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Importance of Photography Permits in Hawaii

revised October 26, 2023

At some point, photographers in Hawaii inevitably reach a point where they must apply for photography permits. The process of obtaining these permits can be challenging due to the multitude of municipalities and legal obligations involved. The purpose of this article is to provide relief from the resulting frustrations.

Importance of photography permits

Photography permits can often be seen as an unnecessary inconvenience, especially for amateur photographers who simply want to capture a beautiful moment. However, these permits hold a significant importance that goes beyond restricting artistic freedom.

For one, photography permits ensure the safety and security of both the photographer and the subject being captured. By obtaining a permit, photographers are made aware of any potential hazards or restrictions at certain locations, allowing them to plan their shoot accordingly.

Additionally, photography permits also grant legal protection to the photographer by providing proof of authorization to take photographs in certain areas. This is particularly crucial for commercial photographers or those intending to sell their images. Without a permit, there is a risk of copyright infringement or legal issues arising from unauthorized use of property or copyrighted material visible within the photograph.

Moreover, photography permits contribute to preserving cultural heritage and sensitive environments. Some iconic landmarks or natural reserves have strict guidelines on photography access in order to protect fragile ecosystems or historical sites from damage caused by excessive foot traffic or camera equipment. By requiring permits, authorities can regulate and control visitor numbers more effectively while ensuring that future generations can continue admiring these wonders.

Although acquiring photography permits may seem like a difficult process initially, their significance cannot be overstated. From protecting personal safety and securing legal rights to safeguarding cultural heritage and environmental conservation efforts – these permits play a critical role in maintaining balance between artistic expression and responsible documentation.

Defining what a photography permit is

A photography permit is a legal document obtained by photographers allowing them to shoot at a specific location, often for commercial or professional purposes. It grants the photographer the right to use the premises, capture images, and/or film within designated areas. This permit serves as proof that the photographer has received permission from the related authorities, such as government agencies or property owners, to conduct their work in a particular location.

However, it’s important to note that not all locations require a photography permit. National parks, historic sites, private properties, and even public spaces may have varying rules and regulations regarding photography permits. While some places may allow photography without any requirement for permits (especially for personal use), others strictly enforce permits for both commercial and non-commercial shoots. It is advisable to always check with local authorities or landowners before carrying out any professional photo shoot outside of designated public spaces.

Understanding why photography permits are required goes beyond just adhering to rules and regulations; it also ensures safety and protection for both photographers and locations involved. Photography permits help manage access to sensitive areas while controlling potential disruptions caused by large-scale photo productions. Furthermore, they provide financial benefits by generating revenue through fees paid by professionals seeking permission for shoots in certain locations. In essence, obtaining a photography permit is not only about having legal authorization but also respecting the environment you are capturing while maintaining professional standards within your industry.

When do I need to file a photography permit?

“Commercial Activity” means the use of or activity on state land for which compensation is received by any person for goods or services or both rendered to customers or participants in that use or activity. Display of merchandise or demanding or requesting gifts, money, or services, except as allowed by chapter 13-7, shall be considered commercial activity. Commercial activities include activities whose base of operations are outside the boundaries of the unencumbered state lands, or provide transportation to or from the unencumbered state lands.

§13-221-2, Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR)

When you conduct any commercial activity as stated above in HAR, then an appropriate photography permit is required.

What about Private Property?

When it comes to taking photographs on someone else’s private property, it is essential to acquire permission before capturing any shots. It is advisable to secure written authorization from the owner of the venue.

In the event that the venue owner has established particular protocols, you will be obligated to comply with their requirements. In most cases, breaching their regulations may result in them exercising their authority to notify the authorities and accuse you of trespassing.

5 Different Types of Photography Permits

There are five photography permits that must be filed with their respective government agencies depending on the type of event, location, requirement of the photoshoot.

