DLNR issues cease-and-desist orders to 2 wedding photographers for photos shot on Kauai

Hawaii officials have issued cease-and-desist orders to two local wedding photography companies for taking photos at state park locations without required permits.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources recently issued orders to Bradyhouse Photographers and The Foxes Photography after the companies posted photos online of couples posing at locations including the base of Wailua Falls and at Hanakapiai Beach within the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, which are technically off-limits and would not have received permits.

DLNR said the letters serve as warnings, but also mean the companies could potentially face criminal or civil citations, with fines of thousands of dollars and potential jail time.

Commercial wedding photographers seeking to get stunning shots of clients posed against Hawaii’s natural landscapes — whether on a ridge over rugged cliffs, beneath a waterfall, or on a beach at sunset — must first receive proper county and state permits before setting up and shooting pictures, officials said.

DLNR found evidence of unpermitted activity on the companies’ websites, as well as social media posts.

Bradyhouse Photographers, which is based on Kauai, features images of Kalepa Ridge, Wailua Falls, and Hanakapiai Beach and Honopu at Napali Coast State Wilderness Park on its website. There are also drone shots at Waimea Canyon and Kokee state parks.

Bradyhouse did receive eight photo permits from the Hawaii State Film Office between May and September this year, according to DLNR, including one that lists all of the legal locales photographers may use during defined time periods.

But the ones featured on the company’s website are not included, nor would they be.

“Many of these places are both naturally and culturally sensitive and we would not be issuing permits for commercial drone operations or wedding photos in these sensitive locations,” said State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell.

Meg Bradyhouse, founder of Bradyhouse Photographers, said in an email that the cease-and-desist order came as a big surprise.

She said the company met with a DLNR officer earlier this year, and after learning permits were needed for certain locations, has since been 100% complaint.

The company will no longer be shooting photos at Kalepa Ridge, Wailua Falls and Honoopu since they are not permitted, she said, and is doing its best to be respectful and compliant with all permitting requirements.

“We regret that before knowing better we were once part of the problem but we believe people do better when they know better,” she said in a statement. “We took our initial conversation with the DLNR in January extremely seriously and we are thankful for the opportunity to do better and help the DLNR in spreading more awareness and education to the processes required to capture this beautiful island in a respectful and legal way.”

DLNR also issued a cease-and-desist order to The Foxes Photography,which offers elopement packages worldwide, including Kauai, and features photos on its website that the agency says “were clearly taken in state parks, without a commercial permit.”

A photo of newlyweds standing on a rock at the base of Wailua Falls, for example, includes a caption saying the steep hike down from the road is “100% worth it,” which is illegal, DLNR said. Signs are posted that say the area is closed.

“If you are ignoring the rules for a commercial advantage, the evidence is on your websites, and the law will catch up with you,” said Cottrell.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said she has been fielding complaints about these types of commercial activities for years by “bad actors” basically thumbing their noses at regulations.

“It’s not fair to the photographers who turn down the business because they’re honoring the place where they know it’s not legal,” she said.

What then happens, she said, is potential clients intent on a particular engagement or wedding photo will keep calling other photographers until they find someone who is willing to do it. This has harmful impacts on those who are following the rules.

Mike Danderand, president of the Kauai Wedding Professionals Association, agreed.

“Renegade photographers create unhealthy expectations for visiting couples as they see photos online or on social media and they’re asking our members to shoot in the same places,” said Danderand in a release. “There are places on Kauai that are sacred or dangerous. Our members agree to honor and respect cultural sites.”

Kanoho has also seen social media posts of weddings held at Honopu by chartered boats, which she said “is 100% illegal and culturally inappropriate.” Some companies are also setting up luxury beach picnics, with extravagant setups that are not allowed.

“It’s gotten way out of hand,” she said. “There’s plenty of beautiful places to take a picture. You just have to do it the right way.”