Tips for Beach Photography

Summer is here and for many of us that means going to a beach – whether it’s just a drive away or a cross-country flight. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on photography!  There are great opportunities whether you want to do landscape photography, wildlife photography, or portrait photography. Let’s start by talking about equipment. The equipment you bring to the beach depends on your purpose for being at the beach that day or that session. If you’re going specifically to take photos, then you’re probably OK bringing your dSLR and, optionally, flash. If you’re going to the beach to enjoy it and also want to take photos, you’re best off getting an underwater housing for your camera or getting a weatherproofed camera. Sand and sea salt (which is in the air at the beach) are both VERY bad for cameras and could wreck your expensive camera. If you will be having fun you don’t want to take the chance that someone who’s with you or a stranger kicks sand onto your camera accidentally. Also, sometimes waves can come up farther than you realized at first. An underwater housing or weatherproof camera is protected from the elements. It also has the bonus of allowing you to carry it with you into the water (should you happen to be at a beach where you can get into the water) and lessens the chances of your camera being stolen.

Now let’s take a look at the different types of shots you might be there to take. Landscape shots of the beach tend to profit from sunrise and sunset photos. The colors in the clouds and the reflections on the water can be nearly magical.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to take a camera where you can adjust the settings (Canon uses P, Av, Tv, and M). This doesn’t have to be a dSLR, but it probably has to be more than a point and shoot. The reason for this is that if you’re shooting a sunrise or sunset, you need to be able to over-ride the camera wanting to make everything too bright or too dark depending on where your camera is metering. You might think that you don’t need to worry about this because you’re going to do all your beach photography during the non-sunrise/sunset hours. And there are nice photos to be had during those times as well:

But you still have to watch your exposure here. Lots of sky, reflective water, or sand could wreak havok with your camera’s metering. It really helps to be able to adjust things even if it’s as simple as shooting in P and then adjusting the exposure by a stop.

The beach teems with wildlife and I did “cheat” a bit and include a fish photo above. If you’re just staying on the sand then you might be relegated to sea birds, but don’t be afraid to photograph dogs or other animals that people might have brought to the beach. You can probably get away with a basic point and shoot camera here, but if you have a little more control like the Canon A 345 or S100 you can make sure to amp up the shutter speed to make sure you capture the animals in movement.

Now, let’s take a look at the human angle. Here there may be lots of opportunity for creativity. You can take posed shots, candids, and the sub-category of candids: street photography. Each one has its challenges and that makes it a lot of fun. Also, don’t be afraid to approach people. The brown dog featured above was acquired by asking the owner if I could take a photo. The chess photo below (where I’m really close to the players), the cigar vendor, and the shaved ice photo both involved me asking the people if I could photograph them. Of course, there are also great opportunities when candids are taken – just make sure to either be discreet or be ready to diffuse tension if you get caught. The beach is a great place to photograph friends and family having fun in a different way than they usually do. But also be prepared for some friends to ask if you could not post unflattering photos – as some can get self-conscious of how they look in beach clothes.

Finally, don’t forget to take a look at anything that’s special about your beach area. For example, take a look at these shots from Coney Island. Many other beach towns in the US and other countries have similar attractions.

Hopefully my examples will serve as inspiration for your beach photos. If you want to see more of my beach photos or to get the full resolution version of these photos, go here.