Beach photography: how to add creative effects in-camera and on the computer

Beach photography: tips for adding creative effects in-camera and on the computer

In the final instalment of our Shoot Like A Pro series on improving your beach photography we suggest some quick and easy creative effects you can achieve both in-camera and on the computer to enhance your coastal portfolio.

Beach photography: tips for adding creative effects in-camera and on the computer

Image by Chris Rutter

If the range of subjects at the beach isn’t enough to get your creativity flowing there are plenty of special effects you can use to get interesting and arresting coastal shots.

Some, such as using long shutter speeds, are impossible to recreate after you’ve shot them, but even with the ones that rely on software manipulation it pays to think about the effect you want before you fire the shutter.

While you can apply some effects to photos that you’ve already taken, it’s often an integral part of the whole creative process rather than a quick fix for poor images, so take a look at these techniques, think about which will suit the type of images that you’re going to shoot, and give them a try.

Tips for adding creative effects to your beach photography

Slow shutter speeds
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, such as in our featured photo at the top of this page.

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.

Mastering HDR
It can be tricky to capture the huge range of brightness from the sky, sand and water of a typical beach scene.

But there’s a technique known as high dynamic range photography that enables you to get detail in the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows in a single image.

To use this technique you need to shoot at least three images with different exposure settings, so you need to have the camera on a steady tripod to ensure that the images are perfectly aligned.

These images are then combined using the ‘Merge to HDR’ function in Photoshop or by using specialist HDR software such as Photomatix from HDRsoft.

It’s easy to overdo the effect, though, so take your time using the settings in the software to avoid an over-processed look in your final image.

This is easily identified by strong haloes around the details in the image, especially where there’s a large change from highlights to shadows.


Tips for adding creative effects to your beach photography

Image by Chris Rutter

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.

Abstract concepts
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.


Tips for adding creative effects to your beach photography: silhouettes

Image by Antonio Arcos / Getty

Silhouettes and contre-jour
The clear, open skies of the coastal landscape are ideal for silhouettes and contre-jour shooting.

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 DSLR and use a stop or two of negative exposure compensation to make sure the subject stays completely dark.

Graduated neutral density filters
Unless you’re a Photoshop wizard, graduated neutral density filters, or ND grad filters, are essential for ensuring balanced exposures when the sky is much brighter than the landscape (which is inevitable when shooting sunrises or sunsets).

Graduated neutral density filters 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.

PAGE 1: How to add creative effects to your beach photography
PAGE 2: How to use a tripod at the beach


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