I saw a real, live, mermaid the first time I was at Ke’e Beach along the north shore of Kauai ten years ago. Or, at least, she wanted to be one because she had fish scales tattooed over both legs from her bikini bottom to her ankles. I didn’t have my always-have-a-camera-ready rule in place yet so I missed the photo that would illustrate what I’m talking about. Seriously, she had fish scales covering both legs entirely. I often wonder if her legs ever fused and grew a flipper.

Ke’e Beach is the end of the road along the north shore of Kauai where the trailhead for Kalalau Trail begins. I wrote about hiking part of that trail then turning up the Hanakapiai Valley to go to the falls; if you can do it, it should be on your bucket list. Here is Ke’e Beach taken from about 1/2 mile up the Kalalau Trail. Notice that slab of gray rocks along the shoreline near the point where the beach turns? That’s the best place to set up for photographing the sunset. Don’t forget to take a tripod, even if it’s for a smartphone. You can not get the kind of sunset image you want without a tripod. At the end of the Hiking to Hanakapiai Falls article, I talk about the importance of a tripod.

Ke'e Beach from Kalalau Trail

Ke’e Beach is one of, if not the, most popular places to watch the sunset in Kauai. We were there during January when the whales make their presence known in the area so be on the lookout for spouts of water-that’s the easiest way to spot a whale.

Working the Scene

Weldon Lee is a fantastic nature photographer with photographic guides to Rocky Mountain National park. I’ve had the privilege of trekking around the Rockies with Weldon and e taught me this simple rule: work the scene. To capture great images, keep working the scene from different angles and, if you can, different settings on your camera. The first two days I photographed the beach, the clouds socked in the Na Pali coast line so I really didn’t capture the image I wanted. Photographing nature is like bullring in a rodeo: the cowboy gets scored up to 50 points and the bull gets scored up to 50 points. If the bull doesn’t buck well, the cowboy goes home empty handed. If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you might go home empty handed, too. Here is the first day of Ke’e beach with clouds. Not the image I wanted.

Ke'e with clouds

So I went back the next day and it was about the same, but as I was about do take down my equipment, a young lady walked into the scene and it changed everything.

"Unexpected" This is on Ke'e beach with the Napali Coast in the background.

“Unexpected” This is on Ke’e beach with the Napali Coast in the background.




I returned two more times and finally captured an image that will hang on my wall. While it’s not as brilliant of a sunset as I’ve seen in other photographer’s work, I’m still quite pleased with this one. What it lacks, for me, in a more brilliant sunset it makes up for in tranquility.

Ke'e Beach Sunset

Ke’e Beach Sunset



Photographing in the Blue Hour 

Photographers rave about the golden hour, that hour of light either one hour after a sunrise, or one hour before sunset. However, some of the best images I’ve ever captured have been after the sun goes down. You simply must have a tripod with a shutter release because your shutter speed is sometimes as slow as 3-5 minutes. Here’s one of Ke’e after the sun set. Your eyes will not see this light, but your camera will.

Ke'e Beach Blue Hour

Ke’e Beach Blue Hour

Scouting out the place

After we booked the ticket, I started scouting out the places I wanted to photograph so I google Ke’e Beach images and discovered the best angle was near a shelf of rocks that border the edge of the sea (notice the rocks in the first photo above).

Then I jumped on google earth and started looking for that shelf of rocks so I’d know where to go once I got there. We’ve all seen great photos of places but, when we get there, we can’t figure out where the photographer was standing. So, if you go to the beach, once you get past the guard house, turn to the right and walk about 150 yards until you find the shelf of rocks. When we were there, the waves were pretty high, but it still gave reflective light.

Part of my working the scene helped me turn away from the socked in coast line and capture this beauty.

The Ke'e Rocks

The Ke’e Rocks

Circular polarizer and ND Filters

Two important filters for nature photographers are circular polarizers and ND (neutral density) filters. Neither of these filters can be simulated in post production so it’s critical you use them when you photograph the image. If you’ve ever been disappointed that that beautiful sunset looks like a washed out splash of orange or that gorgeous rainbow almost disappeared on your photo, it is because you didn’t have a circular polarizer or ND filter. I won’t get into all the technical detail of them, but here are two images that I took that illustrated my point. The first one is without a circular polarizer and the second image is with one.

ke'e beach without polarizer

Ke’e Beach without polarizer


ke'e with clouds s

Ke’e Beach with circular polarizer

Learning to Turn Around

I often have expectations of what I’d like to see Mother Nature do when I photopraph. However, I’ve learned she doesn’t always cooperate. Many times the Na Pali coast was socked in with clouds and I could not get the image I wanted. I’ve photographed enough to know that if she takes one scene away from you, she’ll give you another so start looking. A phrase I often repeat to myself while photographing is turn around.

There are several sets of massive tree roots that are incredible in design and contour. I often give myself different assignments when I photograph such as texture, contour, composition, contrast or any other creative approach to force your eye to look at things differently.

Roots with person to give a sense of scale

Roots with person to give a sense of scale


The History of a Tree

The History of a Tree

Exposed for our delight

Exposed for our delight


Hidden Dragon

The Snake’s Head

Our next stop is Limahuli Gardens, just a short drive or walk from Ke’e Beach.

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