Let me preface these tips by saying I absolutely ADORE shooting at the beach. I love the backdrop, the sand, the skies, the piers, the lifeguard towers, etc. But I didn’t always love it and it used to make me VERY nervous. After doing many upon many shoots there, I thought I’d share some tips that have helped me immensely in getting the results I want with beach pictures.
1. Timing is EVERYTHING.
I normally shoot at the beach in the hour or two before sunset. The lighting at this time is gorgeous and you don’t have to fight that harsh overhead lighting. I get my best portraits in front of the water about 20 minutes before sunset. I have seen gorgeous beach pictures at all different times of the day, but I prefer this time and 99% of the time schedule my sessions around it.
2. Find a beach that has more to offer than just sand and ocean!
I love to offer a variety to my clients so I love shooting at beaches that offer different “backdrops”. One of my favorite beaches has a really cool pier and some green ice plant that adds texture, color, and an interesting background to the pictures. Another one has some sand dunes and a beautiful hotel in the background that is really well-known in my area.
3. Embrace the haze!
I didn’t always love the haze the beach brings to my pictures, but I have learned to work with it and now embrace it with each session I do at the beach. I’ve found my processing is often different and may require more attention than other kinds of lighting, but it adds a whimsy, carefree feel to the photos when done right.
4. Use a lens hood!
There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to haze. Using a lens hood can help you cut down on some of the intense haze you might experience shooting at the beach.
5. Spot metering can be your friend with back lighting.
You can expose for the face and get much better results than using evaluative/matrix metering. I would much rather blow out the background a bit than having a subject with a severely underexposed face! Can you say processing nightmare?!?!!?
6. That being said , you can also underexpose a bit to preserve the color.
If the sky is magical the evening of a session, I want to showcase that! Sometimes I will intentionally underexpose my subjects just a bit (not too much because then you introduce a lot of noise). If you blow out a sky, there is no bringing it back in your processing. I use Lightroom so I’m able to use the many tools it offers to keep my exposure right where I want it.
7. Silhouettes rock!
Meter for the sky and start shooting! I love capturing the vivid colors in the sky around sunset time and it makes your subject(s) pop! It certainly adds a fun dimension to your gallery. One of my fave pictures of my own family is a silhouette a friend and fellow photographer took for us.
8. Use a wide angle lens for some of your shots.
MANY of my favorite portraits at the beach were taken with my fisheye lens. It adds a unique and fun approach to beach pictures.
9. Be careful with your equipment!
I once dropped my 24-70L right into the wet sand when changing to a different lens. I think the seagulls stopped flying mid-air and waves froze mid-crash to see what would happen next. Even though I wanted too, I didn’t break down in tears and raise my hands to the sky yelling “WHY ME?!?!”. Thankfully, my lens was ok, but I sure learned my lesson!!!!
10. Last but definitely not least. . . HAVE FUN!
Let your subjects play! Kids being themselves and being happy create the best portraits of all. Have their mom or dad throw them in the air, have them race, or have them dance like crazy people. This goes for adults too, I think we grow up and assume we need to be serious for pictures but that is NOT TRUE people! I love to make my subject’s feel comfortable and at ease, so heck, I’ll dance for them if I need too! Genuine smiles and laughter caught in pictures makes me feel I’ve done my job.