboarding due to the waves that crash right on the shore.

Ocean Lullaby
"Ocean Lullaby", Makena Beach, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

The Road to Hana

This famed 65 mile drive from Kahului to Hana lives up to its hype, but it's not so much about the destination as it is about the journey along the way. Take your time on the Road to Hana to enjoy the twists, turns and sights including dozens of waterfalls, rainbow eucalyptus trees, a bamboo forest, and much much more.

Treasures of the Isles
"Treasures of the Isles", Three Bears Falls, The Road to Hana, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park may be most well known for its namesake, Haleakala, a dormant volcano with an elevation of 10,000ft at its highest point. However, there is a lesser known, but no less impressive district within the park called the Kipahulu district. This area of the park is accessed 12 miles past the town of Hana on the Hana Highway and features more than two dozen pools called O'heo, a Bamboo Forest, a giant Banyan Tree and the impressive Waimoku Falls.

Shoots And Ladders
"Shoots And Ladders", Bamboo Forest, Haleakala National Park, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

Surfboard Fence

You can't go to Hawaii without taking an obligatory surfboard photo. While there are several of these surfboard fences on Maui, this one located in Pa'ia is the most colorful and unobstructed of them all. If you like the look of the palm shadows on the boards, make sure to go on a sunny day.

Surf's Up
"Surf's Up", Surfboard Row, Pa'ia, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

Mama’s Fish House

This may not be a traditional stop on the Hawaii photography circuit, but boy is it worth it! Mama's Fish House is a family owned fine dining restaurant that has been serving Hawaiian fish caught daily by local fishermen since 1973. Not only is their food absolutely mouthwatering, but the restaurant ambiance and the view overlooking the ocean through a grove of palm trees is breathtaking. Plan your reservations far in advance as they typically book out a month ahead of time!

Return To Paradise
"Return To Paradise", Mama's Fish House, Maui. Photo © Max Foster

Top Places to Photograph on Oahu

The island of Oahu, also known as The Gathering Place, gives meaning to its name by being the busiest and most populous of all the Hawaiian Islands. Some of its most well known features include Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Lanikai Beach, and the North Shore.

Lanikai Beach

Ranked as one of the top beaches in the world, Lanikai beach on Oahu is known for its bright turquoise waters and soft powdery sand. What makes this beach unique is the added bonus of sitting beneath palm tree shadows and looking out over two tiny islands or "mokes" in the distance.

Palm Trees & Daydreams
"Palm Trees & Daydreams", Lanikai Beach, Oahu. Photo © Max Foster

Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head Crater was created from volcanic eruptions over 400,000 years ago from the Koʻolau Volcano that took place long after the volcano formed and had gone dormant. These eruptive events created many of Oʻahu's well-known landmarks, including Punchbowl Crater, Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, and Mānana Island.

Waikiki Beach

Perhaps the most famous and most visited of all beaches on the islands of Hawaii is Waikiki Beach, which ironically is almost entirely manmade. The high-rise hotel boom of the 1950's and unwavering demand since that time has allowed Waikiki to continue to generate 42% of the state of Hawaii's visitor revenue.

Bonzai Pipeline

The surfing mecca of Bonzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu is where all the action is at during winter months when large swells are in the forecast. Be prepared to arrive early to get a good viewing spot as hundreds of people will be lining the beach to get a glimpse of the surfers riding these heavy barrels.

Bonzai Pipeline
Pipeline, North Shore, Oahu by Fosterandsons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Top Places to Photograph on The Big Island

The largest of all the Hawaiian Islands, the island of Hawaii is appropriately named The Big Island. Some of its most well known features include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Wai'pio Valley, Mauna Kea, and Akaka falls.

Punaluʻu Beach (Black Sand Beach)

Punaluʻu Beach (AKA Black Sand Beach) is a beach that features black sand made of basalt created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools. This beach is known for its picturesque coconut trees lining the shore and is frequented by green turtles, which can often be seen basking on the black sand.

Punaluʻu Beach by Rennett Stowe from USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Punaluʻu Beach by Rennett Stowe. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

One of the most otherworldly sights you may ever see is that of an active volcano. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park offers visitors the chance to see not just one, but two: Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive shield volcano. Timing of your visit is critical as the lava flow is unpredictable and can start or stop at any time. Check out the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park website for the most up to date information on their volcanic activity.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by National Park Service is licensed under CC PDM 1.0
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by National Park Service is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Mauna Kea

Standing 13,803 ft above sea level, Mauna Kea, is a dormant volcano that also claims the title of the highest point in the state of Hawaii. It is also the world's tallest mountain at 10.2 km (6.3 mi) from base to peak though a large part of it is underwater thus leaving its peak below that of Everest. With an age of roughly a million years old, Mauna Kea last erupted 6,000 to 4,000 years ago and is now considered dormant.

Mauna Loa from Mauna Kea by Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Mauna Loa from Mauna Kea by Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA is licensed under CC BY 2.0