Guide to Beach Photography
In this guide to beach photography, we’re going to provide you with all the knowledge you need to master this skill.
Heading to your local beach provides a fantastic opportunity to practice your photography and capture some stunning shots.
What’s more, there’s a lot you can do with a simple beach scene to create a compelling story.
It’s not as easy as you may think, however – so let’s take a closer look and run through some key beach photography tips.
25 Tips for Amazing Pictures at the Beach
Heading to your local beach with a camera doesn’t guarantee that you’ll capture great shots. What you need to do is take a few simple steps that will elevate your beach photography and ensure better results.
That’s where these beach photography tips come in. By following our 25 tips for amazing beach photos, you’ll nail it every time.
1. Keep It Clean
If you’re heading down to your local beach with your expensive camera, you’ll need to take a few precautions to make sure it stays clean and functional.
Cameras have a standard operating temperature – if they get too cold or too hot, they’ll simply stop working. Be aware of leaving your gear in the hot sun for too long.
Once you get sand inside your equipment, you might as well send it off to the repair centre the next day. If your camera and lenses are weather-sealed, this will protect them against dust to a degree.
Make sure to keep the camera and the sand as far away from each other as possible. A well-sealed and durable camera bag can help with this when you’re not actively shooting.
Use a lens blower to remove sand from the front glass element of your lens, then clean it with a lens cloth – if you do it the other way around, you’ll scratch your lens.
2. The Best Lens Choice
The best lens for beach photography is going to depend on what you’re planning to shoot.
If you want to capture the vast sweeping beaches and ocean, then a wide-angle lens is best. This way, you’ll capture the expansive landscape.
If you’re shooting portraits but want a little of the landscape for context, using a longer lens makes sense.
To avoid changing lenses and risk getting sand inside the camera, use a zoom lens that covers a 24-70mm focal range.
For better beach photos during the day, add a lens hood. Beaches are sunny and have a lot of glare caused by the whiteness of the sand and the light reflected off the water. This light can wash out an image and make it hazy.
With a lens hood, you cut down the amount of light entering the lens at extreme angles.
3. Use Flash To Beat Shadows
While a sunny beach can be incredibly bright, there are still situations where a flash can make all the difference.
It’s especially critical when you’re shooting beach portraits, and you want an even amount of light across your subject’s face.
With the sun beating down, the eyebrows, nose, lips and chin cast deep shadows. This distorts your subject’s features.
With an on-camera flash, you can cast light to push back the shadows without over-exposing the face.
If your flash has a diffuser, then apply it to soften the harshness a flash causes. Alternatively, use a silver or gold reflector to cast the sunlight at your subject from a lower angle.
4. Bring A Tripod For Stability
While a tripod may seem like a hindrance on sandy terrain, they come in handy for various styles of beach photography.
A tripod supports and keeps your camera still and stable. You require this level of stability if you’re doing long exposure work with slow shutter speeds. With a tripod, you won’t have camera shake that spoils your composition.
This is especially handy when shooting sunrise or sunset images.
5. Use Filters To Control Your Exposure
There’s a broad range of filters ideal for beach photography that optimise your control of exposure.
By using a filter, you can make sure to get well-exposed photos even in the harshest of sun.
Plus, a filter that screws to the front of your lens has the added value of protecting it from the sand. It’s easier to replace a $50 scratched filter than a $500 lens!
A UV filter is the cheapest of the filter options and provides that level of protection. They also filter out the UV light that hits the lens and the sensor – this can otherwise cause unwanted atmospheric effects such as haze.
6. Shoot From Above With A Drone
Drone shots of a beach make for fascinating photos – especially with your drone at a considerable elevation.
Drones capture the contrast between the yellows of the sand and the deep aqua blue of the water. The crashing white waves on the beach separate these two elements.
You might also go to the beach with your drone at sunrise or sunset to capture how the changing light varies the landscape from above.
Using a drone adds a whole new perspective to beach photography and can compliment your eye-level shots while out and about.
7. Better Smartphone Photography
If you don’t want to splash out on a new camera, consider using your smartphone for beach photography.
Most current-generation smartphones feature a camera – or multiple – that produce stunning shots. What’s more, the camera app allows for more than just automatic photography.
With many, you can alter ISO and your shutter speed for creative effects – experiment to get the best results.
