Summertime is beach time! Don’t forget to get some great beach photos while you are on vacation this year. Check out my top 10 beach photo tips to help you get great photos.
Beach Photo Tip #1: Protect Your Gear
It isn’t sexy but protecting your gear is the first step to great beach photos. Sand, windblown sand, water, salt, and long sun exposure can damage your camera. Pick up a protective housing for your camera or at least slip in in a plastic bag (cut a hole for the lens and secure with a rubber band). Broken gear will ruin a vacation fast.
Beach Photo Tip #2: Watch Your Exposure
Sand is basically a giant reflector. There is a lot of bright light on a beach when the sun is not hidden behind clouds. Remember to bracket your exposures and consider a graduated neutral density filter (basically sunglasses for your lens) to adjust the brightness of part of the image while leaving the rest of the image untouched. This will help even out bright skies and darker water.
Beach Photo Tip #3: Keep it Level
There is a huge horizon out there to tell on you if your camera is the least little bit tilted. Be careful when shooting a photo that includes the horizon line so you don’t have to do much straightening (and therefore lose some edges of your photo) in your photo editing program. If your tripod does not have a built in level, get a pocket level from the local hardware store for a few pennies to check your angle.
Beach Photo Tip #4: Face the Sun
When photographing people at the beach, you really have to watch for squinting eyes. To avoid that, place the sun behind your subjects so their faces are in the shade and you are shooting (GASP) towards the sun. Now, while this means less glare on skin and clothing and nicely wide eyes, it also means you’ll have to use your flash to bring up the lighting on your people subjects. This will allow you to have a good exposure for people and beach background. However, a bare flash creates nasty, harsh light. As you are on vacation and at the beach no one wants to drag around a lot of equipment so stick a collapsible diffuser in your pocket in order to have what you need to get great photos without becoming a pack mule.
Beach Photo Tip #5: Arrive Early and Stay Late
Partially because the sand acts as a reflector and partially because of the heat, midday at the beach is not a great time for photography. Get to the beach just before sunrise to capture birds and dolphins, morning fishermen, tossed ashore seashells, the sunrise, and maybe a crab or two. Stay on the beach late to catch the sunset and the wonderful long directional light just before sunset. After sunset, use a powerful flashlight (remember to adjust your white balance) to illuminate nighttime life on the beach such as crabs or wait for the evening heat lighting to begin.
Beach Photo Tip #7: The Waves
I could spend hours doing nothing but shooting the ocean waves themselves. They don’t have to be large to photograph them (although the biggest waves are usually in the morning or evening). Shoot from an angle down the beach to get a great view of the curl of a breaking wave, no matter how small. Use the light from the sunrise or sunset to illuminate the water as it breaks. Take some time experimenting with shutter speeds to get frozen motion and long exposures to capture the motion of the waves.
Beach Photo Tip #8: Storms are a Good Thing
Waterspouts, lightning, amazing clouds, and rain bands are just a few of the opportunities when a storm approaches or begins to leave. Storms also increase the wonderfully interesting debris tossed ashore. Remember to keep yourself safe and yes, sand can conduct lighting.
Beach Photo Tip #9: Don’t Lose the Blue
The bright conditions at the beach can make it a challenge to keep the blue through the haze and not lose the color to over bright areas. Look in to a polarizing filter to help you cut through haze of a hot day and keep the brilliant blue sky and water from becoming a dull grey. Remember to remove this filter if you are trying to capture reflections.
Beach Photo Tip #10: Get Close
Try macro shots of shells and ghost crabs…even the sand is fascinating at a macro level. Also, as you get really close you’ll likely change your viewpoint so that you are shooting from a lower angle and that changes the perspective wonderfully for beach photography. Just don’t let the waves wash over your camera when you get low and close.