You don’t need an expensive or complex camera to take great photos. I shoot and edit photos here on Maui, and often times end up pulling out my smartphone for certain candid shots or to use the panoramic feature in tight spaces. You can take great shots too by following a few expert tips.
Timing is everything
The absolute best times to take photos on Maui is early in the morning and early evening. Natural light is magical around sunrise and sunset. Photographers call this period “the golden hour” for a good reason. The low angle of light casts a golden hue on everything it touches, making everything more colorful, beautiful and slightly softer. But don’t forget to stick around and catch the setting sun just as it dips into the ocean, and the colorful sky in the moments after sunset.
Early in the morning you can shoot beautiful beaches with little or no people.
Sunny midday is a great time to capture shots in shadier spots, like on a hiking trail or one of Maui’s many tropical forests.
Ask a local
I am always happy to talk about photography and give tips on locations to visitors. Don’t be afraid to ask locals where some of their favorite photo spots are. Here’s one- Maui Tropical Plantation. The well-curated grounds of this tourist attraction provides many imaginative opportunities, from exotic tropical fruits and flowers to vintage metal gears from Maui’s sugar milling days. You can take a paid tour, but much of the grounds are open for you to explore for free, plus they have an excellent restaurant, coffee shack and huge gift shop. Talk about multi-tasking!
Lugging around a big digital SLR is okay if you have a plan to get some shots at a specific location. However, the magic of nature happens quickly on Maui. A Jackson chameleon walking on top of a rustic fence. Dolphins jumping alongside a tour boat. The cutest keiki doing hula at the mall. Pull out that cell phone and snap away! Don’t let the moment go by while fumbling to get out the big camera.
Watch the horizon
On Maui, you will want to take many photos looking out at the ocean and distant islands, and possibly from the water back to Maui. Keep an eye on the horizon line right before you press the shutter to make sure it is perfectly horizontal. Some photographers focus so much on the composition of the photo, they neglect to the horizon. Pictures look a little tipsy!
As an avid ocean enthusiast, I always recommend visiting friends make Maui Ocean Center aquarium one of their first stops. This world class facility is all about the ocean and marine life of Hawaii, and is an amazing opportunity for photography. It would take you years of boat trips and expensive underwater gear to capture what you can in an afternoon at Maui Ocean Center on dry land.
However, shooting through thick acrylic can be a bit tricky. For best results, use an SLR or mirrorless camera on a tripod. You will also have to adjust your settings for ambient light in the tank (or night mode) and turn off your flash, which will reflect off the tank surface. Experiment with different tripod angles to further reduce reflection.
Once you are ready to shoot, I recommend burst shots. You have to sort through 15 or so similar images, but you have a much better chance of getting one that is just right.
Plan on going to Maui Ocean Center at non-peak times to avoid crowds and having to wait for people to clear your shot. Right at opening is best. Late in the day works too, but you will be under time pressure to shoot everything you want before closing.
If your friends or family members tire of waiting for you to shoot everything (and you will want to shoot a lot!) they can wait it out in the aquarium’s ocean view restaurant and bar.
Is shooting in an aquarium cheating? I don’t think so. It is still nature photography, similar to photographing birds in an arboretum. Plus, the learning experience adds benefits by reading about the species you are photographing. When you do take that underwater photography excursion out at sea, you will recognize Hawaii’s marine life, and know where they are found in the reef or open ocean, and maybe a few other factoids.
Don’t forget to take your eyes off the viewfinder
I spent so much time as a young adult being the designated photo and video person for family and friends, I often times felt I missed the fun of the event. So remember to put the camera away and actually immerse your other senses in the scents, sights, touch and experiences of Maui (but keep that smartphone at the ready in your pocket just in case!).