Photographing Hawaii – Part 1: Moving Water

As I started planning my photography trip to Hawaii, I contacted several people in the state so I could get a feel for “the big island” and what to expect.

What I found surprised me. The people of Hawaii are very connected to their island and consider it a part of themselves. When I arrived, I began to understand why. It’s an island of purity and happiness. It really is a place where you can escape the outside world, yet still be comfortable with all the technology and convenience of home.

Photo of Hawaii landscape by Michael Leggero
Hawaii Landscape

Hawaii consists of several islands, all offering their own unique attractions and features. I spent my time on the island of Hawaii, and while part of it is definitely designed for tourists, it is definitely a photographer’s paradise.

The main airport is in the city of Kona and even their airport is beautiful! It’s an open air facility, which means that there are no doors or windows, no jet ways, and only a few roofs in case of the rain – truly wonderful. Kona is definitely a tourist town.

There are the usual shops along the beach with similar items in each window, but what differs from other topical locations I’ve visited is that the locals frequent these places too. Even on this crowded area of the island you can find fantastic opportunities for photographing sunsets and wonderful oceanscapes.

HDR photo of Pacific Ocean from Hawaii shore by Michael Leggero

HDR Image of Pacific Ocean

Once you leave the city you are really in for an awesome experience! There are lush rainforests, giant waterfalls, beautiful flowers, and amazing lava flows.

Some of the waterfalls that I enjoyed the most definitely took some planning to find. The first waterfall I found was definitely a hidden treasure – one visited by few during the year. I was given great directions to its location, where to park and walk, but then it was up to me.

Waikama Falls is a very private location for a reason. I had been told that once I parked the car, just walk through the stream until I came to its end. Well, walking through a stream isn’t always the best choice when you are carrying camera gear.

Streams are slippery and fast rushing water will push you over if you aren’t careful. Be certain you have the correct footwear and a walking stick to help you keep your balance. You may ask, why not just walk on the side of the stream? Well, the wet leaves of the rainforest combined with the sharp inclines of the valley make the sides of this stream very difficult to navigate.

But trudging through the stream is worth if for the rewards of finding your own private magnificence an hour later. I really love finding and enjoying the splendor of remote places. As I sat at the waterfall, I loved knowing that probably only about 100 people a year on the entire planet get to see this splendor!

Photo of Waikama Falls in Hawaii by Michael Leggero
Waikama Falls
Photo of small waterfall in Hawaii by Michael Leggero
 Small Waterfall

Photographing moving water is one of my passions, so I would like to share with you some tricks and techniques used so you can create those great shots of waterfalls, rivers and streams. The equipment you will need isn’t horribly expensive and it is highly recommended.

Tripod:  You MUST have a tripod. You can take handheld pictures just fine, but if you really want that beautiful image of the water just flowing and becoming white and misty you need to slow down that shutter speed.

Shutter Speeds: The time depends on each individual waterfall, river or stream because they all have different speeds and amounts of water moving. You have to do several different shots and then figure out which worked. Plan your exposures to be anywhere from 2 seconds to as long as 30 seconds or more.

Photo of river water with blurred water effect in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

Neutral Density Filters: Daylight does not cooperate with long exposures – getting a long exposure once the sun comes up is almost impossible. To solve this problem you need a neutral density (ND) filter. This type of filter blocks out most of the light and allows your camera to take pictures successfully at those long, slow speeds.

Shutter Release: Either a cable or remote shutter release or setting the timer on your camera is also essential. Remember, the water is moving and if you want to blur the motion of the water you’re going to have to use those slower speeds. And because the rest of the features around it are stationary, you’ll want to keep them crisp.

Photo of Pacific Ocean from Hawaii shore by Michael Leggero

Faster shutter speeds will
stop the motion of the water.

Photo of river with silky water effect in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

Slower shutter speeds give
a silky smooth look to the water.

Note: Be careful of trees and grasses that move with the wind, as they will blur during these long exposures and ruin your image.So plan your photograph and try to keep those elements out of the frame as much as possible.

Plan these hikes with plenty of time to spare. I can’t stress this one enough! Sometimes the terrain will slow you down and you’ll find yourself running out of daylight.

Photo of jungle and river with silky water effect in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

In the Waipio Valley you can be treated to a spectacular 1200 foot waterfall, and if you know where to start, you can hike to the bottom of it. Now, just to get to the bottom of the valley you may choose to walk down a road that is at 25% grade.

This may not seem like a lot on paper and on the internet, but just trust me, don’t be brave and walk it. (Yup, I was stupid enough to do it!) Just get a ride or rent a jeep, or anything other than walking – period!

I started this journey at about 1pm. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get to the waterfall, relax a bit and then get pictures of the sunset reflecting off the water. I made my way to the bottom of the valley after taking several brakes and waving back to people passing by in jeeps. I survived!

I found the trail to the falls easy enough, because I knew where to look. Otherwise I never would have found it. Be sure to do your research ahead of time.

The walk is beautiful as you go through a rainforest. I even passed wild horses along the way. By now it was about 4pm and I saw a family coming back from the waterfall. But it was how I saw them that influenced my plans – they were crossing the river with backpacks held over their heads and wading neck deep through the water!

They told me that they had turned back and didn’t make it all the way to the falls, because there was another river crossing further up that was even deeper. Now I’m not against getting wet or swimming, but with hours of hiking still ahead of me, I came to the dismal conclusion that I wouldn’t make it there by sunset as I had hoped.

So alas, all that I now have to look forward to is my return trip climbing UP that evil road! Luckily the family I met had an extra seat in their jeep. After a bit of a harrowing ride, I made it back to my hotel only to collapse with exhaustion at the end of the day. Lesson learned!

Photo of Pe'epe'e Falls in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

Pe’epe’e Falls

Photo of Rainbow Falls in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

Now, don’t panic. If trudging through jungles and rocky streams isn’t your thing, there are many other gorgeous waterfalls that you can experience.

Rainbow Falls is right off the main road in the middle of the city of Hilo. Other waterfalls are also easy to see and often have paved trails leading right to them. Now, if you’re looking for some privacy, tranquility and quiet time, plan on arriving before 8 a.m.

Anytime from mid morning until the evening will be shared with rather loud groups of tourists. Luckily as a nature photographer, sleeping in when I travel, much like seeing a Sasquatch, is a rumor that I’ve heard of but not yet discovered! Arriving early before the busses and crowds arrive also gives me a chance to set up and get wonderful images without well-meaning, but constant interruptions.

Amid these towering waterfalls are flowers and streams flowing through beautiful jungles, all within a few steps of the road. Hawaii is just a plush wonderland of nature and beauty that you won’t soon forget.

Photo of Akaka Falls in Hawaii by Michael Leggero

Akaka Falls

The main reason however for my trip to this island was not the waterfalls or jungles or the beautiful sunsets. It was for the lava. Join me next month as I visit the big island’s lava fields.

Please read my part 2 of photographing Hawaii

by Michael Leggero
All text and photos: © 2012 Michael Leggero. All Rights Reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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