Hawaii Night Photography: Shooting Moonbow's and The Milky Way

People refer to Hawaii as a tropical paradise because of its beautiful sandy beaches, lush greenery, and vibrant culture. For a photographer, Hawaii offers endless opportunities for incredible photos. Every Hawaiian island has unique features that attract photographers from around the world. While you can fill your trip with hundreds of places to photograph during the day, people often overlook how amazing it can be to photograph Hawaii at night.

If you are new to night photography, there are a few essential things to consider when choosing a place to photograph.

1.) The city lights or " Light Pollution" will wash out stars and are undesirable to shoot around. I am not saying it's a bad idea to photograph around city lights. You can get some great photos in areas like Waikiki on Oahu or Lahaina on Maui, but you won't be able to photograph the milky way or see thousands of stars like you would in a darker area. A great iPhone or iPad app for finding dark skies for photography is called "Dark Sky Finder" available in the App Store. If you use Android smartphones, you can download "Light Pollution Map" from the Google Play Store. These apps enable you to examine different locations and see how much light pollution they have.

2.) You will need the right gear to photograph night skies.

  • A sturdy tripod will allow you to take long exposures and keep your camera steady.
  • A lens with a wide aperture such as 2.8 or 1.8 allows more light to enter the lens. A wide-angle lens anywhere from 11mm to 24mm is ideal for capturing much of the night sky and the foreground.
  • A camera that allows you to take long exposures
  • Warm clothes and some snacks

I live on the Big Island of Hawaii. Luckily for me, there are tons of places to escape light pollution. Mauna Kea is one of the best places to view the stars worldwide. Here are a few photos from my collection of Hawaii night photography.

Outer Worlds

Outer Worlds

From the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island Of Hawaii I captured this view of the Milky Way and the Hawaii Canada France Telescope. It is from this place that new discoveries are constantly unfolding bringing new light to the mysteries of our universe

I photographed this image while on the summit of Mauna Kea. The telescope in the photo is called the Hawaii Canada France Telescope. Because of the elevation on the summit, there is usually a clear sky. The view of the stars is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. I shot a series of photos one after another to use in a program called starry landscape stacker. This program takes those photos, aligns them, and averages them to reduce noise in the final output image. This can be a complicated process, but it produces much cleaner results than just shooting one photo.

Note: To photograph on the summit of Mauna Kea at night, you must obtain a permit. I am not sure when this started, but it appears to be heavily enforced lately by the rangers who patrol at night. I have been photographing the night sky for many years on the summit and have never been asked to leave, but lately, I have heard many people say they were told not to leave the summit after sunset. I hope this changes in the future. Being able to view the stars from one of the best places in the world should be accessible to the people, not just companies who lease land from the state of Hawaii to build telescopes.

Moonbow's Soaring Over Volcanoes

Moonbow's Soaring Over Volcanoes

On the summit of Kilauea, amazing things happen. Halemau'uma'u crater glows red from the fountaining lava feeding the lava lake below. Another anomaly forms in a cooler region across the large caldera just a mile or two away. A moonbow has appeared from the cold mist blowing in being illuminated by the bright moon setting. These are unique scenes that make the Big Island of Hawaii genuinely unique. I am not sure if a similar scene unfolds anywhere else in the world.

The Big Island of Hawaii is incredibly unique since it is home to one of the most active volcanoes globally, Kilauea. I took this photograph in Volcanoes National Park. On the right side of the photo, you will see the main vent for the Kilauea volcano called Halemau'uma'u. The glow from the lava lights up the plume above the crater. On the left side of the photo, you will see a night rainbow, often referred to as a moonbow. Moonbows occur in similar conditions as rainbows. These often appear when moisture is in the air and a bright moon is setting or rising. This photo was a panoramic image consisting of 9 photos. I stitched them together in Adobe Lightroom. I also took a few underexposed photos to blend the bright highlights in the overexposed plume. I completed the edit in photoshop.

