How rulebreaking is impacting professional photographers

You could pay someone to photograph you proposing to your girl at the edge of the world; swept up in love at the top of Waimea Canyon with the Pacific Ocean stretching into the background.

But it would be illegal.

You could pay someone to photograph your remote beach wedding, beautifully styled under a driftwood arch, surrounded by 50 of your closest family and friends.

But it would be illegal.

You could hire a photographer to show you the “off-the-grid” trail that leads to the bottom of Wailua Falls, where you could do a photo-shoot dancing in the ever-present rainbow and swimming in the tropical pool.

But it would be illegal.

Professional photos are some of the most popular souvenirs coming out of Kauai now days, and it’s not just stunning wedding portraits people are displaying on their walls — and social media feeds. It’s jungle adventures, epic hikes, underwater scenes.

But, many places on Kauai are completely off-limits for professional photography and videography — places like the bottom of Wailua Falls and Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e.

Additionally, the state has a set of rules that apply to beach weddings, rules that could land wedding professionals in hot water if they’re broken — that is, if those professionals are caught.

Enforcement of these rules is the responsibility of the state’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), which has limited staff on Kaua‘i, and so often times photographers can find ways to skirt the rules.

It’s an action committed both by local companies and by photographers who travel to Kaua‘i with their clients and it’s causing companies who follow the rules to lose out on business.

Recently, several industry professionals gathered around the table in The Garden Island boardroom to discuss how rule breaking is impacting their business.

Around the table were seated Sue Kanoho with the Kauai Visitor’s Bureau, wedding planners Diana Gardner and Dale Rosenfeld, Michael Dandurand with Kauai Wedding Professionals Association, and professional photographers Jessica Frabotta and Sandy Swift.

“People see epic photos of these places and ask me to shoot at those locations. When I tell them I won’t do it because it’s illegal, they just go hire someone who will break the rules,” Swift said, explaining how she’s lost business multiple times in this scenario.

Frabotta echoed Swift: “We’re losing clients because of this”.

Gardner and Rosenfield said they’re constantly informing couples aiming to tie the knot on Kaua‘i of the ceremony ‘I Do’s and I Don’t’s’ — like the fact there’s a limit to the number of people allowed on the beach and objects like arches and chairs are banned.

Kanoho pointed out the state has threatened to completely shut down the wedding industry because of these repeated violations and the disruptions it causes for other beachgoers — a threat that’s still lingering in the background.

The crux of the issue comes down to three factors: a lack of knowledge, a failure to respect Kauai’s rules, customs and culture, and gaps in rule enforcement.

There’s no doubt professional photographs of those once-in-a-lifetime Kaua‘i moments are valuable, nay priceless. With the list of incredible, legal locations for photoshoots it makes no sense to disrespect the island and the local industry by choosing illegal locations.

By choosing to follow the rules, both as clients and as professionals, we ensure the local industry can continue to thrive.

So, before you strike a pose, get in the know — learn what companies operate within the rules and which don’t; learn the ‘I Do’s and I Don’t’s’ of the industry before you schedule your wedding, and contact the professionals with questions.

9 Comments
  1. Bruce Allert March 10, 2020 2:38 am Reply

    How does the film industry get around this law? They’re professional photographers..


    1. manawai March 11, 2020 8:19 am Reply

      They get permits.


  2. Kauaigirl March 10, 2020 8:56 am Reply

    Shutting down the wedding industry on Kauai?!?! … RIGHT… that’s a great decision. Multi-millions spends annually in LEGAL destination weddings….. families lives basically depend on that. The fact of the matter is, Kanoho isn’t making a cut of of these weddings so she’s pissed


  3. RG Desoto March 10, 2020 9:06 am Reply

    Leave it to the state to suck the fun (and liberty) out of life every chance they get. This totalitarian “law” is illegitimate and offensive at its very core. What possible good is served by blocking photographers from taking pictures such as are described above?
    Disgusting display of state abuse of liberty and freedom….
    RG DeSoto


    1. Steve Martin March 12, 2020 1:01 pm Reply

      This state will persist to make sure they get a cut of everything anybody does that might make money period. What they generally can’t do is have enough people to enforce it. What they do best is rob wallets every chance they get.


  4. Ruta Jordans March 10, 2020 9:19 am Reply

    The article left me wondering what the actual rules are. It would have been enhanced by a link to where to find the rules.


    1. TT April 13, 2021 10:46 am Reply

      Yes please I would like to know WHAT THE RULES ARE since it seems impossible to just google the rules. why not enhance this and make it a teaching opportunity. instead its just them jabbing people honestly.


  5. Kauaidoug March 13, 2020 8:58 am Reply

    Cancelling weddings? Absurd. Why don’t these regulators team up with the other state agencies to police well known jumping over the fence places like Wailua Falls and start giving tickets to those people. That’ll make some money and possibly save a life.


  6. Nick Galante March 14, 2020 8:54 am Reply

    A great cross section of people to have this discussion. Sue Kanoho and a couple of photographers nobody’s heard of. Hawaii is a place of many rules and regulations and no enforcement. I kind of liked it that way. Not to worry Sue the photo industry on Kauai has already been destroyed. Anyone with a thousand dollars is a professional photographer. This is a great venue to announce that after over thirty years as a Kauai working professional photographer, I am retiring. Aloha.


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