As a companion piece to my favourite beach shots the other day, I thought I’d share some things I’ve found about shooting on beaches. I was living in Gran Canaria when I took up photography & for the first three years pretty much every shoot involved a beach at some point.
1) Shoot at sunrise & sunset. This is the single most important thing. The quality of light is amazingly different at the beginning & end of the day. It’s much softer, so more flattering for the model, & the sky will have much deeper colours. I also found that the sky is a pretty blue till around 10am, but late afternoon before sunset it’s hazy & bleached out. Finally, there are far fewer people to get in the way of your shots!
2) Use a polarizing filter. Makes no difference to the model’s skin tone but it makes the sky & sea much more saturated. Money very well spent.
3) Use a flash. I always found that a reflector would just bounce the sunlight straight into the model’s eyes, making her all squinty. I used a ring flash that fits on to the speed light, they only cost around £150.
4) Avoid wonky horizons. I seem to have an inability to shoot from a horizontal position & keep the horizon straight in photos (indoors & out). It’s better to get it right in camera, as straightening in photoshop means cropping parts of the photo, & you might lose something important.
5) Get in the water. In my early shoots I’d have jeans on & just let the model get wet, but there are great shots to be had if you get in the sea as well, especially with the camera just above the water level. NB salt water is not good for cameras.
6) Look for interesting backgrounds. The sea & the sky are great, but if you can add some palm trees, a rocky outcrop or some herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Serengeti it’ll provide more variety in your photos.
7) Choose your model carefully. Shooting at the beach is, other than literally, no day at the beach. You’re in make-up at 4.30am to hit the beach for sunrise, it’s really not warm at all in the sea at that time, making fierce expressions in fierce sunlight is painful on the eyes, sand gets everywhere & sunburn’s no fun, so someone with a positive outlook & a high pain threshold would be ideal.
8) Wear a hat! I’ve learned from painful experience that the Canarian sun takes no prisoners, even at first light. High factor sunblock is compulsory.
9) Camera settings. I’m not the most technical of photographers & generally find things by experimentation, but on the beach I used to use Tv at the highest possible setting to sync with the flash during the day, with the flash up full & a polarising filter. At sunrise/sunset I’d switch to Av, use a lower f stop & increase the ISO to make the most of the low light. I’d probably shoot everything manual now though for greater control.
10) Use shade. Even when the sun is too high in the sky to get a decent photo, there are some great shots to be had if you find some shade. Under trees, under bridges & the shaded side of a wall can be particularly good. If you have the budget, an assistant holding a giant reflector/diffuser between sun & model can also extend the time you can usefully shoot in sunlight.
11) Bad weather. I’ve not found a way to make the sky, or the sea look good when the sun’s not shining, so I try to keep them out of shot where possible. Shooting from a higher angle to show more sand, & focussing on other backgrounds such as trees, rocks & cliffs will help, but there’s really no substitute for a sunny day.
Hope that helps
Ps you can also see more beach shots on my site here