Open and Accessible (O/A)

O/A Permits are issued by the State of Hawaii – Hawaii Film Office (HFO). Established in 1978, the HFO is the central coordinator for film and photographic use of State-administered parks, beaches, highways, and facilities. While there are four O/A locations (i.e. Hawaii Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai), I will mainly focus Oahu because I reside in Oahu.


O/A ePermit does NOT cover elopements/ceremonies.

The list of O/A sites in Oahu are listed on their website. These include Chun’s Reef Beach, Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Kahala Hilton Beach, etc.

Criteria when considering O/A Permit

The following are the requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to qualify for an O/A Permit:

  1. Hours are limited to the hours between sunrise and sunset;
  2. No more than 20 cast & crew in total, on location;
  3. No more than 4 vehicles (No vehicle larger than a 15-passenger van);
  4. No large props/sets, building of temporary or permanent structures (scaffolding for camera position is OK);
  5. No water activity;
  6. No use of animals, special effects, helicopters, UAs (aka drone), picture vehicles, water vessels, simulated gunfire or explosives;
  7. No special parking arrangements; and
  8. Equipment needs cannot require special attention or create public disturbances (e.g. long cables, noisy generators, dolly tracks).
  9. All productions applying for an ePermits account and film permits must have a current Certificate of Insurance (COI) that meets the State’s requirements.
  10. O/A Sites must be listed on the agency’s O/A website:

If you are unable to fulfill all of the requirements listed above, then you may file a Standard Film Permit (SFP).

Procedures to apply O/A Sites

To file an O/A Permit, simply:

  1. Determine if designated location is located on DLNR O/A sites. If so, continue. If not, proceed to Standard Film Permits (SFP) in the next section.
  2. To qualify for O/A sites, adhere to the Criteria when considering O/A Permit. If applies, continue. If not, seek Standard Film Permits (SFP) in next section.
  3. Create an account to access their O/A ePermit System (HTML).
  4. Upload your Certificate of Insurance (COI)
  5. Once COI is uploaded, you’ll receive email confirmation of your COI. HFO will review your COI within 1-3 business days.
  6. Your account is approved. Login with your username and password for apply for O/A ePermit.
  7. Each ePermit is $10 and must be paid online with a credit card. The process time for ePermit is roughly 2 weeks or longer.
  8. A copy of your permit will be emailed to you for confirmation.


Some of the listed O/A sites may also require additional permits (e.g., City & County of Honolulu Permits, Special Use Permits (SUP) from DLNR), Wiki Permit, or land approval from owner to be filed simultaneously.

Standard Film Permit (SFP)

The SFP is the most common type of permit for film, television, and commercial productions. If you do not see your State-administered site listed in the HFO Website, then you are likely to apply for a SFP from the Hawaii Film Office. View the website for more information.

Depending on the State-administered locations you choose to photoshoot, there may be some fees. An example are airports, harbors, and highways (under jurisdiction of Department of Transportation (DOT)) are $100/day.

Similarly, parks and beaches under DLNR/Division of State Parks have $100/day + $25/car per day, and $.25/square foot for any reserved areas.

Procedures to apply SFP

  1. Review the Standard Film Permit Checklist (PDF)
  2. Complete the Standard Film Permit Application (PDF)
  3. Complete the Specific Information Section Page (PDF)
  4. Provide a clear detailed map(s) in PDF to be inserted into your application after Specific Page. Use Google Satellite to display where you intend to photograph/film.
  5. Attach a Certificate of Insurance (example) and other insurance requirements (e.g., Auto liability).
    • General Liability ($1 million per occurrence, $2 million aggregate)
    • Automobile Liability: *preferred ($1 million bodily injury per person, $1 million bodily injury per accident and $1 million property damage per accident)
  6. Combine all the completed documents together and submit it to State of Hawaii Film Office at info@hawaiifilmoffice.com in PDF form.
  7. Once approved, your permit will be emailed.
  8. Optional if you need to make an addendum to your already approved location permit, file an addendum application (PDF).


Some non-O/A sites require at least 7 business days to process permit, while others (i.e. Maunakea in Hawaii County) require 15-30 business days. Please check the website for updated information.