Be sure to select your focus area with a tap of the screen, especially if you’re capturing subjects in the foreground.
8. Shoot In RAW
RAW image files hold all data captured by the camera’s image sensor.
While the files are larger than JPEGs, you have more control when editing the images later on in post-processing.
With files in the RAW format, you can scale back any blown-out highlights and pull the details out of darker shadows.
As beach scenes are often over-bright, you have a better chance of resurrecting an overexposed photo with RAW.
9. Select The Right Shutter Speed
With your shutter speed, you can control the overall visual pace of an image.
Using a faster shutter speed will freeze your subjects. This is handy for photographing kids playing on the beach, in the water, or for capturing bird-life on the wing.
Slowing your shutter speed allows more light in as the sensor is exposed for longer. You can also use slower shutter speeds to capture motion in your subjects – imagine the same children playing but with a slight blur to indicate movement.
Be mindful of slow shutter speeds causing highlight blow-outs and potential camera shakes – that’s why we recommend bringing a tripod.
10. Try Black & White For Drama
Beaches provide a gorgeous pallet of colours including blues, greens, yellows and whites – these colours tend to provide a natural level of contrast.
Another alternative is to edit your beach photographs with a black and white filter or preset in your post-processing software.
You’ll notice your pictures display contrast and look interesting thanks to the different tones of the sky, clouds, water and beach.
11. White Balance Effects
Many photographers I know entirely ignore the fact that their camera and editing software can make changes to white balance.
White balance allows you to change the colour hue of an image as a whole. This way you can cast a warmer glow over an image by shifting the white balance towards the reds and yellows.
Alternatively, you could cast a colder feel to an image by shifting it towards the greens and blues.
Try playing with the white balance while editing your beach pictures to see what different effects you can achieve.
My biggest piece of advice with white balance control is to keep it subtle and not overdo it.
12. Control Exposure Compensation
With the challenging lighting found in beach photography, it will help to master the exposure compensation of your camera.
Depending on the style of camera you’re using, there’ll be an exposure compensation setting in the menu or on a dedicated dial.
Cameras are intelligent devices, and when shooting in Auto, they make all the decisions for you. In some situations, they don’t always make the best decisions.
With so much light hitting the image sensor, the camera will reduce exposure to compensate. If you want greater control and improved exposure, switch your camera to manual mode and manage the exposure compensation yourself.
If you’re shooting a portrait, you can also try switching your metering mode to spot metering as this will help with correctly exposing the person’s face.
13. Create Unique Compositions
Creating an exciting composition with your beach photography makes your pictures stand out.
The composition is a collection of elements in your image. At the beach, these include the sky, clouds, horizon, waves, sand, pebbles, shells, tall grass, pathways and rock formations – not to mention the additional elements such as people and pets enjoying the beach.
Take a moment to scan the scene and look for interesting elements as well as unique shooting angles to build upon your composition.
Look for features that create excitement, drama and mood, and experiment with different ways to incorporate these into your beach pictures.
14. Select Focus Points
Imagine a wide-angle beach shot where the sand, sea and sky stretch out forever. While there’s a lot of beauty and value in a photo like this, it’s still missing something.
A focus point is an element or subject within your composition that draws the viewer into the image. The right focus points can completely change the effect of your beach photography.
Imagine that same vast beach scene with the addition of a single figure walking along with a long scarf blowing in the wind.
You now have a composition that draws in your viewer and creates a context to your story.
15. Avoid The Masses
When capturing beach photographs that highlight the natural beauty of the environment, the last thing you need is a bunch of people in the way.
To avoid the crowds, arrive when there aren’t other people at the beach.
Early morning is usually the best as people love to visit the beach after work and watch the sunset. But even some beaches are popular in the morning with dog-walkers and swimmers – especially in the heat of summer.
If you want to focus your beach photography on the tranquillity of nature, do some research and spend a couple of early mornings and evenings driving around to check out the activity. Look for quieter beaches that are considered hidden gems.
16. Include People In Your Shots
Ok, we just talked about avoiding crowds in beach photography.
But while it’s annoying to have people show up to your hidden gem of a beach during your shoot, you can work them into your composition.
A lone walker with their dog racing ahead of them makes for a perfect photo.
Alternatively, a group of fashion-conscious teens hanging out, or even a couple arm in arm add a lot of narrative to your landscape images.
