4 Best Places in Oahu for Family Portrait According to Time of Day

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


We could not resist capturing the emotion canvassed by the dramatic crashing of the waves against the rocks at Lanai Lookout

Of the various islands of the Pacific Ocean that we’ve visited, Oahu is hands-down the most photogenic place we had been to in view of its volcanic landscape in addition to the azure blue ocean waters. However, taking environmental portraits in Oahu can be a daunting task without getting a good grasp of the right time to be in the right location as the lighting conditions can really determine whether your photograph stands out. Below are some tips we provide based on our experience and research. Hope they can assist you in taking the perfectly instagrammable environmental portraits with your family!



1) Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens (Early Morning)


One of the best places to shoot an environmental portrait appearing as if you were in Jurassic World is certainly the first stretch of the access road into Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. There are even a few parking spaces right by the entrance to the access road. Positioning yourselves in the middle of the road lined with palm trees on each side is ideal photography-wise as the road appears to stretch endlessly to the bottom of the majestic mountains.


We guarantee you that your kid will imagine that he has entered Jurassic World the moment you drive through the access road at Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. Karson kept asking us the whereabouts of the Tyrannosaurus Rex that day.

Do not forget to mount that telephoto lens and take some tight shots to capture the emotion and interaction between your family members. Remember that telling a story is the key capturing a photograph that relates you with the audience, rather than telling them that you've been there and done that. After all, you did not visit a location to create another postcard.

As we did not wake up early enough, we arrived after 11 a.m. The access road was too busy, therefore dangerous for our son to be taking pictures in the middle of the road. Hence, we skipped this popular spot, opted to park near the Visitor Centre and took pictures by a large patch of grass in front of the mountains instead.


As we arrived rather late to the park, to avoid potential safety issues with taking pictures on the access road with our kid, we opted to park somewhere near the visitor's centre and took pictures at the huge lawn in front of the mountains. To add some excitement, we attempted a timed throwing shot with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Tip: If you would like to take the perfect instagrammable shot at the access road, we recommend you to arrive early before 9 a.m. when the place is less visited since the access road to Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens can get quite busy with traffic making it rather dangerous / difficult to take a well composed selfie with a tripod.


Also, even if the sun is blooming all around Oahu, it is usually cloudy at the mountains, which results in the top of the mountains being obscured. If you are going for a more dramatic effect and have more than a few days to spare, you may wish to check for cloud clearance before heading over.



2) East Coast Lookout (Noon to Early Afternoon)


From noon to the early afternoon on a sunny day with clear blue skies when the light is evenly spread, which makes the colors of the mountain and azure blue water really pop-out, grab a rental vehicle and make your way down the East Coast along various lookouts, such as the Lanai Lookout, Halona Blowhole (overlooking Sandy Beach) and the Makapu’u Point Lookout. Step beyond the pavement and go beyond the railings if you have to (everyone does this) and find the perfect vantage point for your environmental portrait.


This picture was taken with a wide angle lens for the dramatic shot. Notice the angle in which Kimberly's face has been directed towards the sun light coming from the top right hand side.

Did you notice that this is essentially the same spot except it was taken with a telephoto lens which creates much more compression for the cinematic look?

The mid-day sunlight can be rather harsh, which causes squinty eyes if you do not wear shades or close your eyes for the shot.

At Makapu'u Point, do not hesitate to go beyond the railings if you have to (everyone does this) and find the perfect vantage point for your environmental portrait.

Tip: Although the mid-day sunlight really helps for those pleasing saturated colors, the mid-day sunlight can be rather harsh, which causes squinty eyes if you do not wear shades or close your eyes for the shot, and there will be unwanted shadows if you do not control the angle in which you position your face against the direction of the light.

Caution: there will be unwanted shadows if you do not control the angle in which you position your face against the direction of the light.

3) East Coast - Kailua Beach & Lanikai Beach (sunset)


If you have opted for the East Coast Road Trip on a sunny day already, by the time you have finished the mid-day photoshoot you are probably very hungry / thirsty. Go ahead and grab lunch / afternoon tea.


With the much milder lighting conditions, it is much easier to compose any shots from any angle as you wish without lighting issues. To isolate the subjects from the background and create the cinematic look, we opted for the telephoto.

This photograph was taken moments before the sun set behind the mountain (to the left of this photograph) which created a mild and pleasing yet saturated light beam on Kimberly's face. It also helps to create a more dynamic look to the subject.

Go ahead and let the little ones do what they want! Remember, the key is to have fun and record good memories in the most candid way possible!

When you run out of ideas on how to pose your subjects, just let them go wild and shoot something candid!

Tip: Don't forget to capture the interaction!

For the best quality of light, which is optimal for beach portraits, we recommend you slowly make your way to one of the beaches about 1 hour before sunset. In the East Coast, we would recommend you visit Kailua Beach or Lanikai Beach for the most pristine sand and less crowds (the former provides ample parking spaces, whilst the latter is more secluded and is widely considered as heaven on earth in Hawaii). Due to time constraints, we did not have the opportunity to check out whether Lanikai Beach lived up to its hype, but Kailua Beach certainly did not disappoint with its long stretch of pristine powdery sand.


Bonus: This photograph was taken at the parking lot of Kailua Beach about 1 hour before sunset. This was when the angle of the light hit perfectly on our convertible without being too harsh!

4) North Shore- Haleiwa and its Surf Shops and Food Trucks (Sunset)


A stop by Haleiwa in North Shore is a must for the rustic and laid back vibes. We felt that the backdrop provided by the surf shops and food trucks is ideal for portrait photography.

Take advantage of the reflections when you can!

We loved the decorations and rustic vibes of the numerous surf shops in Haleiwa, which were very inspirational for photography.

Not the most picture perfect photograph, but just to give you a brief idea of the various food trucks that you could use as a backdrop.

Make it fun for your little one and capture the moment when he is relaxed.

Okay, maybe Karson was TOO relaxed, but we love this capture anyway ;)

If you still have about an hour left before sunset, drive over to one of the North Shore Beaches for a sunset beach portrait. We endeavored to visit Papailoa Beach for its tranquil setting which was used for pre-wedding photography and even| used for the filming of the TV series “Lost”, and ideal angle of sunlight which it provides. Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal for us as it was on the windy side and we therefore missed out on this opportunity. Judging from the works of others, we recommend you give it a try if you are keen for sunset beach photography on Oahu.

We did not make it to Papailoa Beach. However, to make up for it, we stopped by the Dole Plantation for Karson to take the Pineapple Express Train. We could not resist taking another throwing shot (whenever there is grass or sand), which was by the parking lot of Dole Plantation before we headed back to Waikiki.

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