Wiki Permits

The Wiki Permits are issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources – Land Division. Their jurisdiction covers right-of-entry permit for beach wedding or other commercial activity on unencumbered State shorelines only (as opposed to other beaches managed by City and County). Their beaches are listed on their website (PDF). Beaches include China Walls, Duke Kahanamoku Beach, and etc.

The Wiki Permits are different compared to O/A Sites and Non-O/A Sites such that you are photographing a low-impact event, such as a beachfront wedding at any DLNR WikiPermit locations and only for filming activity that meets the General Terms and Conditions for Wiki Permits.

“Shoreline” means the upper reaches of the wash of the waves, other than storm and seismic waves, at high tide during the season of the year in which the highest wash of the waves occurs, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation growth, or the upper limit of debris left by the wash of the waves.

§205A-1 Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS)


If you filed a Wiki permit for Wiki sites, then O/A Permit is not required. However, if you don’t meet all 10 O/A criteria (e.g., more than 20 guests, large props) then you must obtain both Wiki Permit and SFP.

Procedures to apply for Wiki Permits

  1. To register a Wiki Permit Online System for the first time, complete the application, attach your Certificate of Insurance (COI) and mail it to:
    Department of Land and Natural Resources Land Division
    1151 Punchbowl St #220,
    Honolulu, HI 96813
    Attention: Wiki Permits

    Otherwise, email it to dlnr.wiki.permits@hawaii.gov or fax it to (808) 312-6357.
  2. Complete Wiki Permits application at least two weeks prior to the photoshoot
  3. Provide Certificate of Insurance of current liability insurance of at least $500,000 per incident and $1,000,000 aggregate naming the State of Hawaii as an additional insured.
    • INSURED: Note: Name/ Address of Insured must be identical to name/address of Applicant.
    • DESCRIPTION OF OPERATIONS: Use this Wording:
      Certificate Holder is named as an additional insured. Event coordination re Wiki Permits right-of-entry permits for State unencumbered shoreline.
      State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources
      1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 220
      Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
  4. Pay the fee prompted on the Wiki Permit Online System. The cost is ten cents per square foot ($.10/psf), $20 minimum.

City & County of Honolulu (C&C Honolulu) Permits

While there are many different counties in the State (e.g., Hawai’i County, Honolulu County, Kalawao County, Kauai County, and Maui County) I will be mainly focusing on Honolulu Permits because I reside in Honolulu County and am more familiar with the process.


Oahu: Some of the listed places in C&C Honolulu locations (e.g., beach) are also found in DLNR’s O/A Oahu sites and will need simultaneous permits (e.g., Haleiwa Beach Park, Kaneohe Beach Park). Double check with DLNR’s O/A website.

The list of locations C&C Honolulu locations and facilities are found on their website. These locations include parks, dog parks, pools, campgrounds, playgrounds, summer fun sites, county beaches, etc).

Procedures to apply for C&C Honolulu Permits

  1. Contact the management of the respective chosen locations to inquire availability
  2. Submit Application Permit (PDF) 3 weeks prior to the event
  3. Have a current Certificate of Insurance policy filed with the County with the words include:
    Please be advised that each permit applicant must have in current force and effect an insurance policy, in which a combined limit of liability for bodily injury and property damage is $1 million per occurrence. The insurance certificate shall name the City and County of Honolulu and its officers and employees, and the State of Hawai‘i and its officers and employees as additional insured. A copy of the certificate of insurance shall be filed with the Parks Permit Section of the Department.

Special Use Permits (SUP)

These permits are specifically for photographing Wedding/Elopements at State Parks, in addition to filing O/A or SFP permits on State-administered locations. You will need to submit a SUP application per island that you wish to photograph the wedding/elopements. The application must be filed at least 45 days prior to the event date.

While there are various State Parks located in each County, I will mainly focus the process regarding Oahu because I reside in Honolulu County.

