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While landscape photography is massively popular, I have to admit to having a strong preference and affinity for outdoor photographs taken near the sea. The cliffs, beaches and rock formations of the coast provide such fascinating subject matter for photographers that I find myself returning to it again and again.
But when you start to dig down and study the best coastal landscape photographers, you find that the genre has a few recurring themes that others don’t (at least to the same degree). I thought it would be interesting to explore a few of those themes and how they affect the craft.
Watching the Weather Is an Obsession
Anybody who enjoys shooting outdoors around the coastal regions will probably be obsessed with the weather. Now, while that is true of most outdoor photographers, there is special significance for coastal shooters.
Sure, weather conditions can dictate the nature of the images you capture. Light and cloud are obviously important.
But for coastal shooters, there is also a safety element – you don’t really want a rogue wave to wash you off the rocks. If you think this is a small concern, then just type “washed off rocks” into Youtube and you will see how dangerous it can be. It’s no joke.
But what else are they looking for?
Well, in general terms, any kind of cloud formation is going to give you something in terms of an interesting sky for photography. Some cloud is (usually) better than no cloud depending on what type of shot you’re going for.
But what is the jackpot?
Specifically: High cloud at the golden hours. (Or blue hours).
This is probably the weather event that most coastal landscape photographers love to hear is forecast. This type of cloud will pick up beautiful light from the sun and can result in some amazing patterns and textures in a photograph.
At the other end of the scale is wind. Wind is the enemy of all landscape photographers. Usually, landscapers want to use slow shutter speeds, and hence, a tripod. Windy conditions shake the camera and make this very problematic.
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Having Foreground Interest Makes Things a Lot Easier
We have talked a lot about foreground interest as a compositional element for good photographs in the past. And it’s worth going over it again.
Now, while I wouldn’t say it’s essential for a good coastal landscape shot to have foreground interest, I would say that having some makes getting a good shot a hell of a lot easier.
If you cruise around Flickr or Instagram looking at waterside areas in outdoor photography, it quickly becomes apparent that 90% of the great shots all include an element of foreground interest. Now that might be in the form of texture or leading lines or mixed in with other compositional elements, but it’s often there.
While you certainly don’t have to get obsessed about finding foreground interest, your life will be made easier by being able to spot it and include it in your shots.
Foreground Interest in Composition Links:
The Big Secret of Coastal Photographers is Often Their Filters
Lens filters and knowing how and when to use them is a big part of life for most serious landscape photographers.
But filters become somewhat of an obsession if you’re regularly taking images in coastal areas.
The sky, sea, and land together in a shot throw up all sorts of challenging exposure problems that often necessitate the use of filters to solve.
In general, the filters used by coastal photographers fall into three categories:
- Polarising filters
- Neutral density filters
- Graduated neutral density filters
So what do they do?
Polarising filters mute reflections and highlights (like reflections off water).
ND filters reduce the overall light getting through the lens
Graduated ND filters reduce the light getting through the lens in part of the scene (usually the sky which is comparatively bright)
What are the best filters?
For landscape photography, past a certain level of quality, there is some debate on who makes the best filters.
In general terms, Lee filters are probably regarded as the best due to their lack of color cast. But other manufacturers such as Nisi, Haida and Benro are also highly regarded. At a certain level, it becomes a factor of personal taste.
Note: A great way to choose a filter is to type its name into Flickr and compare the results to others. It’s a good way to get a quick and broad idea of the type of image that each results in.
Some resources on filters:
They Ignore the Crowd
It always amazes me that when you go to a popular spot for coastal photography at sunset that well-equipped photographers seem to follow the crowd.
Everyone waits for the sun to set, then disappears home.
That completely misses the opportunity for shooting in the blue hour which is often even better than the golden hour as a time for great photographs.
Sure, you’ll get some great photographs as the sun sets. Nobody would deny that. But you have more time!
The extra advantage is that you will be alone, even in popular spots which often gives you an opportunity for even better compositions.
Post Production Is Essential for Photographs That Pop
If you have followed all of the best landscape advice, you will arrive home with a raw file(s) that has a nice, slightly right-sided histogram.
Assuming it is well composed, you have all of the ingredients for a good shot.
But it will probably be a little flat. Raw files usually are.
If you have gone to all of the trouble to get the best shot in-camera that you possibly can, then it is a sin not to put a solid effort into finishing it off well by editing it.
For most of us, the weapon of choice for this is Adobe Lightroom.
Almost all shots can benefit from a little tweak to the black slider, highlight slider, clarity, and saturation. Where you go from there is up to you, but remember this is where personal style and taste come into it.
If you’re not sure where to go with your edits, then its a very good idea to get the basics of editing under your belt. For that, Kent Dufault’s guide to Fundamental Editing is an excellent guide for any photographer. You will learn the key ingredients to this essential part of finishing off your photographs.
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