Wake up early, grab a camera, and photograph an Oahu sunrise. I guarantee you will be rewarded with an unforgettable demonstration of awesomeness! It is one of the best things you will do while living or visiting Oahu. With views of Diamond Head, Waikiki, the Pacific Ocean, Ko’olau mountains, crashing waves, or even simple reflections in the morning light, one will be overwhelmed with an abundant supply of photo opportunities.
Head to the nearest east facing beach and set up your tripod close to a landmark or subject that helps tell your story. Diamond Head, black lava rocks, a lighthouse, off-shore islands, or any recognizable landmark can give your viewer a sense of placement. They will envision themselves at that location and either reflect on the good times they had there or wonder what else is around the corner, almost giving a sense of excitement.
Here are the top 5 best places to watch a sunrise on Oahu
#1. Sunrise in Waikiki
My “go-to” spot on Oahu is behind Waikiki’s Hilton Hawaiian Village.
This place offers a range of photo opportunities. With a backdrop of Diamond Head and the reflecting lights of Waikiki you can capture some stunning images. I recommend arriving at least 45 minutes before sunrise because the blue hour (as seen in the photo) should not be missed.
Set up by the rock jetty which gives you a maximum right to left frame. An amazing site of Diamond Head will be in your field of view.
There are multiple angles and subjects you can witness while the sun is rising. Start at the rock jetty and capture that line of sight which points directly to Diamond Head. Then move over towards the canoes to create a dynamic foreground with Waikiki in your background.
Another great spot is on the opposite side of the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon. Aim your camera at Diamond Head with the lagoon in your foreground and capture the reflecting palm trees. Absolutely stunning!
Staying in Waikiki? You may be interested in our article:
Just behind the lagoon and parking lot is a marina. This spot has potential for amazing reflections when the sun is hitting the buildings.
When you are done taking photos at this location I recommend walking the beach of Waikiki and head towards the zoo. There are plenty of photo ops with minimal crowds as everyone else is still sleeping.
Interested in a sunrise photo tour while on Oahu? We pick you up and provide tripods!
#2. Sunrise at Makapu’u Beach
Another great spot to photograph the sunrise on Oahu is at Makapu’u Beach Park. Just below the bathrooms and parking lot walk straight down the trail towards the reef.
This location is great for off-shore islands, splashing waves, black reef, reflections, tide pools, and moss covered rocks. Don’t forget to include the Makapu’u lighthouse in a few of your images.
Once the sun has risen, head over to Makapu’u beach and capture the body surfers and swimmers in the shore break.
Tip: When shooting surfers make sure your shutter speed is set to 1/1000 or faster to ensure your subjects are not blurry. That’s a fun challenge for photographers. Have fun!
Directions, maps and more info from our recent Makapu’u photo walk can be found here:
#3. Sunrise at Lanikai Pill Boxes
If you feel like elevation can make your sunrise photographs special then this is the spot. Head to Kailua for a short, fairly steep hike up the Pill Box trail. This is a must see spot on Oahu.
Give yourself at least 45 minutes to walk up the hill then have a seat on a historic military bunker. You will be welcomed with off shore islands and panoramic views of east side Oahu.
Don’t stop at the first bunker. Continue up trail to the second bunker and set up there. The first one tends to get crowded and the second bunker offers more views to the south. Tip: Bring a flash light or head lamp to see the trail as it will be dark on the way up.
Directions, maps and more info from our recent Pill Box photo walk can be found here:
#4. Sunrise at Koko Head Crater
This will be one of the toughest sunrise shots you will ever work for!
So many steps (1048 railway ties) to summit this mountain. But when you get there, it has many rewards!
Hiking with camera gear can be a challenge but you will be happy to have it at the top. Remember, you are hiking to photograph the sunrise. Therefore a tripod is almost required.
You can easily spend a couple hours soaking in the view and capturing the scenery.
With lots of short breaks I was able to finish the hike in 24 minutes. Start at least one hour before the official sunrise time. It will be dark on the way up so a flashlight or headlamp is recommended.
Plenty of parking available and I promise you will not be the only hiker. It is a popular exercise spot for the locals.
Directions, maps and more info from our recent Koko Head photo walk can be found here:
#5. Sunrise at Sandy Beach
Sandy Beach is one of the best spots to photograph on Oahu, regardless of the time!
This place is a photographers playground. The sunrise is amazing, the waves are big and powerful, the reef and jagged rocks are radical, and the people are VERY attractive! You cannot leave Oahu without visiting Sandy Beach.
This is usually a first stop on the Sunrise Photo Tour and is always a favorite among photographers.
The best spot to photograph a sunrise at Sandy Beach is from the right side.
Head all the way down the beach until you hit rocks. There are tide pools, reflections, and crashing waves all over the place.
Keep heading to the right and you will run into Oahu’s famous “blow-hole.” Please be careful while walking towards blow-hole as the waves and slippery rocks are unpredictable.
Don’t have a tripod? No worries, we have plenty.
Join our Sunrise Tour! Transportation, tripods, and expert guides included.