How to time your beach session

Summer season is in full swing and for me, it means a plethora of beach sessions.  Most inquiries always include the conversation about children, napping, dinner and the perfect time for a session.  While, in an ideal case, I can tell a client that I ONLY will shoot an hour to an hour and a half before sunset, that may not always be conducive to everyone’s schedules.  Flexibility is key in both times and the sessions itself.

I limit my times (and yes, I do cave and do sessions midday in full sun but I do avoid them at all costs) to a two hour window after sunrise and a two to three hour window before sunset.  I have scoped out my locations depending on where the client is staying (most of my clients are vacationing at the shore) and I know which locations work best in which light.

Regardless of times, I always go into a session with the mindset that the images I produce need to be in line with my portfolio.  I would never want a client to feel they had a sub-par session due to the time they choose.  And I want all my photos to be consistent …. that you can look at any and not know when they were taken.

Morning photo sessions at the beach

Morning sessions are rough.  The sun rises in the east and is therefore rising over the ocean. Shade is limited for those families that want family photos by the dune or with the water behind them.

My order is water’s edge photographs first and dune photographs second.  I find locations where the sun will be partially off their shoulder if I position them just right.  It’s not that it’s total backlighting but definitely a mix of side/backlighting.  I ask them to close their eyes and on my count, open them and smile.  I repeat this a few times to ensure I have variety in case I need to head swap.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

I do the same for the walking photographs.  I position them so the sun is off their shoulder.  The shadow (as in the case of the girl walking) is at about a 45 degree angle.  It is not directly behind or in front.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

Most beaches in New Jersey have covered lifeguard stands and kids love to explore.  I can position them so that the sun is behind them and I don’t necessarily worry about blowing out the sky.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

Evening photo sessions at the beach

Evening sessions are more ideal for us East Coasters.  The sun sets in the West and therefore over the land (vs ocean).  In most cases, beach houses or building provide more shade and allow for ease of positioning.  I still make sure it is off their shoulder to avoid issues with shadows.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

I will always do the dune photos first with the sun setting and move to the water’s edge once the sun is low enough that it does not affect a person’s squinting or closing of the eyes.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

At the end of the session, I usually explore a little and move to locations that would have not been ideal in full sun.

how to take pictures on the beach by Courtney Keim

For me, the sun poses challenges in either case.  I recommend learning the areas in which you photograph.  Limit where you go and know it well.  Be able to move the families with ease and confidence.  Pay careful mind to the shadows the sun can cast.  Regardless of the time, I take on the sun’s challenge the same way.

About the Author:

Courtney captures her every day with a Canon 5d mark II and varying lenses in a classic yet modern style. Residing in Atlantic City with her surfer husband, princess-clad daughter, and firetruck chasing twin boys, Courtney is a “self-proclaimed science geek” spending her days as a Chemistry and Physics teacher and her off time as a photographer.


  1. Jodi Jul 15 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

    seeing these makes me want to run to the beach! thanks for the great tips, courtney!

  2. Oriana Jul 28 2013 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    Nice tips! I shoot on the west coast and may include something about timing of my sessions in my next client FAQ.

  3. Jessica Reischel Jul 31 2013 at 12:10 am - Reply

    These are all stunning! To live by a beach…….ahhhhhh!!

  4. Lisa Phillips Sep 08 2013 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Wonderful points to remember. I live on the West Coast and often have to deal with the issue of ideal times vs realistic times for clientele. Thank You for this information.

  5. I love the beach photo shoots! Living in Brisbane on the east coast of Australia we are spoilt with our beautiful beaches.Will be putting these tips to use.

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