Essential tips for great coast photos

Coast photo

Go Wild

puffin17 Telephoto: Like all wildlife photography, the main concern is getting close enough to get shots without causing any distress or harm to the animals themselves, so don’t try to get too close, especially when there are pups around. Use a long telephoto lens and move slowly into position. With a little patience and observation you can get great images, but be prepared to spend plenty of time lying on the sand waiting for the best opportunities to arrive.

18 Birds: There’s a huge variety of bird species to choose from around the coast, and there are also plenty of techniques to try when photographing them. The traditional approach is to use a long telephoto lens to capture individual birds, but you could also try to include many more animals in a single frame, or there are also options for panning and wide-angle shots.

19 Panning: In popular beach locations gulls will be used to people, so they will be quite happy to come close to you, and this is where you could try and panning to create an abstract image. This is particularly effective at sunrise and sunset when you can use the sky as a backdrop.

20 Get down low: Another option is to try shooting a flock of wading birds as they scour the shore for food. Get down low to make the birds appear close together, and use a long using a wide-angle lens to give your shot an unusual perspective.

21 Flocks: Large flocks of sea birds offer a range of shooting options. You could try shooting them in flight using a slow shutter speed lens and a wide aperture to isolate a single bird while throwing the other animals around it out of focus.

22 Whales and dolphins: No matter where you are in the world by the coast, you probably won’t need to go far to find dolphins and whales. It’s difficult to photograph them from the shore, but there are plenty of boat trips available that will get you close enough. You’ll need fast reactions and a little bit of luck to capture dolphins and porpoises as they surface. Whales are even more difficult to shoot because they rarely break the surface of the water, but there are still possibilities to shoot them through the water using a polariser, or when they breach or come up for air.

Slow Down

From huge waves crashing on rocky shores to the gentle swell lapping onto a sandy beach, the action of the sea is perfect for experimenting with shutter speeds for visual effect. One of the classic effects is to use a slow shutter speed to record the moving water as a dreamy blur.

23 Slow shutter speed: The shutter speed required for a ‘milky water’ effect will depend on the amount of movement of the water, but as a general rule you’ll be looking at an exposure of at least a second. For the really ethereal look where the water is reduced to a silky smooth texture you’ll need a shutter speed of 15 seconds or more. This is easy if you shoot after the sun has set or before dawn, but you can also use a strong neutral density filter such as the Lee BIG Stopper or Hoya NDx400 to allow you to get these shutter speeds in brighter conditions.

coast photos

Get Creative: Ideas for more creative coast photos

24 Black and white: The graphic nature of many coastal landscapes is ideal for black-and-white images. When shooting, look for strong composition elements such as rocky headlands or lead-in lines and interesting textures in the sand, sea and rocks.

25 Abstract: The textures and shapes you can find in the sand, rocks and shells on almost any shore make perfect subjects for abstract images. Another option is to shoot just the sea or sky, omitting any other detail or subject to create an image that relies simply on colour for its impact.

26 ND grad: Graduated neutral density filters (or ND grads) are essential for ensuring balanced exposures when the sky is much brighter than the landscape (which is inevitable when shooting sunrises or sunsets). They basically comprise a sheet of glass or resin that’s clear at the bottom and shaded at the top – this enables you to expose for the foreground as normal through the clear part of the filter and position the shaded top half so that it sits just above the horizon. The shaded part will darken the bright sky by a set number of stops to give you a more balanced exposure. (For more tips on using ND grads, check out this issue’s fold-out field guide).

27 Silhouettes: The clear, open skies of the coastal landscape are ideal for silhouettes and contre-jour shooting (see the picture of kids opposite). It’s pretty easy to achieve silhouettes – all you need to do is position the subject between you and the light, then expose for the background. Modern multi-segment metering systems will often try to compensate for this, so set centre- weighted metering on your SLR and use a stop or two of negative exposure compensation to make sure the subject stays completely dark.



The black and white landscape: Make a mono masterpiece
Landscape photography cheat sheet
10 tips for better coastal landscapes
Best camera settings: The right way to set up your DSLR