Shooting the Surf in Hawaii

Tips for capturing the perfect wave

Hawaii is a surfing paradise. Known for its world-famous surf breaks and beautiful beaches that attract thousands of people from all over the world. If you’re planning on shooting the surf in Hawaii, there’s a plethora of things to keep in mind when you’re attempting to capture the perfect wave. Here are some friendly tips for photographing Hawaii’s surf.

1. Familiarize yourself with the beach breaks

The first step in capturing the perfect wave is to get familiar with the surf break. Spend some time observing the waves and take note of the patterns and timing of the ocean. This will help you anticipate when the best waves roll in and where they break the nicest. The ocean has a mind of its own, but if you take your time, you’ll start to learn that it has its own personality.

You can also check the surf report as well as the weather report to get an idea of the wind and wave conditions in Hawaii prior to making your way to the beach. In addition, apps like Photo Ephemeris can help you know where the sun is positioned at any give time and how it may affect the lighting on waves.

2. Use a fast shutter speed to capture the surf

Like most places in the world, the waves here in Hawaii, move at rapid speeds. They are unpredictable and fleeting. So use a fast shutter speed to freeze the movements of these barreling waves. I recommend to use a Shutter-Speed of at least 1/1000th of a second and to set your camera on continuous mode. This will allow you to capture the accelerated movements of the water while giving you options for selecting the best image in post-production.

Shooting the Surf in Hawaii - Shutter
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec.

3. Use a telephoto lens to get closer to the waves

To capture close-up shots of the surf, try shooting with a telephoto lens. A 70-200mm lens is a good choice, but the more zoom capability, the better. By using a telephoto lens to get closer to the waves, you’re able to isolate your main subject (the wave) from any distracting elements (ie. people, surfers, etc). It also gives you the ability to stay in a safe zone where you won’t have to risk getting drenched by ocean water.

Shooting the Surf in Hawaii - Zoom
Lens Focal Length = 200mm w/ Camera Set to DX Mode = Equivalent to 350mm

4. Shoot from inside the water

For the experienced ocean-goers, one of the best ways to capture the surf in Hawaii is by getting up close and personal. Shooting from inside the water requires you to have a waterproof/surf-housing or an underwater camera. This can give you unique perspectives of waves and can elevate your surf photography work to the next level. However, it can present some physical and mental challenges.

Shooting the Surf in Hawaii - In the water

Set your camera mode to either Manual or Shutter Priority and use high shutter speeds (1/1000 of a sec+) along with a 20mm-50mm lens. To prevent water droplets on your dome port, leave a thin, dry layer of saliva or clear candle wax on it. You should also be mentally aware of your surroundings at all times and avoid getting in the way of wave riders. Lastly, to prevent your lens port from getting scratched by the reef or sand, flip your camera-housing so it’s facing upwards when you dive under the waves.

Always keep safety in mind while photographing in the water and when in doubt, don’t go out!

5. Look for interesting angles and Perspectives

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles and perspectives. You can photograph from low angles to make the waves look bigger, or shoot from above to capture entire scenes. Look for interesting compositions and try to tell a story with your images.

6. Shoot during Golden Hour

The hour before sunset or after sunrise is a magical time for photography. This hour is also known as the Golden Hour and can be ideal when shooting the surf in Hawaii. Light tends to be warm and soft with vibrant colors.

Shooting during this time can add a beautiful glow that contrasts onto blue waters. Make use of this time as its ideal for capturing the perfect wave.

7. Be respectful of others

Finally, it’s important to respect others. Especially the locals. Find a location to set up your camera gear that doesn’t interfere with people just trying to enjoy a day at the beach. Be aware of your surroundings and follow the local surf etiquette.

Shooting the surf in Hawaii can be challenging, but with these tips, you’ll be able to capture some amazing wave images. Just remember to familiarize yourself with the break, use faster shutter speeds, and go out with an intent to capture all the beauty Hawaii has to offer.Happy shooting! 🙂