Haleakala Sunrise Photography Tips

November 21, 2013 11 Comments »

I watched the sun go down past the island of Lanai as I laid on the Ali’i Nui sailboat. The warm salty breezes tickled me as the skies turned pink and yellow and we slowly rocked across the Pacific.

sunset sail

Sunset sail on the ocean.


Could it get any better than this? Ummm – yes.


10 hours later I found myself putting on every layer of clothing I had in the dark, driving for an hour, and pushing my way through a crowd of people to the railing. The cold air made me shiver as I looked out over the sea of clouds. In my lack of sleep state if I squinted I could imagine that those clouds were the ocean. They appeared to be moving as if I was still on the sailboat Ali’i Nui again, yet my feet were firmly on the ground of Haleakala – Maui’s 10,000 foot shield volcano. Dormant for years – it is the highest spot on Maui and the perfect spot to watch and photograph the sun rise.

Haleakala Sunrise Photography Tips:

• Get there early to get a spot. I recommend hiking up the short little trail to higher ground (to the right of the visitor center) and getting away from the mass of people at the railing (I got there late!)
• Stay somewhere nearby (this will help you achieve tip #1). I stayed at the condos at Mama’s Fish House near Paia – a great location for getting up the mountain early.
• Get coffee on the way up…it’s a necessity at that time of morning. Mike at Crater Coffee stand will great you with a big smile and cup of Joe. You can’t miss him – he’s the only thing open at 3:30AM. His coffee cart is located in the Kula Lodge parking lot. Hours are 2:30 to 7:30am daily.
• Take a soft lens cloth to wipe off the foggy lens. Odds are when you get out of your warm car and step out into the cold Haleakala air – you’re lenses are going to need time to adjust to the climate change (which is another good reason to get there early). A soft wipe is good for trying to speed up the process.
• Bring a tripod. However know that it’s possible to get the shot without one. I brought mine but didn’t use it. There was enough light for a clear shot when you are shooting into the sun.
• Remember the rule of thirds – please don’t put the sun in the middle of your shot!
• Bring your big zoom lens. I did most of my most dramatic shooting this morning with my 300 mm lens – you will get amazing shots of the cloud details and the light bouncing off the clouds.
• Shoot before the sun comes up – get the whole progression. Just remember to always be adjusting your settings – ISO and metering is changing constantly as the lighting is changing every minute.
• Turn around. Yes – turn around and get the softly lit landscape behind you – we often forget what’s around us when we are mesmerized by the sunrise
• Stay after the sunrise. The sun continues to rise and light up the crater floor – it’s worth it to stay and get these shots with amazing lighting. This is the time to use your wide angle lens! Plus – all of the crowds leave and you can really soak in the environment. I even got a bonus by staying late – I came across a Brazilian guy who was testing his balance and strength doing some amazing poses among this stunning backdrop. Bonus – he was really good looking too – it’s always good to stay late!
• Use filters – I used my polarizing filter as well as my graduated neutral density filter so that hopefully I would have to do less post processing after the fact. When shooting into the sun the light is harsh so the filters really help to soften it and assist with the metering.
• Finally – make sure that you take a few moments away from the viewfinder and just enjoy nature’s beauty. There’s nothing like seeing the sun pop out of the clouds – it looks like a big ball of fire and makes you appreciate the way our planet and world functions. It truly is miraculous.

By following these tips – here’s my results:

Dawn Haleakala maui

Get there early! Dawn on Haleakala Maui

coffee shop haleakala sunrise

Make a coffee stop and see Mike at Crater Coffee on the way up the mountain!


haleakala sunrise photography tips

Take shots before the sun rises.

haleakala sunrise photo tips


cloudscape haleakala maui

Bring a zoom lens and use it for great cloud closeups


Haleakala sunrise tips

Turn around and capture the soft glow of the sunrise on the mountains behind you

haleakala sunrise tips

Go wide angle when the sun comes up and lights up the crater.

balance maui hawaii

Stay after sunrise and you never know what you’ll find!


sunrise ottsworld

Enjoying the rays!

See all of my Haleakala sunrise photography

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Maui Visitor Bureau for this trip.  However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.  I was able to choose my own activities that were of interest to me and my style of travel.

Back to Blog

11 Responses to "Haleakala Sunrise Photography Tips"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Back to Blog
Want to Travel More?

Get my best travel tips,

unique destination ideas,

and travel discounts

in my weekly email!