Learn how to enhance your beach photographs with this all-encompassing guide to beach photography.
Beach photography can be a lot of fun. There’s something about the ocean that brings peace of mind to humans. Something unspoken, something magical. The sea at any point in the day provides a sense of relaxation. The type of beach photography you’re interested in will determine the time of day and time of year when you go out to photograph. If you’re interested in lifestyle photography, a busy beach in the middle of a summer day will be perfect. If you’re more interested in a moody, dreamy beach image, sunrise or sunset during the offseason will be better for you. Beach family photos offer a unique take on the traditional vacation snapshot.
Taking successful beach photos isn’t as simple as clicking the shutter. You must always be on the lookout for changes in light, weather, and tide. Knowing what to look out for and being ready to photograph it when it comes is one of the most important aspects of beach photography. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to take beautiful beach pictures.
A beach photoshoot: landscape or portrait?
If you’re more interested in photographing the beach landscape rather than the people visiting, you’ll need to choose a time when the beach isn’t covered in tourists. You’ll also need to consider if you want the unique colors of sunrise or sunset, if you’d prefer a nice sunny day, or if you’re more interested in the moody weather of a storm. All types of weather can result in beautiful beach background images.
What do you need to take beautiful beach photos?
A digital camera
A tripod (learn more about UBeesize tripod 5500)
For landscapes, a wide-angle lens, though not so wide as to cause distortion
For beach portraits, a typical zoom lens is fine, but prime lenses (50mm, 85mm, etc.) with a wider aperture take beautiful portraits
A neutral density filter (not necessary but very helpful)
Photo editing software such as Luminar 3
Camera settings for beautiful beach pictures
Camera settings for your beach pictures will vary depending on the time of day, the weather, and what you want your final beach image to look like.
Shooting at a low ISO such as 100 or 200 will ensure that you don’t get any unwanted noise. Any ISO under 400 will reduce the chance of noise.
A slower shutter speed (sometimes up to 30 seconds) in addition to a neutral density filter will create the beautiful, velvety look of water that you see in many successful beach photos. If there are people in your photograph, you’ll want to shoot at a faster shutter speed (1/60 or faster) to ensure you don’t get any unwanted motion blur.
Shooting at an aperture of f/11 or smaller will ensure that the entire beach is in focus. If you’re photographing a person or other subject in front of the ocean, you may want to shoot at a wider aperture to isolate the main subject of the photograph. For example, a beach portrait taken at f/1.8 will have the subject in focus while the background is beautifully blurred.
You should always shoot your beach images in RAW format. This ensures that any mistakes in exposure or white balance can be easily fixed during post-processing.
Using a neutral density filter for beach photography
What exactly is a neutral density filter? This filter reduces the amount of light that hits the lens, allowing your camera to use a slower shutter speed even if it’s the middle of the afternoon and the sun is shining brightly. It’s essentially a darker piece of glass that you place over your lens, acting as sunglasses for your camera.
This is especially helpful when you want to take beach pictures in the middle of the day yet you want that dreamy, soft look to your water. You can pay anywhere from $20 to $150 for a neutral density filter, but make sure you read reviews before you purchase to ensure that the filter you buy will do what you need.
Make sure you don’t mistake a graduated neutral density filter for an actual neutral density filter. A graduated filter is used when you don’t want your sky overexposed, but it won’t darken the entire image enough for long exposures.
When should you shoot your beach photos?
Knowing what time of day to shoot and under what conditions will separate your beach photos from the millions of snapshots of family vacations.
Beach pictures at the blue hour
The blue hour is the hour right before sunrise (as well as right after sunset) when the world has an eerie bluish cast to it. Since light is scarce during this time, your beach pictures will benefit greatly from a long exposure on a tripod — no neutral density filter needed! The long shutter speed allows the camera to pick up on blue tones that the eye can’t see, and the movement of the water is blurred while keeping the rest of the scene in focus.
To further intensify the blue tones of your beach pictures, shoot with a tungsten white balance. Tungsten attempts to cancel out the warm, orange glow of tungsten lights by adding in more blue tones.
Beach images at sunrise
The light of sunrise provides beautiful, warm tones. Since the sun hasn’t risen completely yet, you still have the ability to shoot at a slower shutter speed, blurring the water to create a dreamy atmosphere in your beach images. The sun rising on the horizon creates a beautiful gradient in the sky that’s reflected in the tones of the water.
Beach photos at the golden hour
The golden hour is the hour right before sunset when the world becomes beautifully hazy and covered in a layer of golden light. Silhouettes benefit greatly during this hour, and the overall feel is romantic. The golden hour is the perfect time for a beach photoshoot, especially when taking couples beach portraits.
In order to further intensify the golden tones of your beach photos, shoot with shadow white balance. Shadow white balance attempts to cancel out the cool tones of shadows by adding in warmer, comforting tones.
Beach photography at sunset
The varying colors of sunset allow a different photographic opportunity every single evening. The varying shades of orange, red, pink, and purple create beautiful reflections on the water. Silhouettes also benefit from this type of light, making sunset one of the best times of day to photograph romantic beach portraits.
Avoiding crowds for a beach photoshoot
If you’ve ever been to the beach at the peak of summer, you know how difficult it is to get a photograph without any tourists. To avoid this problem, go during the offseason. A beach right when winter turns to spring or when summer turns to fall has considerably fewer people. All the same, go early or late in the day to avoid the afternoon crowd.
Know the beaches around you. The most popular ones will surely be filled with people, but what about the lesser-known ones? These will have fewer people, and may also end up having even better beach photo opportunities since they’re left mostly untouched. Do your research on locations around you.
Getting creative with beach photography
Don’t feel as though you have to photograph the water. Think about what’s around: are there interesting rocks or structures you can use in the foreground? Are there any human subjects with you whom you could photograph in front of the seascape? You don’t need to point your camera at the horizon and shoot from there. Walk around for a bit; take a look at the tidal pools, climb on top of rocks, and walk directly into the water (just make sure you keep your camera safe!). Many wonderful shots can be missed because you’re too busy watching the waves crash ashore. If you still want to shoot the horizon, try shooting from different angles to get more interesting results. A simple change in angle can really enhance your beach photography.
Don’t be put off by stormy days. Some of the best beach pictures have been taken in less-than-perfect weather. Just be sure to protect your camera properly in these situations.
Focusing on details in your beach photoshoot
Summer photography offers a lot of options. Sometimes a photograph of sandals on the beach, a small collection of shells, or a sandcastle can be more memorable than a simple landscape shot. Even small details such as a plant or a starfish can add dimension to your travel album. Try focusing on the small details around you to really capture your day. Using a wider aperture (f/4 or wider) can help the subject really pop.
Summer photography also offers some challenges. Shooting in the midday sun can cause unwanted contrast in your beach photos. To avoid this, create some shadow for your subject with an umbrella, your body, or a simple piece of cloth.
Photo editing in Luminar 3
To make your beach pictures really pop, you’ll need to edit them in photo editing software such as Luminar 3. Let’s say you’ve taken a photograph of a beach.