Kauai, Hawaii Landscape and Seascape Photographs
Kauai is known as the Garden isle due to the abundance of rainfall in parts of the island, but it is usually partly cloudy with lots of sunshine for landscape photography. This island is usually included in top-10 island lists when it comes to scenery. It is a photographic paradise, with rainbows, happening when the sun and rain happen at the same time. The beaches are spectacular and are older than on the other islands. The sand is perfect and the water is cool for a tropical island, which make that air temperature just perfect. It is rarely too hot or cold here.
This is yet another location where there are grave markers warning people to stay off the lava. Even though I did not heed the warning, I watched the waves for quite a while before venturing out to see this marvel of the power of the sea.
Fortunately it was summer and the waves are not as big, but every so often, a big one would come in and I’d have to make a hasty retreat via a rather slippery escape route I had planned earlier. My heart was racing as I thought of the people who were thrown into this Jacuzzi-like maelstrom.
I got up in the dark to get there early in order to show how the trade winds sweep the clouds past the rainiest mountains in the world. Sometimes the clouds open up a bit and during this time of year, the sculpted cliffs are etched perfectly in relief by the low sun angle. The long exposure also reduces distractions so that the pier and mountains stand out better.
Another nice thing the long exposure does is to eliminate people from the scene. There were paddleboarders, surfers and some boats moving through this scene but as long as they keep moving, all is well! And it was. Hanalei, is a warm Yosemite with an ocean! These mountains are as high as El-Capitan and almost as steep.
Lumahai Beach was made famous in the movie “South Pacific” and it is a beautiful place to be. The lava rock in front is difficult to photograph bacuse you have to stand on a rocky outcrop that gets hit by large waves and you have nowhere to escape. But capturing this dramatic scene is worth the risk.
There are grave markers all over this beach so please be careful, especially in the winter! In the distance are the needle-like formations of eroded lava that you see on the Kalalau trail on the Na Pali coast.
There I was standing in the rain for 3 hours staring at nothing but clouds and rain. There was no indication that there was even a valley in front of me. Then suddenly… there it was!
I will admit that I had extra reason to hope because I had my trusty laptop and was looking at weather satellite movies and there was a gap in the clouds moving in. If it were 20 minutes later, it would have been too late because the sun was setting, and this was my only trip to this side of the island. I lucked out again. Luck is very important in photography. Try to make your own!
The Hanalei Pier points directly towards the mountains often referred to as Bali Hai. It refers to a song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II from the musical South Pacific. This area resembles the island of Tioman, which is the original Bali Hai.
With the sun rising behind the camera, openings in the clouds allowed the light to filter into the clouds and illuminate the mountains on the opposite side of Hanalei Bay. Within 10 minutes the rain came in and this low warm light was gone for the day, replaced later by the bright light of mid-day. I used a long exposure to show the motion in the clouds.
Hanalei is a small town on the north shore of the island of Kauai. It has a 3-mile wide perfect crescent of sandy shoreline with the rainiest mountains in the world right behind them. While it rains about 100 inches per year in Hanalei, it rains about 600 inches per year on Mt. Waialeale, about 5 miles behind the peak on the left.
Even with all of the rain, days are usually sunny in Hanalei with maybe 1-2 hours of rain mostly at night. The mountains in this image range from 3,000 to 5,000 feet in height. This shot can only be done with a medium tide and this effect only lasts for a few minutes before another wave moves in. Here, I attempted to show one of the waterfalls in the reflection.
To get this photo: Get up 2 hours before sunrise…. on your vacation, Put on your old shoes and shorts that are destined to become stained with red mud. Drive to the trail head (Right turn before the Kilauea Lighthouse.) Make sure there are decent clouds before committing to the hike down. Get out your flashlight. Navigate the extremely slippery trail, in the dark, often on all-fours, for 1/2 mile. Ignore the strange noises in the dense steamy jungle… if you can. Watch the surf for at least 20 minutes to determine a safe place to be. Set up the tripod and composition just before the next wave hits.
