Shooting at the beach in the summer is one of my favorite ways to capture summer memories for my family. 

We are so fortunate to live within 4 miles of the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline in Holland, Michigan.

We often visit during the heat of the day, but when I notice there is going to be a beautiful sunset we pack up to head for an evening swim. My favorite way to shoot at the beach is with backlighting as the sun sets over the lake, however, this adds some challenges with exposing my images.

With strong backlighting, we often have to pick what we want to expose correctly – our subjects or the sky.

We could, of course, use additional equipment to properly expose both with the addition of a reflector or off camera flash, but personally neither of those methods work well for me at the beach. It’s not my favorite past time to chase my children with a reflector while trying to shoot and lugging more equipment to the beach on top of what the children have already deemed “necessities” is not my idea of fun.

Shooting at the beach in the summer is one of my favorite ways to capture summer memories for my family. With strong backlighting, we often have to pick what we want to expose correctly - our subjects or the sky. This is how I edit those potentially difficult photos.
before
Shooting at the beach in the summer is one of my favorite ways to capture summer memories for my family. With strong backlighting, we often have to pick what we want to expose correctly - our subjects or the sky. This is how I edit those potentially difficult photos.
after

For this reason, I choose to deliberately underexpose my subjects, and overexpose my sky knowing I will have to use post processing to achieve my vision for the image.

Finding the balance between underexposing your subjects enough to minimize blowing out the sky and not underexposing them so much that they cannot be brought back without significant noise and quality issues, can be hard. Shooting in RAW will help editing since it gives you more data to work with and greater flexibility with bringing back highlights and opening up shadows.

Practice makes perfect with this technique and I promise it gets easier to judge the line between underexposure/overexposure as you deliberately work with this technique more. Practice also helps with knowing how well your camera will handle the noise that will be introduced when you open up the shadows on your subjects.

I have included my process for editing my beach shots that are backlit in the video below.

While I use Lightroom and Photoshop to achieve my vision, my process can be easily adapted to the combination of Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.