11 Tips for Great Beach Photography

Everyone loves the beach, whether it be a hot summer day or a brisk walk collecting seashells. There’s so much to enjoy at the beach and even more opportunities to capture breathtaking photographs. Seagulls gliding through the sky, waves crashing, and colorful umbrellas are just a few special sights that make beach photography so exciting.

Capturing the excitement of a beach isn't as easy as you might think. Follow our 11 tips to make sure your beach photography session delivers beautiful shots!

1. Always Shoot In RAW

Beach photographs are sometimes tricky to get right. Between the brightness of the sand, sun, and water, your camera is at its wit's end trying to adjust exposure. The flexibility afforded by the RAW format allows you to fix common exposure problems in post-processing.

The more comfortable you are with shooting in RAW, the better photographs you'll produce.

2. Focus on a Focal Point

Beaches are some of the most beautiful places on the planet, but you may find that pictures of them tend to be unimpressive. As a general rule, beach photos turn out the best when you have a clearly defined focal point. That focal point can be anything -- a person, chair, pair of shoes, shell -- and it should tell a story.

The reason is simple: empty beaches, skies, and seas don't make for particularly compelling photographs. Viewers need context (something that draws their attention) and that's what a clearly defined focal point provides.

3. Use the Golden Hour: Shoot At Sunrise Or Sunset

Noon might be when most people head to the beach, but there are far better times to take photos. Timing and lighting are critical for landing great beach photos: stick to sunrise and sunset whenever possible.

The famous "golden hour" (the hour after sunrise or before sunset) covers the beach in warm, diffused light. With the sun low in the sky, there's less risk of strong highlights and overexposure.

Even better, there are typically fewer people at the beach at these times!

4. Bring An Air Blower and Lens Cloths

Beaches mean sand. Sand and expensive camera gear do not go well together -- especially when it comes to precious lenses and sensors. A quality air blower is a great addition to your camera bag and will help you keep pesky sand and dust off your gear.

Consider bringing along some lens cloths and wipes as well. An air blower works wonders, but a dedicated lens cloth will save you the headache of editing out water droplets or sand in post-processing.

5. Use a Tripod

Tripods have their place in every camera gear kit and for good reason: tripods are the only way you can utilize different shutter speeds and retain excellent photo quality. Yes, tripods add weight and bulk to your camera gear set, but don't underestimate the utility of a quality tripod.

6. Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters are excellent tools for a beachgoing photographer. Put simply, a polarizing filter enhances blues, darkens shadows, and suppresses glare from reflective surfaces. A polarizing filter can help intensify colors and prevent overexposed, blown out photographs.

It's a worthwhile investment -- especially if you're doing middle-of-the-day shoots -- that can transform your beach photography.

7. Play With Shutter Speed

Manipulating shutter speed is a fantastic way to create jaw-dropping effects on your beach photographs. The longer the shutter is open, the more you can "slow down" the appearance of water and clouds.

This technique is perfect for great beach photography. If you have a prominent focal point (say, a rock, chair, or building), a slow shutter speed can create a sense of movement around the object.

As a general rule of thumb, a shutter speed of ⅛ to ½ second will lead to a slight blur. If you're looking for completely blurred water, you'll need to open the shutter for 15-30 seconds. Perfectly smooth water requires over 30 seconds of exposure.

Of course, a tripod is absolutely necessary for these slow shutter speeds!

8. Use a Wide Angle Lens

A wide angle lens is a staple of the landscape photography world. The wide focal range emphasizes objects in the foreground and creates a sense of depth that other lenses cannot match.

In practical terms, a wide angle lens makes the foreground seem bigger. This perspective draws the viewer into the image and helps you create depth. Follow the wide angle lens rule of "low and close" -- capture the focal point in the foreground as close and as low as possible.

sunset on th beach

9. Sun Stars

Sun stars happen when you set your lens aperture to around f/11 or smaller and take photos where the sun is partially in view. The actual effect occurs because the light of the sun is "split" across the blades of your particular lens' aperture -- that's why not all sun stars look the same.

10. Compensate For Exposure

If you're shooting in RAW, manual mode (which you should be!), take the time to use your camera's Exposure Compensation feature. Every modern camera has this -- check for a dial on the right side of the camera -- and the benefits are hard to top.

Modern cameras are brilliant devices, but beaches are tricky subjects. There's a lot of complicated lighting going on, especially if you're photographing during the golden hour. A camera might automatically underexpose your beach photo if the sun, sky, and sand appear to be too bright. This would render your focal point far too dark -- no good!

Instead of letting the camera decide, try utilizing your Exposure Value (EV) dial. Think of the EV dial as an override for your camera's meter. Upping the EV (say, to +1) will brighten the image. Lowering it (-1, -2, and so on) will darken the photograph.

11. Smartphone Camera Settings: Careful With ISO Values

If you're like most of us, you use your smartphone's camera all the time. Modern phone cameras are absolutely capable of taking amazing beach photos, so don't worry!

Aperture size is usually fixed, so you're down to ISO and Exposure Time as two flexible variables to control exposure.

As a general rule, avoid relying on high ISO values to brighten up your shot. The higher the ISO, the more 'noise' in the photograph. Of course, each phone will be different -- feel free to take multiple test shots -- but a little experimentation will pay off handsomely. Playing around with some photo editing apps is worth a shot as well!

Bonus tip: Don't rely on autofocus. All modern smartphone cameras let you set the autofocus area by touching the screen. The more your subject is in focus, the better!

Taking Great Beach Photographs

In the end, beach photography is a complicated exercise that involves balancing focal points, exposure levels, and angles. Taking great beach photographs might seem a bit daunting, but these ten tips should help you bring your photography game to the next level.

Once you're done with your beach photography session, Mimeo Photos is ready to help you print these incredible memories into photobooks, cards, or calendars. In-app design tools, complete customization, and integrated support make Mimeo Photos perfect for your needs.

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