With its mix of elemental nature and unspoilt beauty it’s no surprise that the coast is a favourite destination for photographers. There are few places that offer the variety and inspiration of the coast, but how do you make the most of all the amazing photo subjects you’ll find by the sea? Read on as we offer you our best tips on coastal photography.
Essential tips for great coast photos
01 Location: The first thing to think about is the best time of day to visit your chosen location. If you’re after sunrises you need to be on an east-facing beach; if you’re after sunsets you need to be on a west- facing beach. Even during the day the angle of the sun will play a huge part in the look of your images. Try to plan a visit when the sun is reasonably low in the sky and will provide some side lighting to bring out the detail and textures of the landscape.
02 Composition: Once you’re there, it’s all about composition. Remember some of the simple rules, such as using foreground interest and lines to draw in the eye, and you won’t go too far wrong, but don’t be afraid to experiment with new viewpoints. Getting down low among the rocks or sand will make the most of interesting foreground subjects and cloud formations, while getting up high on cliff tops will give you a much more comprehensive view of the beach and sea.
03 Polariser: A polariser is pretty much essential for making the most of blue skies and water. By rotating the filter you can darken blue skies, making the clouds stand out and adding impact to your shots. You’ll also find the polariser useful for reducing the glare from the sea, making it look darker and more colourful.
04 Keep it even: One potential problem you need to be aware of is when using extreme wide-angle lenses you can get uneven blue skies. Watch out for dark bands if you’re shooting with a lens shorter than 18mm on a Four Thirds or APS-C sensor, or 24mm on a full-frame sensor.
05 Tide: With any type of coastal photography you need to keep an eye on the tide. What seems like a safe location can soon get cut off by a fast incoming tide, so check the tide times for the location and time that you’re visiting, and when venturing out onto the shore look out for low-lying areas between you and the safety of dry land that could be covered in water.
06 Exposure: Watch out for dark foregrounds and bleached-out skies
07 Aperture: Choose a small aperture such as f/16 to maximise depth of field
08 Manual: Switch to manual focus, then focus around a third of the way into the scene to ensure that the entire scene is sharp from front to back
09 Foreground: Look out for objects and textures in the foreground to add depth and balance to your wide-angle shots
10 Balance: For a well-balanced composition, try to position the horizon around a third from the top of the frame if there’s strong foreground interest in the scene, or around a third from the bottom of the frame if there’s a dramatic and interesting sky
11 Patterns: Linear features such as rocks, patterns in the sand or clouds can be used to give your landscapes a sense of depth that seascapes often lack
12 Scale: Without a recognisable object it can be difficult for the viewer to get an idea of the scale of a seascape. Try to include figures on the beach, a house or a ship to give the viewer a better sense of the vastness of the landscape
13 Rock Pools: Rock pools can often make interesting subjects in their entirety, or you can get in close to shoot details of the flora, fauna an rocks using a telephoto or macro lens. Shooting these subjects is much easier if you have a polarising filter to cut through the glare from the surface of the water, allowing you to get a clear view of this underwater world.
14 Macro or wide: Use traditional macro techniques to get in close when shooting coastal flowers. Alternatively, you can try putting the flowers into context by shooting wide.
15 Windy weather: When shooting coastal flowers, beware of subject movement caused by the wind. To avoid this, you could try to choose a still, windless day, but unless you’re really lucky you’ll have to find a way of minimising this movement. The easiest way is to form some sort of windbreak using your camera bag or reflector, or you could get a helper to hold a coat on the side the wind is blowing from.
It’s a Family Affair
A family day out at the seaside is the perfect excuse for trying out your portrait skills. Most of the family will be happy to pose in bright sunshine, but it’s not ideal for shooting portraits. Get your subjects to face into the sun and they’ll end up squinting, making it impossible to get great-looking shots, but as soon as you get them to turn away from the light you’ll get shadows across their faces. There are a couple of simple tricks that can help you out in these situations, though.
16 Lighten shadows: Get your subject to face slightly away from the sun, then use a reflector or a flashgun to add some light to fill in the shadows across the face. You need to position the flash or reflector on the side opposite to the sunlight, and add just enough light to lighten the shadows, rather than get rid of them entirely.
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