beach photography

Beach Photography

Beach photography can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for photographers: vast expanse of sand, rhythmic waves, and beautiful natural light. But, at the same time, beach photography could be particularly hard.

Although beaches can look amazing to the human eye, when you try to photograph them any slight defect in the distance – seaweed, rubbish, footprints or an unwanted fat tourist in a thong – will mar your final picture.  A bit like a beautiful model, a beach is supposed to look perfect for our photo.

Here are some tips to help you capture stunning beach photos.

photographing beaches


beach photography

Timing is key to beach photography. Sometimes, the warm light from sunrise and sunset can make the sand look too yellow. When the sun is a little higher in the sky, colours look more natural and the angle casts less of a shadow making any footprints or messed-up sand on the beach less prominent.

Early mornings are the best time to shoot, when the light is warm and soft, creating long shadows and a pleasing atmosphere. Also, there will be few people around and, if the tide has been in overnight, it should have wiped away any footprints from the sand.

If the beach is vast, including people in your shots can provide a sense of scale and add a human element to your photos.

Avoid harsh sunlight in your beach photography. Harsh midday sunlight can create strong contrasts and shadows. If you're shooting during the day, try to find shaded areas or use a diffuser to soften the light.

To get the classic beach shot, try to shoot with, not against the light. This might dictate whether you photograph from the sea up the beach, or down the beach towards the sea.

For the latter shot, use a polarizing filter to cut through the reflections on the water and bring out the colours. A polarizing filter will often improve the colour and contrast in photographs taken around water by reducing the glare of the light reflecting off the water.

This can enhance the turquoise of tropical water, especially if you warm up the white balance, too. Be careful of over-polarizing, though, as it might cause an already blue sky to render too dark.



beach photography

Don’t just photograph in ideal weather. Beaches and coastlines can look very dramatic in stormy weather, and the waves will be larger and more intense. In fact, extreme tides can be more of a problem than extreme weather. If you are planning to photograph in a tidal area, check the tide times and schedule your photography around them.

Pebble beaches can be easier to photograph than sandy beaches, as the pebbles show up fewer imperfections and can add a real point of interest to the foreground.

Shoot from low down with a wide-angle lens to accentuate the pebbles in the foreground and use as small an aperture as possible for the maximum depth of field.

In beach photography, rugged coastline and towering cliffs might seem like photogenic subjects but they can be remarkably difficult to photograph well. Probably the best way to shoot cliffs and coastline is to find a vantage point where the coast meanders and you can shoot along the cliff face, showing the sea, the clifftop and the coastline stretching off into the distance.

beach photography

photographing beaches

Without a point of interest in the picture, a beach can look like an expanse of nothingness. Consider focusing on a boat out to sea or on an object on the beach. Place an object in the foreground with the beach in the background or use overhanging palm trees to break up large expanses of sky and to frame your shot.

Try to get some shadows in the picture to add contrast. If you are shooting at sunrise or sunset, include a recognizable silhouette to give the picture more of a sense of place.

Boats can be useful for getting a good angle when photographing from the water up a beach. They are good platforms for beach photography, though they could also present some challenges.

Your viewpoint is likely to be limited by the size of the boat on which you are travelling: if you are on a small inflatable or canoe, you will be shooting from lower down. However, you can vary the perspective by shooting with a telephoto or wide-angle lens.

A telephoto allows you to isolate details but is more susceptible to camera shake; a wide or ultra-wide lens will allow you to include the boat in your picture, giving it a sense of place. 

Take shots of any other people on board. The prow of a ship stretching into endless water can make an interesting picture but put a person in the frame and it will show the true scale of the scene.

When shooting from a moving boat, use autofocus to make sure that the image is sharp. A central focus point may lure you into shooting with very poor composition, so instead select a different sensor at the top, bottom or sides of the image. Using a polarizing filter can cut down reflections on water and give more vibrant colours.

beach photography

beach photography

In many parts of the world, people live on or near the beach. If you get up early in the morning, you may see them landing, sorting and selling fish. Look out for traditional boats pulled up on the beach or moored offshore. Try to document all of the traders offering drinks, local fruit or, even, massages along a popular stretch of beach. In tourist areas you can also photograph children’s toys, beach bars and water sports. A more artistic shot might show footprints leading into the distance or patterns in the sand.

If there are waves, then time your photograph to the moment when they are just starting to break. Alternatively, catch them as they come crashing in, with spray shooting into the air. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze this, or a very slow one to create blur. In the latter case, use a tripod. Slow shutter speeds will blur the waves and soften the seascape.

Capture reflections in wet sand or shallow tidal pools. Reflections can add depth and interest to your beach photos.

Experiment with Composition. Play with the rule of thirds by positioning key elements like the horizon, the shoreline, or a subject along the intersecting lines for a more balanced composition. Use leading Lines by utilizing natural lines like the shoreline, waves, or patterns in the sand to guide the viewer's eyes through the photo.

Keep the horizon straight. Crooked horizons can be distracting and make the photo feel unbalanced. Many cameras have a grid overlay feature that can help you align your shots.

Always mind your gear as beaches can be windy and sandy! Be cautious with your equipment to prevent sand from damaging your camera and lenses. Be careful not to change a lens with sand on your hands and not to put your camera down anywhere that has sand on it. If you get salt water spray on your camera, wipe it off with a damp cloth to prevent any rust forming.

shooting beaches

beach photography

Stefano Politi Markovina