Make the exposure and run! As you run, make sure to avoid spilling too much blood extracted by the sharp lava rock! WARNING! You can die here so be careful!
Clear skies would have been nice to walk under, but the mood would have been gone and the light would have been harsh. Hanalei Bay is a 3-mile long perfect crescent of sand surrounded by the world’s rainiest mountains. Over 500 inches of rain drench nearby Mt. Waialeale every year and about 100 inches fall on this beach. 5 of the 7 famous waterfalls can be seen here.
Despite all that rain, days are mostly clear so it still took me several return trips to this beach in order to be here at the right time. Up to seven waterfalls are often seen in the mountains after a good rain shower.
From a trail near the Princeville hotel, you gain access to some incredible coastal scenery including a large lava swimming pool called “Queen’s Bath” but on this evening I wanted to capture these falls as they enter the ocean as they are lit by the last rays of the sun.
The falls do not show up well in photographs unless the last rays of golden sun is striking them during the summer. I had to get into a small area under a lava ledge and stand on extramely slippery rounded rock at low tide to get this view. The best time to shoot this (because of the angle of the sun hitting the water) is probably the summer.
This dangerous lava cove is near Queens Bath and the waterfall that is also in my gallery from this area. The sun is rising behind the Kilauea Lighthouse and the first light of the day is spreading through the clouds and onto the sea. In the winter, this place is downright frightening with huge waves striking with great force. On a summer morning shown here, it is still a dangerous place but you can get a little closer to the action is you respect the power of the sea. It is thrilling to experience this place close up! This is yet another place where your life can end quickly and violently, but yet it is so beautiful that I can not resist it!
In the summer, the sun rises in the northeast, allowing the mountains to be lit with the first light of the day. In the winter, they are silhouetted and dark. I used a very dark filter to extend the exposure time to a full 60 seconds to show the movement in the clouds and trees and the stillness of the water.
This is a great snorkeling beach with lots of turtles and fish in tunnel-like coral formations. It is a great place to spend an entire day under the False Kamani trees to the left. Bring an umbrella for the occasional but sometimes intense rain shower!
It was pouring rain at Haena-Tunnels beach in Kauai as the sun rose. Things were looking dismal and hopeless for good warm first-light. But these intense showers can last for a minute or an hour so you have to stay prepared if you wish to capture a grand moment. A guy walked past me and asked me why I was standing there in the rain with my camera on the tripod under an umbrella and a towel. I pointed behind the camera towards the horizon (where the clouds were coming from) and told him that the opening in the clouds over there looks like it is going to pass overhead and light up the scene and possibly make a strong rainbow.
Sure enough, about 10 minutes later the sun broke through and the rainbow was incredible!
A double rainbow formed at sunrise as soft warm rain fell on Hanalei Bay. It was there just briefly though. As it rained, I waited at the end of the Hanalai Puer under the tin roof waiting for a hole in the clouds to develop behind me.
Finally it happened and as the rain subsided, it moved towards the mountains and the sun fell on the rain and here is the view! I am glad that I have this photograph to remember this moment.
The clouds were heavy before sunrise but they cleared out just enough to allow the sun to light up the 4,000 ft. mountain range behind the beach. Without that light, the scene did not have the punch and depth that is does in this photo. Summer is when the light strikes across the mountains at the best angle.
When photographing Hawaii, don’t give up on seeing good light. The conditions change rapidly. Look in the direction of the clouds to see if there is an opening that will head your way or allow light to strike something interesting.
This was the view as the sun set spectacularly in Hanalei. This happens often here, though this was a particularly exceptional sunset that seemed to last forever due to the rare high clouds in the sky.
You can not see it in this photo but there was an opening in the clouds beyond the horizon that let in this light. As I mentioned before, be ready for anything when you see high clouds. The sunset faded and then the high clouds lit up about 5 minutes after sunset! It was like when you are long-distance running and you get that ‘second-wind’, which is like an extra burst of energy. If there is no opening, the light just fades into a grey mist.