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How to photograph Maui

Updated on April 18, 2012

Photographing Maui

Top Five Tips for Photographing Maui
By Douglas Bowser

One of the best things about a Maui vacation is all the photographs you’ll come back with to share with friends and family about your trip. It’s pretty easy to get nice photos of such a beautiful place, but with a little extra effort it’s possible to get the kind of photos you’d be proud to frame and hang on your wall.

#1 - Bring a polarizing filter. This filter is the only effect that can not be duplicated with computer software. It adds color depth to blue skies, the ocean, foliage and flowers.

#2 - Iearn to use a tripod. You may not use it everyday as there is plenty of light, but it can make all the difference in the low light of early morning and rainforest waterfalls.

#3 - Become familiar with the compositional rule of thirds. Mentally draw a grid in your camera frame with two horizontal and two vertical lines. Place your subjects where these lines intersect.

#4 - Pick a day to get up early. The most attractive light and the clearest air quality is found at sunrise.

#5 - Make sure to get out on the road to Hana. This road is the tropical highlight of Maui that everyone visiting Hawaii dreams of.

It doesn’t matter if you have a point and shoot or a full size SLR camera with several lenses, you can get outstanding images by following these tips. Next we’ll take a look at how to apply these tips and where to go to get some great images.


Photography is all about light. Depending on where you’re traveling from, most people are 3-5 hours ahead in time difference. So, if you get up at sunrise, it will feel more like 10am or even noon for you! Instead of sitting around the hotel room or condo waiting for the sun to come up, why not get out and get some epic “first light” photos. Unless you’re staying in Hana, Maui’s two mountains block the rising sun, so it is likely that the early morning light will be low light. A tripod is best for getting those subtle hues you’ll be seeing in the clouds and on the ocean. If you are on the beach at sunrise, a good substitute for a tripod is to sit on the sand and pull your knees up in front of you and use your elbows as your tripod. Remember to push the shutter button down slowly as this usually is a big reason images are blurred in low light. The best technique is to set the timer so there is no pressure being applied to the camera when the shutter fires. Another thing to keep in mind is the horizon line. The ocean creates a razor’s edge of a horizon, and if it’s not perfectly level it shows up as a tilted line in the image. Also try to keep that horizon line in the bottom third or the top third of the frame, never dead center. For a pleasing composition the rule of thirds is the standard for photography and most other types of art.
After you have that beautiful horizontal scenic shot in the can, be sure to get some detail shots. Zoom in on that mountain peak or look down and find that sand crab scurrying across the sand in the scarlet morning light. There is no end to what you might find if you give yourself permission to look for the details.
Sunsets are spectacular on Maui, especially if the clouds are low. A slight haze on the horizon might look like a detriment to good sunset photos, but in reality it can turn the setting sun into a bright red fireball, what I like to call a “nuclear” sunset. There’s a trick to shooting sunsets though that can make all the difference. If you just point the camera at the setting sun and fire away, you’ll more than likely end up with images that look dark with a round ball in them. Frame up your shot till the sun is just out of frame to either side, depress the shutter button halfway down and hold, then re-frame with the sun in the shot. This way the camera exposes for all those subtle colors in the clouds and ocean.


You can’t swing a camera around on Maui without hitting a great photo spot, but by far the best photo opportunities are on the road to Hana. This narrow, endlessly winding road is one of the top 5 scenic drives in the world, but it also has some challenges both in driving and photographing. Some of the most beautiful spots are on narrow, one lane parts of the road with no pull-offs. The railings and bushes can also block your view. Getting on the road early and knowing where to stop along the way is probably the biggest challenge as it’s hard to know how long to spend at any given spot because it is possible there are better photo opportunities right around the corner. Believe it or not one of the best ways to photograph Hana is to take a Hana tour. Choose a smaller type tour van in the 6-12 seat range have more interior room in them, which will give you more room for you and your photo gear. A typical tour van also sits higher off the ground which will give you better views over railings and the rainforest vegitation. It’s also economical as food is often included and it’s eco-friendly as it reduces the number of cars on the road.
Never underestimate the amount of photo opportunities on the road to Hana. That means make sure your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of camera card space. A couple of 4GB or 8GB cards is best, along with an extra battery.

Also, a tripod and a polorizing filter will bring out the best in those beautiful blue skies and waterfalls. A polarizing filter adds up to two stops in light loss to an exposure, so be ready for some slow shutter speeds. Waterfall photos on a tripod using shutter speeds in the 15th of a second or slower add a dreamy quality and make the flowing water look silky smooth. The filter also cuts out reflected glare from foliage which brings out the colors and adds some snap to the greens, even though it’s a blue-ish filter.
There are so many places in Maui to get great photos the only limit is time and card space. Just be sure to have your camera ready to go at all times because you never know what may be waiting just around the corner!

Photographing Maui

Flower on path in Hana, Maui
Flower on path in Hana, Maui | Source
Kihei Sunset
Kihei Sunset | Source
Lahaina shoreline in evening light
Lahaina shoreline in evening light | Source


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