What is Summer without a trip to the beach?? Beach photography can be a challenge! But if you happen to be one of the lucky people who get to visit the beach every Summer then you know its definitely a photo worthy event. Not only do you want to document the memories of a wonderful vacation, but the beach is such a gorgeous setting and just begs to be photographed. My family takes at least one trip to the beach every Summer and I look forward to and plan for it all year long!
After several Summers of shooting at the beach I have learned that it is a location that requires its own set of rules. So here are my favorite tips and tricks for shooting in this amazing setting.
WAIT FOR THE BEST LIGHT
Mornings and evenings are typically the best time to shoot no matter where you live and the beach is no exception. But there are a few more things to consider when you are planning your timing and shooting at the beach. There are typically less people on the beach during sunrise and sunset which is going to make a big difference for your photos. I typically have to spend time editing out other beachgoers from my photos, so it’s a lot less work for me if I can shoot when the beaches aren’t quite as busy.
Another thing to consider when you are planning the timing of your shoot is the tide. I will never forget the first evening I showed up on the beach ready to shoot and half the beach was gone because it was high tide. It definitely threw a wrench in my photoshoot! So be prepared and plan around the tides.
WHERE THE SKY MEETS THE WATER
There is nothing like the vast open space at the ocean. Looking out to where the water meets the sky always strikes a cord with my soul. There is something about looking out as far as the eye can see. It’s the same effect that the mountains have for many.
I am always captivated by the texture of the sky and the water. Look for beautiful clouds and soft waves to really add dimension to your photos. And don’t forget the colors. I always try to capture the myriad of colors that are reflected in the sky and water at sunset.
NOTE: Wide open skies make for great silhouettes! Beach silhouettes are always so much fun!
Speaking of the endless skies and water, sometimes it can be helpful to break these up. It gives the eye something to focus on and add more interest to those wide open spaces. I always try to get some shots of seagulls, boats on the horizon, or a kite in the sky. It adds some visual interest and enhances the storytelling of an image. If I can’t find any to photograph at the moment, I will use an overlay that I add in my editing process in Photoshop. There are a ton of wonderful beach overlays available on Etsy. Sometimes an overlay can really make or break your image.
In the water, in the wet sand, in the clouds. Reflections are something I am always aware of at the beach. There is a huge difference between photographing dry vs wet sand. The water in the sand adds a whole new dimension that can be reflected in your photos. And as I mentioned earlier, look for those beautiful sunset/sunrise colors to be reflected all around you.
Find more than just sand! Sometimes we can become so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sand that we forget that there is more than just sand at the beach. I like my beach photos to have some variety, so I am always looking for more than just sand. I like to use the beachgrass, the boardwalk if there is one, or even just seaweed washed on the shore to provide some variety to my images.
CAPTURE THE DETAILS
There are so many wonderful details to include in your beach photography. While I love taking shots of the wide open spaces, it’s also important to remember to zoom in and photograph the little things. My children are forever bringing me littles treasures that they find like tiny shells, little crabs, or smooth, pretty rocks. Get up close and capture these details in their little hands.
Another thing my children are always doing is digging in the sand and building sandcastles. And who doesn’t love a good set of foot prints in the sand?
I find it’s the little details that can really enhance the mood and dreaminess of an image. So be sure to include some of these details to further document your memories
I always have a lot of fun planning my beach photography props. Since I live in the countryside in Virginia, I am used to shooting a lot of green in the Summer. So the beach is always a welcome change to the typical green. The colors of the water and the sand are completely different than the green of the grass and it gives me an opportunity to work with different colors and tones.
I am always keeping my eye out for colorful beach accessories like umbrellas, swimsuits, sunglasses, beach toys, and towels (to name a few). I like to color coordinate my beach gear so that I know its going to look good in photographs if I am trying to capture candid moments on the beach. That may be a bit extreme but the photographer in me just can’t resist!!!
When planning your props think about the tones that are going to go well with the beach. I will often choose to go in one of two directions. I will either select bright, colorful items that will “pop” (really stand out) against the neutral color of the sand and water. Or I will go with a more neutral palette (think soft pastel colors) that will compliment the neutral tones of the beach and blend well. It really depends on what kind of a mood you are trying to portray in your images. I find that bright colors can often convey the sense of fun and joy experienced at the beach. Whereas neutral tones really help to radiate the sense of peace and calm that comes with this setting as well.
GET YOUR HORIZON STRAIGHT
A technical detail! It’s important to get your horizon lines as straight as possible when shooting at the beach. Uneven horizon lines can be very distracting and disconcerting to the viewer of your photograph and take away from the main subject. Because you are dealing with the wide open space of the water and the sky, a skewed horizon line will be even more exaggerated. It can throw off the viewer and make your photo look crooked. Unless you are going to some kind of creative/artistic shot, I highly recommend keeping your horizon lines straight.
And on a final note…protect that gear baby! Taking your expensive photo gear on the beach can be nerve wracking to say the least. I’m never quite as worried about the water as I am the SAND! Because sand gets on EVERYTHING!!! There are so many waterproof coverings available for gear, but nothing is sand proof!
I like to take only the bare minimum that I will need for my shoot. I don’t want to take my whole camera bag with all my different lenses. Because I know I will be finding sand in it for weeks to come. Ziploc bags can be a life saver if you need to bring extra batteries, lenses or SD cards. I really try not to change my lens on the beach if I can avoid it. Exposing the inside of your lens and camera to the sand can be risky. You never know when a gust of wind is going to blow sand in your direction. So if you have to change your lens take extra precaution.
So let’s do a quick recap of our beach photography tips!
- Wait for the best light – Mornings and evenings are going to provide you with the best light and the beaches will be less crowded.
- Tides – Don’t forget to be aware of high and low tide.
- Sky and Water – Look for beautiful clouds and sunsets/sunrises. Capture the waves. Also look for things that provide visual interest in those wide open spaces like birds or kites in the sky or boats on the water. If you can’t find any, there are lot of fun beach overlays available on Etsy.
- Reflections – Whether in the water or the wet sand, keep an eye out for reflections.
- Textures – There is more than just sand and water at the beach. Look for seagrass, driftwood, or even the boardwalk to provide something more than just sand and water.
- Capture the little details – Seashells, sandcastles, footprints, crabs…there are so many tiny treasures worth photographing to be found at the beach.
- Props – Have fun picking out your beach props and be aware of how your colors will coordinate with each other.
- Tones – Consider the mood you want your color selections to convey. Are you going for fun and cheery or calm and peaceful?
- Horizon – Get your horizon lines straight. You don’t want your photos looking crooked because it can be very distracting to the viewer.
- Protect your gear – Sand is your camera’s nemesis so do everything you can to keep your gear safe from it!
So there you have it! My tops tips for shooting at the beach. I hope these come in handy on your next trip to the beach and give you to the confidence to get your camera out and capture those precious memories. And if you are looking for more fun ways to document your Summer, check out my post here all about capturing those fleeting Summer moments.
I’m participating in a super fun blog circle this month. Check out my friend Michele’s post. She is a Minneapolis Studio Photographer and she is sharing all about an amazing studio space!
Ruth Young is a professional, portrait photographer located in Culpeper, Virginia. She photographs her daily life with her 5 small children. For more about Ruth follow her on Instagram where she posts daily.