10 Tips for Great Beach Photography

10 Tips for Great Beach Photography


Beaches are places that present photographers with many opportunities for snapping unique pictures. Beaches offer different textures, lights and colors, but they can be a real challenge for a photographer trying to show off the scene from a unique perspective to find inspiring shots. 

Here are 10 beach photography tips to get the most out of your upcoming beach photoshoots!

1. Read the Tide Tables

Here is a thing that only a few photographers will pay attention to when going to the beach: the tides. Low and high tides can totally change how the beach looks depending on the shifts in the water levels. 

Most coastal towns will have a tide table or chart available close to the beach, but you also can use Google to find this information for your area. You can also talk to locals, other photographers or fishermen to get up-to-date advice.

For instance, if you want to shoot on a beach featuring specific types of sand or unique rocks, low tide will be ideal for you, but if you want to photograph rough waves, you might look for the times of mid or high tide.

2. Arrive Early or Arrive Late

One of the most important tricks for beach photography is to head to the beach while others are still asleep. Unless your goal is to shoot on a busy beach, going early or late helps you to avoid tourists even in beaches closer to urban areas.

The best lighting comes when the sun is just above or below the horizon, so to capture those unimaginable colors, get up for the sunrise and stay late for sunsets . Stick to shooting at Golden Hour for best results.

Another reason to shoot either early or late is that strong light, like the light at high noon, can overexpose your pictures and bring too much brightness in key areas. And if you’re shooting portraits on the beach, the harsh overhead light at midday can cast some unattractive and unnecessary shadows on your subjects' faces that are difficult to correct in post-processing.

3. Use Manual, not Auto

Learning the manual settings on your camera can seem daunting, but when it comes to beach photography, taking the time to educate yourself on the manual settings like Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO makes a huge difference in the final look of your photos.

These settings work together and can help you enhance the look or vibe you are going for with that golden hour sunlight. Here are some starter settings to try: 

  1. For Sunsets: 
  1. Shutter Speed: 1/400
  2. Aperture: f/5
  3. ISO: 400-800
  1. Shooting at Midday: 
  1. Shutter Speed: 1/800 – 1/1600
  2. Aperture: f/11 – f/18
  3. ISO: 100-200

Shooting with a high aperture (represented by a lower number f-stop number, i.e. f/3) and using the waves, sand and beach landscape in the background of your subjects can create that natural blurry background effect you see in photos taken by pros.

4. Use Filters for Your Lenses

Filters are great tools to diversify and switch up your beach photography. With filters, you can enhance or avoid certain light & color aspects in your photos. There are two filters that will make a big difference in your beach pictures: a neutral density filter and a polarized filter.

A neutral density filter is basically a piece of glass that reduces the amount of light hitting your sensor. They will help you to avoid over-exposure of the image (when shooting directly at the sun for instance.) It also allows you to shoot long exposure shots where you have a very slow shutter speed, yet need to limit the amount of light coming into the lens.

The polarized filters reduce reflections and boost contrast by filtering polarized light. You will notice the effects mainly in blue skies and in the sea (the effect the lenses produce are similar to how wearing polarizing sunglasses reduces glare). These filters are a worthwhile investment, even more so if you are doing midday shoots.

5. Protect Your Equipment

Sun, sand, water and salt combined are harsh environment for your photo equipment.  So keeping your equipment safe from these elements is a critical part of beach photography.

Have a cover for your DSLR to deal with the wind, sand and water that can damage your camera’s insides. You can buy one specially for the model and size you have or you can DIY at home with a rugged plastic bag and some rubber bands.

Another must-have are cleaning cloths for your lens (microfiber) and camera body (wipes). Always remember to keep these two things handy and make sure you check the lens for water drops or sand before taking every couple of shots.

6. Use the Elements to your Advantage

Using the natural elements available in beach environments can create some unique picture opportunities. When you arrive on a beach, pay attention to all the small details that you can find, like the surrounding rocks, the flowers, textures, trees, waves cracking in different areas, or the mist from the water.

You can also combine your camera settings with the natural elements for spectacular effects. For example, use a slow shutter speed as a creative tool (slowing it captures water movement, to produce a smooth and silky effect in your photo.) This works especially well during daylight hours with the help of a tripod and a neutral density filter.

Here are a few examples on how to use shutter speed on beach photography:

  1. To freeze the movement of the water (which results in sharp looking waves): use a shutter speed value of 1/500s or higher;
  2. For a blurred look with visible shapes of the waves: use a shutter speed value around 1/6s.
  3. For a totally blurred motion smoothing all the detail in the waves: use a shutter speed of 2 seconds or longer.

7. Take Pictures of People

Beach photography is always better when a beautiful sea landscape is paired with a joyous face or some action from a subject. You can explore silhouettes, movement and different colors to create a lovely contrast with the landscape on a beach.

When shooting portraits in low-light, use a flash to illuminate your subject in the foreground (closer to the camera). For wide spaces like beaches, we recommend using an external flash, which is more powerful and able to be rotated for maximum usability, giving you more possibilities while shooting.

Although photos without people can still be powerful and beautiful, whether it’s a broad landscape or the textured details of the sand and seashells buried inside, the important part of a photo is using your creativity to tell a story.

8. Create Silhouettes

With the amount of open spaces and sun, beaches are a great place to take backlit photos, creating unique perspectives and adding thematic elements into your shot.

It is easier to start when the sun is closer to the horizon, when you can place the subject directly between the sunlight and your camera. The secret is to try different levels of exposure to create distinct levels of details in your pictures. 

The usual subject of a silhouette is a person, but the technique works really well with other elements too like rocks, hills, trees, flowers, beach houses, and umbrellas.

9. Explore High Points

Most beach pictures are shot from the water level, which can be very repetitive and cliché, which unfortunately makes a lot of pictures uninteresting. 

One way that can change the perspective is trying to shoot from a higher point, like a cliff or a hill. This can give you a different view and a wider vision of the beach you are shooting, resulting in unique and inspiring pictures.

10. Use reflections for creative pictures

Using your surroundings to boost your art always adds interest. On beaches the reflection in the wet sand can be your greatest ally. 

When the water has just trickled over the sand, that little shine you see is a great mirror, even more so during the Golden Hour. You can also explore the water puddles formed between rocks as your reflection source and create unique images. 

When you are photographing people, exploring different poses and movement using reflection will give you distinct perspectives and ideas. 

That’s a wrap! I hope these tips will come in handy during your next outing to the beach, or for your upcoming tropical vacation.

If you’d like more landscape photography tips, join me for my FREE landscape training, “3 Big Landscap Photography Mistakes to Avoid.”

12 thoughts on “10 Tips for Great Beach Photography”

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Yay! Darlene, I do hope these tips help you! Did you capture any shots you’d like to share?

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