Dos And Don’ts Of Photography At The Beach


With spring in full flow for us inhabitants of the northern hemisphere, thoughts are turning to summer. The long days and warm weather are often the precursors to a day or two at the beach. As we photographers know, beaches are infinitely interesting places to take photographs.

They can also be infinitely frustrating places to shoot. There can be many reasons for this, so today we are going to look at some of the dos and don’ts of shooting at the beach. Let’s kick off with the dos

What To Do When Shooting At The Beach.

Go Early Or Stay Late

Blue hour, golden hour, they are the best times to shoot pretty much anything outdoors. This is especially so when shooting beaches. The blue hour can be a magical time at the beach. The hues of subtle colour in the sky contrasting with the beach and sea. 

During golden hour, the soft shadows give form to rocks and ripples in the sand, whilst giving your scene an almost pastel-like look. 

If you are the sort of person that goes to the beach during the height of the day, consider going later. You will still get the warmth of the sun to bathe in but also the great light to shoot in as the day ends. 

Photo by Sean O.

Go Low And Go Slow

If you are at the beach for the twilight, blue hour, then going low and going slow will get you some great shots. You are going to need a nice sturdy, weatherproof tripod and maybe a neutral density. By getting down low, you can use leading lines such as sand ripples or rocks to lead the viewer’s eye to the sea.

By going slow, you can make that sea turn into a beautiful ethereal looking mist. Even at twilight, you made need to use a neutral density to get the shutter speed low enough for this effect, depending on how much motion there is in the sea. A graduated ND filter can also be a useful addition to hold back the sky and give you an even more dramatic seascape.

Photo by Alex Green

Don’t Ignore The Details

While you might be attracted to shoot the picture book, wide-angle beach shot, the fact is that all beaches are full of little details. Look for patterns in the sand, especially at the water’s edge. Shells, pebble and rocks can make great abstracts. Beach paraphernalia such as umbrellas, sun-beds and bars can all make for great pictures. A telephoto zoom would be a useful addition the your kit bag when hunting down the details.

Photo by Pedro Lastra

Filter Up

As well as neutral density and graduated filters, there is two other filters your would be well advised to carry. The first is a UV or Skylight filter to protect your lens. More on that later. The second is a circular polariser.

If you do not have the luxury of shooting the blue and golden hours, the light at the beach can be very harsh. Sand, foliage and of course the sea itself are highly reflective, meaning your shots can look very washed out and lacking in colour and contrast. A polarizer will cut out those reflections giving you much better saturation, especially from the sand, sea and sky.

Get Flash

As mentioned above, there is a lot of bright light and reflections going on at the beach. This means that if you are planning to shoot portraits you will find yourself getting a lot of harsh shadows. Carrying a portable flash is a great way to get nice people shots at the beach.

Expose for the background and then add fill in flash to light up your subjects. Flash gives you great versatility when shooting people at the beach. 

So in summary here are the do’s when shooting at the beach.

  • Wait for the right light in the golden or blue hours.
  • Get down low and use nice long exposures for the ethereal look.
  • Track down the beach’s little details for interesting shots.
  • Use polarisers, ND and UV filters if you have them. 

What Not To Do At The Beach

With all these wonderful things you can shoot at the beach, you need to be aware the beach shooting is not a walk in the park. There are some things your really need to take into consideration.

It Is All About The Sand

That beautiful sand that makes beach photos so appealing is also one of the nastiest substances when it comes to cameras. You need to make sure sand and camera do not come in contact. Waterproof plastic bags are a good way to stop this, either making your own ore getting one especially designed to protect your camera.

Keep lens changes to an absolute minimum and when doing so, turn your back to the wind and keep the camera pointing directly down.

Remember the UV or Skylight filter that we mentioned? Keeping one of them on each lens will help protect the lens. Sand can be abrasive to the lens elements and very fine sand can work it’s way inside the helical screw thread of the lens’s focus or zoom and jam it. 

As well as sand you need to avoid any sea spray as well. Even a well weatherproofed camera can get damaged by sea-spray.

Stay Shady

A hot day on a heat reflecting sandy beach and a perfectly black camera body are perfect bedfellows for overheating. This can have all sorts of unwanted effects on your photographic equipment. Keep all your gear in a good weatherproof bag and keep that bag in the shade. Only bring the camera out when you need it. 

Mad Dogs And Englishmen

Go out in the midday sun as the Noel Coward song goes. Beaches in the midday sun are not the place for photographers. The shadowless harsh light will make your images look flat and uninspiring no matter how great the composition is. Even a polariser will not do much for the midday sun so wait until the sun gets quite a bit lower before venturing out to shoot. 

In summary here are the things to avoid when shooting at the beach. 

  • Sand, keep your camera well away from both sand and sea-spray
  • Direct sun. Keep your equipment in the shade until you need it.
  • Midday and harsh light. The middle of the day is a poor time to shoot at the beach

Beaches are infinitely interesting places to shoot. By using some of our “dos and don’ts” tips above you should be able to come back from a day at the coast with your equipment intact and some great photos to boot. 

Further Reading:

Further Learning:

If you've ever wondered why a scene, that looked so gorgeous in person, now looks flat and uninteresting in your photograph or if you've ever returned from vacation feeling dissatisfied because your images did not capture the natural beauty that you witnessed with your own eyes then The Complete Landscape Photography Guide is for you.
This guide, by award-winning author and photographer Kent DuFault, will show you how:

  • To choose the right camera and lenses for Landscape Photography
  • To find (and capture) the unique images that nobody else gets
  • A pro shoots AND post-processes their images for art gallery quality!
  • Your chosen POV, can make, or break, your image
  • To shoot landscape photography at night! Including how to capture beautiful star trails
  • To properly use graduated filters…for spectacular results
  • And much more

Take a look at The Complete Landscape Photography Guide here

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

And of course respect social standards or laws restricting or limiting your choices as to who you can photograph.

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