Updated: Mar 1, 2020
"Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I'm going to take tomorrow."
The vacation is booked. The beach day is planned. Now, it's time to prepare for capturing memories. Beach photos are both exciting to create and orchestrate, and they're so fun and cheery to have! Creating portraits to share online or, even better, creating an album or wall art, is just as exciting as playing in the gentle gulf waves.
While I do love flash, and it definitely has it's place in beach photography, my favorite work is with natural light. Here are a few basic and simple tips to help get you started with using your DSLR at the beach.
Time of Day
Photography is the art of capturing light. And there is so much light at the beach! The sand and the water make for awesome reflectors, even on overcast days. When planning portrait sessions I tell my clients to be prepared to begin shooting about an hour before sunset. (The time the sun sets changes throughout the year. Just google the date and sunset and the answer will pop up for you!) Starting an hour before sunset gives us just enough time to enjoy candid and posed bright backlit shots, and then moves us into the beautiful pastels that follow as the sun is setting and for about 5 minutes after it has dipped below the horizon.
This mother-daughter portrait was taken about an hour before sunset at Grayton Beach State Park off of 30A in Florida. No reflector or fill flash was needed for proper exposure on their faces. I brought down the highlights in Lightroom to keep the image from being blown out.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky here at the end of this Seaside, Florida engagement session, so the image is very warm from the setting sun. The sun was almost completely below the horizon, so I was able to have the subjects face the sun without them squinting their eyes. Having the sun behind me allowed me to use the pastel sky as their backdrop.
This portrait was shot at high noon! We were expecting a nasty storm in the evening, and I was expecting more clouds that afternoon. When we arrived I had never seen a more clear sky. We decided to go ahead with the shoot and I'm so glad we did. The hat allowed her face to be shielded from the harsh light, and the sand provided just enough reflection to keep harsh shadows away. Okaloosa Island, Florida, has amazing dunes and they can also help provide relief from harsh light.
Oh I wish I had known about this one a lot sooner! DSLRs are powerful tools with so many different options! If you're new to photography and understanding the importance of metering and the different modes then check out this post!
If you haven't yet explored all the different functions of your DSLR and you're unsure of how to change the metering modes then check out tutorials on youtube. I did a quick search for spot metering and Canon rebel and found several good resources! This is definitely a mode worth researching and mastering.
Watch That Horizon
Nothing says, "I've had a few daiquiris" like a crooked horizon! True, you can always fix the horizon later using your editing software. However, it's far more time efficient to get the image correct in camera. Also, straightening a horizon in post can cause you to crop the image in awkward places. (Think cut off heads or feet)
Expose for Silhouettes
Earlier I mentioned spot metering for avoiding harsh shadows. As the sun nears the horizon you'll find that exposing for the sky will leave your subjects dark, giving you a warm, dreamy sky with so many creative options for your subjects.
This image was not planned! I had mom and sister in front of me while the boys played off to the side. My eyes caught the seagull and I quickly changed my shutter speed to let less light into the lens for this shot. Enough practice in manual mode and understanding exposure modes before heading to the beach will give you the ability to own the light and really get creative!
Play With Reflections
Reflections can make the most amazing wall art! Just play around and see what works best for you. Reflection images are best caught when the sun isn't so harsh. I recommend starting with a large aperture so that most of the image is in focus. Toggle your focal point to the reflection so that the reflection stays in focus, and use a fast shutter speed.
Photography is an extremely rewarding and enjoyable art to master. If you have any questions about these tips, or shooting at the beach in general, please feel free to contact me! I'd love to chat or help!