Whether a tranquil haven of serenity or a jam-packed platform for sun worshippers, the beach is a perfect location for all genres of photography; macro, documentary, seascape, portrait and even wildlife. Here are some pointers to get your creative juices flowing when it comes to beach photography.
Macro and Creative Abstracts
Beaches are rife with opportunity for macro shots and creative abstracts. Some typical examples are: footprints in the sand, chipped paint on beach huts or boats, shells on the shore or intersecting blades of dune grass. With the intention of creating a shallow depth of field use a telephoto lens and employ a wide aperture. Zoom in close to your subject and focus accordingly. For best results get down in the sand and stabilise the camera on a jumper or bag to ensure details remain crisp.
What better place to photograph your children in the throws of freedom and fun than at the beach? Set a fast shutter (1/400th) to catch the action if the little tot refuses to sit still or give them a challenge to focus their attention such as building a sandcastle or exploring a rock pool. Frame and focus on your youngster, but zoom out to show enough background for the image to offer a context.
For beautiful evenly lit portraits diffuse the harsh sunlight that falls on the subject’s face using a white sheet if you have one to hand or a beach towel or t-shirt to provide shade if you don’t. For the best results employ a 35mm or 50mm prime lens with a wide aperture to delicately blur the bright background but keep the portrait in focus.
When the sun is at its highest it can be tricky to expose correctly for portraits so try bracketing the scene to expose for the highlights, shadows and midtones separately. Later employ a HDR program such Photomatix to give portraits an interesting texture and dramatic feel. Alternatively wait until the sun sets for an enigmatic silhouette. To incorporate an interesting reflection place your subject at the shoreline, in between yourself and the sunset. Pre-focus your subject manually here, expose for the brightest part of the scene and de-active the on body flash.
The ebb and flow of the sea is such an enchanting motion and to capture the gentle ghostly movement photographers should employ the same techniques as those used for classic waterfall cascades. Set your camera on a tripod and dial in a slow shutter speed, how slow will depend on the brightness of the day, but you could use a polarizer or ND Grad filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. Check the histogram on your LCD to monitor the results.
If you want to photograph the scene at sunset or sunrise remember to set up an hour before dawn/dusk. Expose for the sky and support your camera with a tripod. To add foreground interest consider including an angular groyne, collection of stones, pier or lighthouse.
Piers are a classic focal point for seaside shots. A wonderful way of conveying the sheer size of the platform is to use a wide-angle lens and small aperture to keep everything sharp. Also try varying your vantage point to exaggerate that sense of scale. Alternatively climb the pier to get some height from the sand and capture a cross section of the populated beach. If this isn’t possible secure the camera to a fully extended tripod/monopod and lift it above head height. Use a remote shutter release or self timer to take the shot.
Legal restrictions of photography in public places differs from country to country, so brush up on the rules of the country you are in before you start to point and shoot strangers at the beach. In some countries there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place whereas others restrict photography, to protect children for example. Avoid potential hassle by first asking permission of the person or the parents’ of a child you wish to photograph.
The beach is home to many interesting creatures primed for photography; starfish in rock pools, coastal birds such as gulls and lapwing, or strap on a snorkel and explore the magical array of fish under the sea. To photograph birds wait until the end of the day when gulls descend on to desolate beaches to scavenge discarded food. Add movement to a picture of a bird in flight by focusing on the subject and slowly follow it with a gentle pan and slow shutter speed. To freeze birds in flight ensure you use a faster shutter speed. To do this in the evening light you’ll need to ramp up that ISO if shooting handheld.
Head to the bright lights of the funfair and embrace the chance to get creative with shutter speed. Neatly frame one of the more colourful or interesting fairground machines and consider lowering your vantage point to add impact or use a creative lens like a fisheye for impact. Mount your camera on something sturdy and dial in a small aperture (for example f14) to keep the background in focus, with a slow shutter speed of around 1/15th sec to create neon light trails
Surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, banana boats, jet skis, kayaks or pedalos are all fantastic water sports for capturing people having fun at the beach. A fast shutter speed is essential to freeze movement but wait until the sun is at a low angle in the sky for gentler light. Alternatively you can use a polarising filter to soften harsh midday light, reduce glare and increase colour saturation.