Hawaii Photos
Mark Layman

Brenda and I celebrated our 35th anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. We visited the islands of Oahu, Kauai and Maui. We had a great time and saw some amazing places.

As I was taking photographs, I tried to think about the aspects of the composition, such as the “rule of thirds” and “foreground interest”, that I wanted to use, as well as the aspects of the light in each scene that I would need to deal with, so that my end results would be the best I could make them. For each photo below, I explain the compositions and what techniques I used in taking the shot. Also, in none of these cases did I take a single shot of the scene. Always take multiple shots of a scene to help assure you get the shot you want.


Ever since I watched the original Hawaii 5-0 TV series as a teenager, I wanted to see Diamond Head on the island of Oahu, which was the first island we visited. By time we got to our hotel the first night, it was dark. When we went down for breakfast the next morning, we discovered that the dining area had a fabulous view of Diamond Head! I took this picture of Brenda at our breakfast table with Diamond Head looming in the background. The sunlight in the background would have thrown off the exposure of Brenda in the foreground, so I used flash (standing a good distance away to avoid the flash light being to harsh) to light up the foreground. I also focused on Brenda then recomposed the shot to assure that she was in focus and that Diamond Head was clearly in the shot. I shot this in aperture priority mode at f/11 to assure good depth of field. The camera then selected a shutter speed of 1/60 second and ISO 200.

After getting over jet lag on Oahu, we headed to Kauai which is at the tail of the Hawaiian islands and is less developed than Oahu or Maui. Kauai has beautiful beaches, cliffs, mountains and waterfalls, making it a great place for photography.


In this beach shot, I wanted to take advantage of the zigzag lines created by the tidal pool, and to use the plants in the foreground to give the viewer a point of reference and to add foreground interest. I used aperture priority mode at f/11 to assure good depth of field and focused on the bushes in the center of the photo. No special lighting compensation seemed needed since the light was even across the whole scene. The camera selected a shutter speed of 1/320 second and ISO 100. A nice benefit of shooting in strong sunlight is faster shutter speeds (thus less chance of blurriness) and low ISO (virtually no graininess).


While touring about our first day on Kauai, we had a picnic lunch at a beach where this tree, with its wavy limbs and the surf behind it, cried out to be photographed. It was a tricky shot due to the light in the background being much brighter than the light on the tree which was shaded by the two larger trees flanking it. I shot this scene many times making slight adjustments to the exposure. Only in post-processing was I able to select the best one. The shot above was done in shutter priority at 1/320 second to freeze the surf motion. The camera selected an aperture of f/4.8 and ISO 200. It could be argued that shooting this in aperture priority at about f/8 would have been wiser in order to get greater depth of field.


Perhaps the most fabulous thing we did during our trip to Hawaii was take a “doors off” helicopter ride over Kauai. Much of this island has amazing landscape but is completely inaccessible via anything but helicopter. We chose a helicopter tour company that flies “doors off” so that we would not have to photograph through the glass (and also because it sounded like a real thrill). This was an amazing tour and we got some great photos. I knew this shot was a good one as soon as I took it. It has a large waterfall on the left third and dense clouds in the top third, and vibrant green and smaller waterfalls across the whole scene. I had a tough decision on how to setup the camera for the helicopter tour, debating with myself about the trade offs between depth of field (higher aperture but lower shutter speed) and concerns about blurriness due to the motion of the helicopter, thus calling for a higher shutter speed which could result in less depth of field due to the camera needing the aperture to be more open. I picked shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/500 second. This proved to be a good choice as the shots came out great. For this photo, the camera selected an aperture of f4.5 and ISO 100.


Our third and last island was Maui. While Brenda spent one afternoon at the hotel spa, I went out driving to see some of Maui and was thrilled to find a windy beach with lots of kite surfers. I love shooting action like this, but it presents some challenges. This was definitely a shutter priority situation and I selected 1/500 second. This turned out OK, but 1/1000 second probably would have been a better choice, given that it would have frozen the action better and made the images just a little bit crisper, perhaps at the expense of a higher, grainier ISO setting. Focus can also be a problem in situations like this where there are many things for the camera to focus on (the surfer, the kite, waves, and mountains). Taking the shot while aimed at either the surfer or the kite was not really an option because, if you focused on one, the other would probably not be in the frame. Also, if I had aimed in between the surfer and the kite, the camera would have focused on the mountains in the background, possibly leaving the surfer and his kite out of focus. So I focused on the surfer while he was doing a fairly lateral maneuver (or recovering from a flubbed maneuver), then recomposed the shot to include the kite and background before taking it. Obviously, I took MANY shots and got a few good ones which is par for the course for this type of photography. This shot was taken at 1/500 second with aperture f/5.6 and ISO 100. I’m please that the composition has a nice “rule of thirds” aspect to it, too.


If you go to Maui, it’s almost required that you do the Road to Hana, which is a very winding and scenic drive along the northeast shore. One stop fairly near to the town of Hana is the Black Sand Beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park. I took this photo with this article in mind. I saw the bit of driftwood and thought it would make for a great bit of foreground interest (also nicely in the lower and left thirds) to draw the eye to the black stones on the beach before wandering to the other portions of the scene. I shot this in aperture priority at f/7.1. The camera selected shutter speed 1/125 second and ISO 100.

The last evening on Maui, I decided to try my hand a some sunset shots. These can be tricky due to the great variations in the light, which is also largely what makes them pleasing compositions. Generally, you want to set the exposure based on a portion of the scene a little above the setting sun. However, this is probably not where you want your point of focus. So this is a situation where you need to set the exposure, possibly set focal point other than what will be the center of the composition, and then frame the composition and take the shot. Prepare yourself to not be happy with first photo and to take another dozen or so shots changing various aspects of the exposure, focus and composition until you’re pleased with the result. That’s what I did in order to get the shot below. I like it because I think it really paints a picture of Maui in the evening. It has the foreground interest of the silhouetted palm trees, the setting sun in the lower right corner, the large island, small island and wee boat in a line on the lower left, and the huge beautiful Hawaiian sky spanning across the upper two-thirds of the scene.


We loved our trip to Hawaii and are already talking about going back! If we do, I going to redo that beach tree shot in aperture priority or even manual mode.

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