The beach has always had a strong pull for me. Long before I picked up a camera I felt a connection with the ocean and the beach. Maybe it was growing up in New Zealand, where you’re never more than an hour or two away from the coast. Whatever it was, the beach has become one of my favourite locations to photograph. Have a read of these beach photography tips and it might also become one of yours.
Find A Quiet Spot
Beaches can be busy places. Unless you want to include people in your beach photography (which you totally should sometimes), you’re gonna want to avoid the crowds.
Sometimes that means exploring a little and sometimes it means going during quiet times. Fortunately, the times of day that usually have the least people also happen to be the best times for photography. Which leads me to…
Choose Your Timing
Early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening are going to give you the best light for beach photography. I’m sure you’ve heard of golden hour. Have you heard of blue hour?
Before the sun rises in the morning and after it sets in the evening there’s still enough light in the sky to get some gorgeous photos. The light around these dusk and dawn periods has a beautiful blue colour, hence the name blue hour.
The great part is that you don’t have to choose between going to the beach to shoot during golden hour or blue hour. They blend into one another, so you can stick around and photograph them both.
Play With Shutter Speeds
The beach is by far one of the best locations to play with shutter speeds. You have dynamic, moving water smashing up against solid earth, which gives you so many options for getting creative with shutter speeds.
Fast shutter speeds are great for freezing crashing waves or subjects in the water such as surfers. Slower shutter speeds are great for capturing the motion of water. Really long exposures can make water and clouds turn milky while shutter speeds around 1-2 seconds are perfect for capturing the movement of waves and the tide.
You can use filters to create long exposures, but if you’re shooting at the beach during the low light of blue and golden hour, you can often get slow enough shutter speeds without the need for them.
As easy as it is to get carried away photographing the huge expanses of ocean and land at the beach, don’t forget to look for the smaller details. The beach provides so many unique opportunities to photograph small details that you won’t see anywhere else.
Shells, rocks, crabs, birds, jellyfish, starfish, plants, driftwood, and any of the million things that the ocean washes up can all make great subjects for beach photography.
Using filters can take your photos at the beach from good to great. At the very minimum, I would recommend a UV filter. They’re designed to filter out UV light, but they also provide a layer of protection for the front element of your expensive lens. It’s a lot cheaper to replace a scratched or broken UV filter than a lens.
The other filter I would highly recommend for beach photography (or any form of landscape photography) is a circular polarizing filter (CPL). A CPL blocks reflected light, giving you better colour, contrast, and saturation. This means richer skies, water, and foliage.
If you want to get more creative with the use of filters, I recommend investing in a filter kit that includes a range of neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density filters. These allow you to reduce the amount of light that’s reaching all or part of your camera sensor. They’re great for playing with long exposures or balancing bright skies with dark foregrounds.
Choose A Focal Point
As you explore and wander the beach, keep an eye out for interesting subjects that you could include in your photos. They could be the feature of an image, or you could use them to lead into your image.
Things like driftwood in the sand, paths through sand dunes, or rock formations can make great subjects for beach photography. You can also use them as an interesting leading line or foreground element.
Capture The Beach’s Personality
Not all beaches are created equal. Stereotypical beach imagery generally features gorgeous, perfect white sand, sunshine, happy families, and maybe some surf.
Growing up on the west coast of New Zealand, my childhood memories include rugged, wild, black-sand beaches that are anything but family-friendly. These are the beaches I love to photograph. They’re full of drama and personality.
Try to keep in mind the unique characteristics of the beaches you photograph. How would you describe the beach to a stranger who’s never been there? How would a local describe it? If it’s known for wild weather, go there with your camera when it’s blowing a gale. If it’s a surf beach or dog beach, capture those activities.
Beaches are a treasure chest of textures. Everywhere you look there are beautiful, strange, constantly changing textures. You can find them in everything from the sand to the grasses on dunes.
Some of the most interesting textures are created by the creatures that call the beach home, such as crabs.
As with any form of outdoor photography, the range of light levels at the beach will often be huge. To allow for this, it’s a good idea to bracket your images. All digital cameras include this feature these days. Set your camera to take three bracketed images (-2EV, 0, +2EV) and you’ll capture all the information you need.
Don’t Fear Bad Weather
I’m a big advocate of planning your photography adventures. You maximize your chances of success when you plan for the best time to shoot.
That said, the best time to shoot isn’t necessarily when the weather’s perfect. Some of my favourite beach photos have been taken during wet, windy, dark, and moody conditions. Even lightning storms!
Find a great location to photograph, plan when you want to go and shoot, and stick with your plan. Even if the weather isn’t great, go out anyway. You might be surprised by some of the dramatic beach photos you come home with.
Get Your Feet Wet
It’s the meeting of earth and sea that makes the beach so interesting, so sometimes you’re gonna have to get into the wet stuff. If you only ever shoot on dry land you’re missing out on many opportunities for great photos.
If you want to capture waves breaking on the rocks or beach you’ll have to be okay with getting your feet wet. Just make sure you wear a pair of shoes that have good grip and you don’t mind getting wet.
It’s also important to remember that safety always comes first. No photo is worth getting hurt or drowned for. It’s also worth buying a raincoat for your camera.
Stack and Blend Exposures
If you really want to get creative and come away with some stunning, dramatic beach photography, try your hand at exposure stacking. It involves setting your camera up on a tripod and composing a scene with waves breaking on the beach or rocks.
You capture multiple exposures of the waves breaking and then combine the ones you like the most in photoshop. It’s a bit more technical but isn’t too difficult. It’s a lot of fun, and you can come away with some great images. Have a read of How To Create More Dramatic Seascape Photography to learn more.
Share Your Beach Photography
You’ve researched and found a great location at a beach to photograph, planned the best time to shoot, gone out and captured some images you’re happy with, and edited them to get them looking their best. What do you do next?
Share them of course. It doesn’t matter where. Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, 500px. I share my favourite landscape photography on Pinterest, and of course here on my website. Wherever you share yours, I would love to see them. Leave a link to your beach photography below so we can take a look.
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