Beach photos are always my favorite souvenirs.
Here are some of my tips to get the best results from a beach photo shoot – whether you take your own photos, or while working with a photographer.
Professional photo shoots
Whenever possible, I think it’s a great investment to hire a professional photographer to take beach photos.
The cost will probably be cheap compared to the entire cost of the trip, and photos may literally be priceless!
Working with a local photographer is often a good choice. They usually:
- Have better equipment, and know how to use it better
- They know the best beach access spots
- They’ll probably get better results than you could capture with a selfie stick
That said, I’ve seen some terrible and cringe-worthy beach photo shoots!
Be sure to review the photographer’s portfolio and talk with them about what you want, their style, their creative style, advice, and other due diligence to make sure you’re happy with your photoshoot and photos.
DIY Beach Photoshoot
If you prefer to do your own photography, here are some beach photography tips I’ve compiled over the years.
Photography is all about light. There is a time known as “Golden Hour” twice a day, in the morning and evening hours. During this time light conditions are most flattering, and photos will almost always turn out best.
For the beach, early morning or late afternoon light is the best time to capture the beauty of the beach. There are many reasons:
- The light will be softer, and the colors will be warmer.
- Shadows will also be most flattering
- Crowds may be lower, and the beach may be more empty
- Wind is usually lower in the morning and evening due to sea-breeze effects
- As a bonus, you can also take some stunning sunrise or sunset shots!
When I’m framing my shots, I try to include different elements like the sand, sea, and sky. This adds depth and interest to photos. I like to experiment with up-close and far-out zooms.
It’s also good to play with angles. Low angles can make the beach look vast and dramatic.
High-angle photos, especially from a drone, pier or boardwalk, can share the expansive beauty of a beach. Can you highlight beautiful clear water? Or, surrounding nature, or other themes of a beautiful beach?
Reflections are a great tool to use for fun, creative shots!
Wet sand, shallow water, or rock pools can create beautiful reflections, especially during golden hour. I have also seen some very cool shots using the reflection from sunglasses, when done well. You know the classic Aviator sunglass reflection in “Cool Hand Luke”?
Try not to over-do it, though. I suggest focusing most of your attention on the faces and eyes of your subjects, because these will be much more cherished than a seagull’s reflection in a tide pool.
Capture spontaneous moments! Your kid looking at a beautiful shell, your romantic footprints in the sand, or waves crashing against the rocks. These candid shots often turn out to be the most memorable.
Here’s a big tip I wish I could follow myself. Keep an eye on the horizon. It’s easy to accidentally tilt your camera, especially in uneven sand. A straight horizon keeps your photos balanced. I always struggle with this and regret it “in post”, while I’m editing! As a gift to your future self, try to get the horizon straight during your shoot.
My suggestion for camera settings is to play it safe, and stick to “Auto” unless you confidently know what you’re doing.
Modern cameras almost always do a better job with settings than an amateur or moderately-experienced photographer will achieve on their own.
Be sure to double-check the camera settings periodically and preview your photos to make sure they’re coming out well, while you’re on-site, and still have time to fix any accidents!
If you do use manual mode, then you probably already know what you’re doing.
Stick to a higher shutter speed to capture the waves and movement without blur. Or, do the opposite if you want to capture the movement of flowing water, and the situation allows!
For bright sunlight, a lower ISO, like 100 or 200, can help avoid overexposure. One of my favorite techniques is to play with aperture settings for dreamy, soft-background shots.
Using Light for Posing
The proper usage of light in photography is the essence of good photography!
For a good start, use the golden hours, just after sunrise or before sunset, are perfect for portraits. The light is flattering and soft.
Have your subjects face the light to avoid harsh shadows and squinting. Pay attention to how shadows are cast.
If light conditions are harsh, seek out shade, where your subjects will be protected from harsh light. Pay attention to avoid having harsh light “blow out” your photos with over-exposure.
My main tip here is to wear clothes that you feel comfortable in, and that make you feel confident!
In my experience, light, airy fabrics work best. They often blow in the sea breeze and give a really interesting quality of movement and liveliness. They flutter beautifully in the breeze and add life to photos.
I usually prefer to use bright, cute pastel colors that complement the natural color palette of sand and sea. Think blues, greens, and sandy tones for a natural look. Or, if you prefer to go the opposite direction, go bold with vibrant colors that pop against the beach backdrop!
Challenges with Wind and Sand
A lens hood can protect your lens from sand. If it’s really windy, use a faster shutter speed to capture hair and clothing movement without blur.
I always try to avoid changing lenses to avoid getting sand or salt air on my camera sensor. Be mindful to avoid splashing waves and salt water, which are destructive to cameras!
As if we need another reason to seek out the Golden hour, mornings or late evenings are often less crowded, when sun bathers are gone for the day. If that’s not an option, I sometimes use a wide aperture to blur the background and keep the focus on my subject.
Sun, Heat and Sweat
Beaches often have very little shade, and have harsh light, which is not flattering for portraits. Again, mornings and evenings are great, and it’ll be cooler. I always bring towels to deal with sweat and keep everyone looking fresh, and water to keep everyone cool and hydrated.
What about Hair Styles?
I usually prefer simple, timeless styles that can withstand wind, like ponytails, braids or buns. They look neat and help keep hair from covering the face.
Sunglasses can be cool props! I like to play with reflections and it can be fun to convey attitude and fun. For example, having my subject look over the top of their sunglasses can add a mischievous, fun vibe.
Look for candid moments!
For kids, and adults, the best photos are often candid and authentic. If you can direct your subject’s attention to something they will be engaged in, it may give you a great moment to capture. For example, siblings building a sand castle together. Or, asking a husband to “fix” his wife’s hair behind her ear.
My best advice? Have fun with it and enjoy the experience! And, schedule another beach vacation ASAP so you can do it again!