Galaxy Gazing Honu

Galaxy Gazing Honu

When the lights go out and everyone leaves the beach, these amazing Honu (hawaiian green sea turtles) make their way onto the sand to start their relaxation. On a clear night, one can see the Milky Way along the beautiful stretch of beach in Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. The moon setting illuminates the beach creating a magical scene.

When photographing the Milky Way, it is important to find a unique and compelling foreground to include. Including an interesting foreground gives the photo a story and gives people a sense of where you are. I had 2 Honu (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles) in the scene in this photo. I had visited this particular beach 3 or 4 nights, attempting to get this shot. A few nights, I remember the clouds were obstructing the view of the sky. I also showed up a few times only to find no Honu on the beach. Finally, after being persistent, I found these two Honu sitting next to each other under a clear sky. I used an app called PhotoPills. This app helps me plan where the Milky Way will be positioned in the sky on any given date or time. Another good app to see the Milky Way position is called Star Walk. I photographed the foreground at the blue hour to use a lower ISO and a narrower f-stop. Shooting at ISO 100 and F/8 resulted in a cleaner-looking image. I also focus stacked three photos in the foreground to get more of it in focus. A series of sky photos were taken at F/2.8 as the Milkyway became visible, which I combined in Starry Landscape Stacker. I then blended them in photoshop. I was very happy with how this photo came out.


Akaka Falls Milky Way

Akaka Falls Milky Way

Akaka Falls is located on the Big Island of Hawaii near the small town of Honomu. In this image, I captured the Milky Way behind Akaka Falls, which was pretty difficult. It is rare to get the conditions needed to capture this photo. The first challenge is the weather. During the time of year that the Milky Way is visible, the skies are often filled with clouds, making it impossible to capture the galaxy. After years of battling this, I finally captured the image you see here, which I am very pleased with. Akaka Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Hawaii.

This photo of Akaka Falls on The Big Island of Hawaii was challenging to capture. Akaka Falls is located in a state park up the Hamakua Coast. This area gets a lot of rain and is often clouded over. On multiple attempts to capture this photo, I was either rained on or could not see any stars in the sky. I had to wait around until about 9:00 PM for the Milky Way to be positioned over the waterfall. I finally was lucky enough to get clear skies and captured this photo. I had attempted this photo over a few years and was happy to capture it finally. The foreground was photographed in the blue hour and was shot at F/8. I also took multiple photos to focus stack for a cleaner image. The sky was photographed a few hours later. I took multiple exposures so that I could stack them in Starry Landscape Stacker. I then blended the images in Adobe Photoshop, where I finished the edit.

Vibrant Volcanoes

Vibrant Volcanoes

The crater floor at the summit of Kilauea volcano fills with fog and moonlight, resulting in a vibrant double moonbow.

In this image, I photographed a vibrant double moonbow arching in the Halemau'uma'u Crater in Volcanoes National Park. When I arrived at the location, the weather was very hazy and wet. The fog was filling the entire crater to the point that it was hard even to see the lava glow from Halemau'uma'u. I was standing around for a while in the cold, constantly wiping down my camera, waiting for the weather to clear up. While that never happened, I did notice a double moonbow appear just for a few moments. I scrambled to set up a good composition and photograph it before it quickly disappeared. The rain clouds rolled in and ended my night of shooting. I got in the car and reviewed the photos on the back of my camera. I was excited and knew that I got a little lucky. This photo is two one-minute-long exposures taken at F/5.6 for the foreground and one 15-second exposure for the background.

Moonbow's And Volcanoes

The photo was taken on another incredible night at Volcanoes National Park. This area is so good for moonbows because of the constant moisture that rolls through the park. It was another night of constant hazy conditions. Most of the crater was filled with haze making the conditions great for moonbows. I noticed one arching down into the crater floor. I liked how the left side of the frame was comprised of cool color tones and that the right side was comprised of warm color tones. It gave off a yin & yang kind of vibe. This is a panoramic photo of photos stitched together in Adobe Photoshop.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how I shot some of my favorite Moonbow and Milky Way photos. I am a landscape photographer located on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii.