7 Things to Know Before Photographing Haleakala

The Mists of Haleakala

Haleakala is a popular tourist attraction on Maui, and with good reason - it is an impressive natural landmark! Most of the time when people talk about the volcano, they will tell you that you need to watch the sunrise from the summit or, if you want to avoid the crowds, sunset. However, neither sunrise nor sunset brought me to Haleakala (horses did, as I'll explain later) and at the time, I wasn't even there specifically for photography. Next time I visit, I'll be thinking and planning for photography more carefully. To help you prepare for your own photos on Haleakala, here are 7 things to know before you go:

1. Check for park advisories The road up to the summit is in excellent condition, but the weather is often not. First things, first - check the weather at Haleakala National Park early in the day before you leave and pay attention to any special warnings. Depending on conditions (such as weather, etc.) you may need to try another day so I recommend planning your Haleakala adventures early in your trip to Maui in case you need to reschedule or want to head up there a second time.

2. Give yourself extra time to get there (and back). Whether you head out for sunrise, sunset, or sometime in between, you'll most likely find you need to drive slowly once you are through the official park entrance. Yes, the slow posted speeds are part of that reason, and traffic delays are another if you are going at a peak time, but the other reason is visibility. The final leg up the mountain is very steep, and there are several tight turns including switchbacks, no shoulder, no guardrails or meridians. It's just road and cliff. Add in the fog that we had on our way up, plus the dark and additional traffic, and you'll see why you should allow yourself extra time especially if you are aiming to photograph sunrise! You don't want to get up early, drive all the way there for that specific purpose only to miss the event.

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3. Foot is really the best way for photographers to explore the park and crater. This might sound like obvious advice since you can't exactly drive around the crater floor, but let me explain. A couple of years ago, Nathanael and I joined a horseback riding tour from Haleakala's summit to the crater floor and back again. It was a unique experience, and I'm glad that we did it (despite the crazy wind and rain), however there were no opportunities for photos while we were riding. I am not saying that there was nothing photogenic until we reached the crater floor - quite the opposite! The landscape was ever changing (partially the terrain, partially the rolling mists), and the rare Silversword plants we saw are unique to this location. I think the reason for no photos on the way into (or out of) the crater was because the horses needed to stay only on the narrow trail through this protected landscape, and with riders of mixed abilities in our group, it would have been difficult to ensure that this was respected. Now, I know - why not just take photos while riding? First, because they gave us so much protective outer gear that I could hardly find my camera let alone pull it out, compose a worthwhile shot, focus, shoot, and put my camera safely away from the elements. And that weather I mentioned earlier? It was raining and the wind was blowing fine sand and ash for much of our ride - I don't know about you but I didn't want the elements to destroy my camera. On that note...

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Nathanael and I with Phillip and Bubba. Photo credit to our guide, Ra.

4. Protection for your gear. Really. Whether you are hiking or riding, you'll probably be on the trail for a few hours so make sure you have at least a waterproof bag for your camera, and ideally some kind of way to keep the water away while you're shooting. As for temperature control, a proper camera bag will help with this. Just remember not to turn on the heat as soon as you get in the car on your way back down. Slowly change the temperature so your camera can acclimatize without condensation damage.

5. Protection for yourself. By this I mean, make sure you have warm, waterproof gear and emergency supplies. Our guides gave everyone warm waterproof jackets, pants, and gloves to wear over our regular clothes and jackets which is really not what you're thinking of when planning for a trip to Hawaii but we were glad to have them! Sturdy, waterproof shoes are essential and even if it is cloudy, make sure you wear sunscreen. Besides this, you'll need water, food, a first aid kit, and a way to call for help in case you need it. Once you leave the visitor centre, you're worlds away from help (and washrooms) in extreme terrain so plan appropriately. Visit the National Park Service for more information.

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6. Slightly underexpose your photos. As for the photographs themselves - remember that when you're at the summit, you are at over 10,000ft elevation so even when there is a cloud cover, it's still very bright. You'll probably find that you need to underexpose your photos by at least 1 stop. Unfortunately, I wasn't really thinking about this on our last trip to Maui and my photos from the crater came out a bit too bright (fortunately I shot in RAW and could make some adjustments later).

7. Remember to look around you. Because there can be a lot of wind at Haleakala, the mists move quite a bit and create a changing landscape. One moment you'll see part of the volcano slopes in the background, and the next it will have disappeared and you'll see a different view. Keep looking around, in different directions because you never know what view might suddenly emerge. And, remember to look down too - if you're lucky, you'll see some Chukar partridges which run around the crater floor. 

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Have you been to Haleakala? What photography tips would you suggest?

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