When and Where to Take the Best Photos in Oahu
What to photograph during each time of day on the Hawaiian island.
It's hard not to be attracted to the appeal of a tropical vacation. White sand beaches, the peaceful sound of waves crashing, and clear, sunny skies day after day seem like the ideal recipe for a relaxing getaway. And what better destination to find all of these elements than in Hawaii?
With photo locations spanning across the islands, the Explorest app features a variety of places to leisurely spend your time, like on a breezy beach to take photos, or to challenge your adventurous side, like on a hike up a steep mountain that overlooks the coast. Even just closing your eyes and picturing yourself at one of these Hawaiian hot spots can give you a brief mental vacation that'll virtually transport you to a more serene state of mind.
When you're on the islands of Hawaii, we recommend beginning your trip by finding photo spots near you on the app. You'll see the locations that are closest to you, as well as tips on how to get there and what to do around the area. And for those that are traveling to Oahu in the future, we've come up with an itinerary for when and where to capture the best pictures. Get excited for a day of fun in the sun—from sunrise to sunset!
Not only does the early bird get the worm, they also get some of the day's best photos. Lighting conditions in the early mornings are ethereal and on the beaches of Oahu, witnessing the magic of the sunrise is indescribable. It's most impactful to see it in person, but the next best thing is being able to take a photo of the Hawaiian sunrise to cherish the memory for years to come.
Even though there are thousands of places to capture the break of day in Hawaii, two of our favorites include Lanikai Beach and Eternity Beach. The sun rising in the east casts a glow along the coast and while the light can be powerful at this time of the day, it still retains a haziness that softens the entire scene—almost as if the land has just opened its eyes to the first sign of daylight.
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover "Ocean Access 10" on Lanikai Beach view of Moku Nui & Moku Iki with Model on the Explorest app
credit: @mattaleong — discover "Ocean Access 10" at Lanikai Beach view of the Ocean, Moku Nui & Moku Iki on the Explorest app
credit: @spencerlee808 — discover Eternity Beach (Cockroach Cove) view of Surfer on the Explorest app
Mornings are the ideal time for long walks along the water, sipping hot (or iced) coffee while reading a book, or taking advantage of an area that hasn't yet been bombarded with daily tourists. The Hilton Lagoon is one such spot and if you get there after sunrise (it opens at 9:30am), you'll be able to take some of the best photos in Oahu.
The Hilton Lagoon, also known as Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, is a man-made, five-acre body of saltwater situated next to the ocean. You can swim amongst the fishes, try your hand at yoga paddleboard, or make your way around the property to get a drone perspective of the white sand beach in between the two bodies of water. When the morning light hits, there can be dramatic shadows and it's a great opportunity to experiment with shadow play.
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Hilton Lagoon, Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon Boardwalk & Kahanamoku Beach Angled Look Down on the Explorest app
credit: @thewandertravels — discover Hilton Lagoon & Palm Tree on the Explorest app
credit: @thewandertravels — discover Hilton Lagoon, Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon Boardwalk & Kahanamoku Beach Look Down discover on the Explorest app
It can be argued that Hawaii, and Oahu in particular, have the most to offer during midday. You can start a hike in the morning and then end your journey by having lunch under a waterfall (we love Likeke Falls and Lulumahu Falls!). Alternatively, you could take a boat out to sea, like at Waimea Bay, and swim with the sea life to get a taste of life underwater. The options for activities are endless during a clear day and midday gives you the chance to soak up the Hawaiian sun—just don't forget to bring your SPF!
In terms of lighting, midday conditions produce bright light that naturally illuminates the landscape. You'll need to be aware of harsh shadows and contrasts, but overall, midday is the perfect time of day to snap all of the lively colors of the island, especially when you're out exploring in nature.
credit: @thewandertravels — discover Likeke Falls on the Explorest app
credit: @nolanomura — discover Waimea Bay Underwater view of Snorkeler on the Explorest app
credit: @thewandertravels — discover Lulumahu Falls on the Explorest app
Take some time to rest after your midday adventures and lounge on land while practicing your drone skills. It requires more technical skill (check the Explorest app for expert tips on how to photograph drone photos), but using a drone is an efficient way to take photos of Oahu without having to travel too far on foot. You can fit miles and miles into a drone shot, so you'll be able to capture more of the scene thanks to the elevated viewpoint.
A popular tourist destination, Waikiki Beach is actually more photogenic with a lot of people on the beach. The split view of sand and ocean creates a flawless example of symmetry, with land on one half of the photo and sea on the other. And with the addition of beachgoers, you'll get pops of color from umbrellas, towels, chairs, and bathing suits.
Two other late afternoon photo spots to practice drone photography are Farrington Highway and Highway 3. Each location provides a vast perspective of the lush terrain and an eye-catching mix of the natural landscape and manmade structures, like the highways that are integrated throughout the mountains. In the late afternoon, you can also see how the sunlight begins to soften as it transitions into sunset.
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Waikiki Beach Look Down on the Explorest app
credit: @mattaleong — discover Farrington Highway & Mountains from Mākua Beach Parking Lot on the Explorest app
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Highway 3, Ko'olau Range Mountains & Kāne'ohe Forest Reserve on the Explorest app
After a long day of taking epic photos and seeing the most of Oahu, you're rewarded with a stunning sunset. The islands of Hawaii are known for their sunsets (what's a beach vacation without a few cotton candy-colored skies?) and Oahu does not disappoint. You're almost guaranteed to get a good picture during sunset, regardless of where you are at the moment, but the three locations below are the cream of the crop.
A lesser-known sunset photo spot is Tantalus Lookout. Not only is the view of the single tree against the dense clouds dreamy, you also get to see Diamond Head and Downtown Honolulu off in the distance. The tree's silhouette becomes more pronounced at sunset and the lighting across the city evokes a comforting warmness.
If you want to get nautical, we recommend visiting Ala Wai Boat Harbor. The still water in the harbor reflects the vibrant colors of the sunset and the line of boats add a unique separation between the body of water and the horizon. Local photographer, Vince Lim, always kills it with his sunset photos and Ala Wai Boat Harbor is a prime example!
With a name like Sunset Beach, it's hard to think of a better place to go once the sun begins to dip below the horizon. On top of an aptly-named seashore, Sunset Beach also has the one-of-a-kind crooked palm tree that'll give your photo a little something extra. Grab a friend and a surfboard and start snapping away to photograph the sun as it aligns with the palm tree—what a special sight to see!
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Tantalus Lookout Tree view of Diamond Head & Downtown Honolulu on the Explorest app
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Ala Wai Boat Harbor on the Explorest app
credit: @vincelimphoto — discover Sunset Beach Crooked Palm Tree on the Explorest app
Whether it's your first time to Hawaii, you're a returning traveler or you're a local, we hope that this guide helps you find inspiration to shoot all day long on the island of Oahu. The way the sun hits Hawaii, no matter the time of day, is unlike any other destination—so get out there and start exploring! We can't wait to see where you go.
If you're looking to discover new photo spots, download the Explorest app today. We provide insider recommendations to help you capture your travels, near and far.