How to take photos in harsh lighting at the beach

  • One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach.

Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that’s not always an option.

Shoot in manual mode.

Shooting at the beach can be a little daunting if you aren’t too familiar with your camera settings in manual but I am here to help! In manual mode you have many ways to manipulate how much light you’re getting in your images which is the key to getting perfect photos in harsh sunlight.

Your biggest friend is going to be your shutter speed. On average, during sunny day time shooting my shutter speed is around 1/2000. Since a slow shutter speed lets a lot of light into the frame, using a fast shutter speed helps reduce the light getting into my camera, keeping those highlights down to a manageable amount.

Below is a photo from our very own beach trip of my daughter and her friends to show how this turned out. For this image my settings were f/3.5, shutter speed was 1/2000, and my ISO was at 60.

As you can see, with the light so bright at the beach and there rarely being any spaces with shade, it’s very important to make sure you are exposing your images in a way that you will not be blowing out all of the highlights in the image.

Depending on the day, your settings will change and it’s important to just play with them until you get a look that you’re happy with. I always place my ISO as low as it’ll go. And for me personally, I enjoy shooting as wide open as I can so having a faster shutter speed balances out those other settings.

Related: My rules for dealing with harsh sunlight when taking photos

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

Highlight your subject with the sun.

Using the sun can be a huge help when battling harsh lighting. I once thought it was great to just back light every single image that I was shooting. Boy, was I wrong! I eventually realized that when done correctly, a beautiful dose of the sun flowing across someone’s face is absolutely stunning.

Take this image below for example. Instead of putting this Mama in front of the sun I decided to face her towards it and have her pivot a bit. I still used the same settings as we talked about but this time I decided to have the sun flow over her.

One thing that is very important is making sure you watch for harsh shadows. If you’re going to use the sun on your subject, make sure it flows across everything you are capturing to eliminate shadows that aren’t flattering.

Same concept with this image of my little girl below. It was still very bright, so I focused on having her turn towards the sun so the light streamed over her face and didn’t create too much of a harsh shadow on the opposite side.

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.
One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

Back light your subject.

Have your subject turn their back to the sun. In this instance it will create a beautiful rim light around their hair and also allow you to not have any harsh lighting on their faces.

Don’t forget to raise your exposure just a tad in order to expose for their skin.

Related: How I get a great sky AND great skin using only natural light

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

Find the shadows.

When at the beach and shooting in full sunlight you can also look for the shadows on the ground and around your subject.

This can tell you where your sun is coming from without having to actually look up and find the sun. This is especially useful when shooting little ones who are running around. During the middle of the day the sun is pretty high in the sky so it’s just easier to watch the shadows on the ground and let them be your guide.

Don’t be afraid to give little cues like “turn a little to the left for me” or “hug your sister but look at the bird over there”. Little cues don’t kill the mood of the image and will help you in the long run.

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

Use natural reflectors to bounce the light.

Using natural reflectors is a huge help when you need a little light to bounce off of something to give you that fill light.

Luckily, the beach itself is a natural reflector! All the white sand works as a huge reflector for you.

I always get my subjects to sit down with their backs facing the sun and just enjoy the moment together. This gives me the opportunity to have the reflection of the sand on their faces and creates beautiful fill light and gives some variety in the gallery.

If you’re okay with carrying around a reflector, they can be useful during harsh lighting situations as well. Reflectors are pretty inexpensive and do a wonderful job of reflecting the light back on your subjects.

I don’t mind carrying one but taking photos of little ones may be difficult while carrying the reflector around and getting it positioned so using the sand is always my go-to option.

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

Have your subject move around and be interactive.

The best way to battle the sun for me is for my subjects have fun! Have them hug, laugh, giggle, play, and just enjoy each other.

Some of my favorite images of my daughter are the ones that are totally not posed and by herself. Her grabbing sand and throwing it in the air, making sand angels (we don’t have snow here in Florida, ha-ha), and just being a child. I love seeing the images I’ve taken of details during a session.

Remember not everything has to be perfect. These are memories and you will love each and every one of them!

One place that I always struggled taking photos of my daughter and clients was the beach. Sure, it’s easier to get great photos if you’re shooting at sunset but with little ones and bed times we know that's not always an option.

I hope these 6 tips for shooting in harsh lighting at the beach have helped you!

The biggest thing is to practice, practice, practice. Eventually you just become one with the sun and learn how to work around it to be able to capture those beautiful moments whenever you’d like!

About the Author:

Rachel Slone is a Tampa maternity, newborn, and family Photographer. She specializes in beach photography and absolutely loves being on the beach with her little ones and clients!

One Comment

  1. Chrstopher Hall Aug 20 2018 at 1:29 am - Reply

    Love this article. I had to do some photos on the beach the other week. Not that easy.

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