Photographing Beaches

The azure blue skies, bright sands and dramatic coastlines of beaches have long been favorite travel photo subjects. These images often appear in travel brochures, calendars and posters, and make us long for vacations in exotic locales. It's easy to capture the beauty of beaches if you keep a few basic concepts in mind.

Get The Big Picture
Finding great compositions isn't usually difficult when you're faced with the beautiful scenery of tropical beaches and rocky coastlines. To take in a broad view, use the wide angle setting on your compact camera's built-in zoom lens, or use a wide angle lens if your camera accepts interchangeable lenses. You'll need one in the 24--35mm range. If you have a point-and-shoot camera with only a fixed focal length lens, stand back to capture expansive views. Look through your viewfinder and find compositions that are pleasing aesthetically. Be sure to avoid extraneous objects and background clutter.

Reader photo by Jamie R. McQuilliams, Seaside, OR

Look for vantage points where the curving line of the shoreline draws the eye into the scene--perhaps where it leads toward a pleasing arrangements of rocks offshore or a colorful row of docked sailboats. In places like northern California or the Caribbean where cliffs overlook the ocean, you may find a great vantage point from which to shoot down on the beach below. This will open up vistas that you may not notice from sea level. When shooting such grand vistas, use your camera's Landscape mode to ensure optimum depth of field.

Zoom In On Details
Many beaches have tide pools where starfish, sea anemone, and other small sea creatures can easily be viewed and photographed. Move in close or use your camera's telephoto setting to isolate these fascinating subjects. A moderate telephoto lens in the 80--100mm range is ideal for photographing these scenes. A polarizing filter will help you remove surface reflections and see more clearly into the pools. Attach it to your lens and rotate it to get the desired effect. If your camera lens won't accommodate filters, then simply hold the polarizer in front of your lens.

Reader photo by Bill Gemza, Cedar Grove, NJ

The Power Of Nature
Rocky shorelines and pounding surf reveal the power and energy of the sea. The best time to capture the surf is at high tide. Find a safe place from which to shoot and rather than try to encompass the entire shore, use a long lens or your camera's telephoto setting. This way, you can isolate a single wave as it crashes against a rock formation. You can freeze the action by using your camera's Action or Sports mode, which will set a fast shutter speed to freeze the spray. Timing is also critical--you need to click the shutter button a split-second before the wave makes contact to capture peak action. Take lots of pictures to increase your chances of getting some successful shots.

Reader photo by Rene Paik, Alameda, CA


Verna's picture

Thanks for the advice, I've picked a lot of useful tips from this post. Just make sure you use zoom only for small details

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