If you love shooting at the beach, you know all too well about dealing with elements such as wind and sand along with high contrast scenes. These parameters can wreak havoc on your images and equipment. To avoid or compensate for these conditions follow these simple rules for success.
Composing the Shot
Determining your subject in such an expansive location can be intimidating.
The Rule of Thirds
To break up the large landscape, the rule of thirds can help to find your focal point and compose an interesting shot. According to Bryan Peterson in Learning to See Creatively:
“The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”
Vary the Subject Matter
Instead of the typical water or sunset shots, pay attention to the little details that others might pass up. Patterns or reflections in the water and sand, texture in a piece of driftwood or an unusual arrangement of shells are just a few examples.
See more: 7 Awesome Tips for Surf Photography
Determine the Exposure
To ensure you capture the bright blue sky that you’re seeing and to still keep the details in the dark blue water, you’ll need to master bracketing and do a little post-production trickery. The old adage in film photography still holds true — expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.
Using your camera’s Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) will give you three levels of exposure allowing you to render the proper brightness to each part of your scene. In post-production you’ll be able to weave together the scenes using the layers option in Adobe Photoshop. You can also use a camera with built in High Dynamic Range capabilities. This will automatically stitch together the best of your bracketed scenes. Be wary, the images can end up looking surreal and photographers that use it having been getting a lot of backlash as of late.
Avoid Harsh Shadows
Daytime beach scenes tend to be high contrast. You’ll want to avoid deep shadows in your scene. This usually happens with the faces of your subject. Try holding a white towel to bounce the light back to the subject (an easy substitute for a reflector). Shooting in open shade with your subject under an umbrella will also give you a nice shot.
Learning to use your camera’s fill flash versus relying on the auto flash will also help to deal with unwanted shadows. The auto flash may read the scene as having enough light and you’ll end up with an underexposed photo. By overriding the camera and forcing it to shoot with flash, you will ensure that all areas are exposed properly. Fill flash helps with backlit subjects in subtle ways also by helping to eliminate shadows cast by facial features (under eyes, noses, chins) or under hats – especially when light is shining down from above.
These will protect your lens from the conditions you encounter at the beach such as sand and water. They will also to some extent block out UV rays.
This improves the colors of the sky as well as the water and will help you cut down on flare. It will also reduce reflections and boosts contrasts, which will make the water and sky pop.
Whether you just want to take some great family vacation photos, start offering professional location portraits by the ocean or just want to capture some creative landscapes, these tips should improve your beach photography dramatically. As always, the best way to get the most from these techniques is to practice them prior to your shoot so they become seamless with your workflow.