Be mindful of who you’re photographing and be sure to avoid revealing someone’s identity.
17. Bring The Kids For Fun
Kids love being at the beach, and they’re at the height of happiness and energy at such times. So why not bring them with you?
Kids at play are distracted from the world around them, so it’ll be easy to capture some gorgeous candid beach pics.
Whether they’re splashing in the water, building a castle, or hunting in rock pools, get in nice and close and capture their play.
18. Use Natural Props
When taking pictures of the beach, find natural props around you to give them interest.
Consider having a local plant species as your focal point. Shooting through tall grass in the foreground with a stunning background looks impressive.
Don’t bring flowers from home as introducing a foreign plant species can have a dramatic impact on the local environment.
If there’s no vegetation nearby, hunt for feathers dropped by sea-birds or even pieces of driftwood. Plant these into the sand at interesting angles to make a frame for your composition or a foreground subject.
Speaking of driftwood, if allowed, build a small beach campfire and shoot through that or capture the sparks at play.
19. Shoot Sun Stars
Sun stars occur when a cliff, tree or outcropping of rock partially blocks the sun. When you point your lens directly at the sun, the light will split into beams.
The aperture blades within your lens catch the light and cause this effect.
To achieve sun stars, use a narrow aperture on your lens to reduce the light hitting the image sensor.
Sun stars add narrative to beach photography on a hot day – the sun appears to beat down on the scene.
20. Create Silhouettes
Silhouettes are another great trick to have up your beach photography sleeve.
Creating a silhouette or backlight photo is simple.
Thanks to the abundance of glaring sunlight, you can position your subject directly in front of the sun.
They’ll appear with a halo of light around their body, and their hair will glow with the filtered light. But their body and facial features will appear as a black silhouette.
Get your subject to dance, run or just play on the beach and the contrast between the black and bright areas will tell the story.
21. Watch The Horizon
One of the golden rules of photography is to have your pictures correctly orientated against an imaginary horizon.
Fortunately, in beach photography, the horizon is not imagined – it’s right there! Use it as a guide to ensure that your images are correctly aligned.
Apply the rule of thirds so that the horizon line doesn’t sit in the middle of the frame. Position the horizon line higher in the frame to get more of the foreground or lower in the frame for more of the background.
22. Use Reflections
In beach photography, you’ll get a lot of light bouncing off the water and the sand – hence the need to carefully control your exposure.
Imagine being able to capture the reflection of your child playing in a still rockpool. Or using the reflection from a puddle of water left by the retreating tide.
Use the water to form a core part of your composition. Taking a moment to thoroughly explore all the elements you could use in a composition is essential – before you even grab your camera.
23. Shoot At Golden Hour
Golden hour is a photography term to describe the time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset.
During the golden hour, the light is far softer and warmer in colour. Subjects have a warm glow that makes skin-tones pop.
Using this time window to your advantage gives your images a lot more punch and character than those shot at midday.
Plus, during the morning golden hour there are far fewer people on the beach.
24. Check The Weather
I recommend that any outdoor photography excursion includes a thorough check of the weather forecast.
There’s no point showing up to the beach with your expensive camera if it’s raining cats and dogs… Or is there?
While the temptation is to only undertake beach shots when it’s hot and sunny, there’s a lot to be said for the moods foul weather could create.
Provided your camera can withstand the elements, capturing beach photography in the middle of a storm or on a cold foggy morning makes for compelling images.
Head to the beach in any type of weather – you’ll be amazed at how the same location takes on drastically different moods.
25. Always Be Safe
Personal safety as a photographer should always be on your mind regardless of shooting in a dark alley or climbing a peak to capture an eagle.
On the beach, watch for the impacts of too much sun – dress appropriately, stay hydrated and take precautions to protect yourself from the UV rays.
Be aware of safety issues such as sea life that washes up on the beach, rocky outcroppings and the odd stray ball from nearby beach cricket.
And finally, be respectful of the environment and try not to disturb any wildlife you find during your photographic adventures.
Getting Better Beach Photos | Final Words
Heading to the beach with your camera and a few ideas is a great way to spend a day. Not only are you spoiled for choice in creating unique compositions, but you’ll also learn a thing or two about your photography skills and abilities.
Hopefully, these beach photography tips have given you some extra ideas and guidance.
With a little practice, you can have a lot of fun shooting beach photography.