Procedures to apply for SUP in Oahu

List of State Parks

For simplicity, I went ahead and list all of the State Parks recorded by the DLNR Website:

  • Kauai
    • Ha’ena State Park
    • Napali Coast State Wilderness Park
    • Polihale State Park
    • Koke’e State Park
    • Waimea Canyon State Park
    • Wailua River State Park
    • Waimea State Recreational Pier
    • Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park
    • Ahukini State Recreational Pier
  • Oahu
    • Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park
    • ʻAiea Bay State Recreation Area
    • Diamond Head State Monument
    • Heʻeia State ParkʻIolani Palace State Monument
    • Kaʻena Point State Park
    • Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline
    • Keaīwa Heiau State Recreation Area
    • Ke’ehi Lagoon Memorial State Park
    • Lāʻie Point State Wayside
    • Mālaekahana State Recreation Area
    • Nuʻuanu Pali State Wayside
    • Puʻu O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site
    • Puʻu ʻUalakaʻa State Wayside
    • Queen Emma Summer Palace
    • Royal Mausoleum State Monument
    • Sand Island State Recreation Area
    • Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site
    • Waʻahila Ridge State Recreation Area
    • Wahiawā Freshwater State Recreation Area
  • Hawaii
    • ʻAkaka Falls State Park
    • Hāpuna Beach State Recreation Area
    • Huliheʻe Palace
    • Kalōpā State Recreation Area
    • Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
    • Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park
    • Kīholo State Park Reserve
    • Kohala Historical Sites State Monument
    • Lapakahi State Historical Park
    • Lava Tree State Monument
    • MacKenzie State Recreation Area
    • Manukā State WaysideWailoa River State Recreation Area
    • Wailuku River State Park
  • Maui
    • Halekiʻi-Pihana Heiau State Monument
    • ʻĪao Valley State Monument
    • Kaumahina State Wayside
    • Mākena State Park
    • Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area
    • Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside
    • Waiʻānapanapa State Park
    • Wailua Valley State Wayside
  • Molokai
    • Pālāʻau State Park


All wedding/elopements in State Parks will require Special Use Permits (SUP) from Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) – Division of State Parks. Needs to be submitted 45-days in advance.

Summary Table

If you’re on your phone, rotate your phone to optimize your view of the table. If on computer, you good.

O/A PermitSFPWiki PermitC&C PermitSUP
AgenciesHawaii Film OfficeHawaii Film OfficeDLNRCity & CountyDLNR
CoverageState-administered parks, beaches, highways, facilities O/A listedState-administered areas not found on O/A listUnencumbered State shorelinesCity and County beaches, parks, playgrounds, etcState Parks listed
PurposeCommercial activity (excludes elopements and ceremonies)Commercial activity (excludes elopements and ceremonies)Beach Wedding or commercial activityCommercial photoshoot at City and County areasWedding/Elopements in State Parks
Table displaying the five (5) different types of photography permits, their respective agencies, coverage of permits, and the purpose of applying. Please note the State areas that allow wedding/elopements are Wiki and SUP.

Conclusion: Following Permit Regulations

Ultimately it is essential to follow any of the permit regulations to preserve the integrity8 and safety of public spaces and land use. By obtaining the necessary permits, photographers not only protect themselves from potential legal consequences but also demonstrate respect for the locations they wish to capture.

Moreover, following permit regulations can lead to new opportunities and partnerships within the photography industry. Many cities and organizations offer special access or exclusive photography privileges to those who abide by their permit requirements. By establishing a reputation as a law-abiding photographer, you can gain credibility and access that may otherwise be unavailable.

Lastly, adhering to permit regulations helps foster positive relationships between photographers and the communities they work in. In many cases, local residents appreciate photographers who seek permission before setting up their equipment or taking photos in public spaces. This respect for the community’s wishes can help create goodwill, build trust, and ultimately result in more fruitful collaborations between photographers and locals.

If you have any questions or concerns about the permitting process, contact the State of Hawaii Film Office at (808) 586-2570 or info@hawaiifilmoffice.com as information may change since this post was written.

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