Aug 22, 2011

5 tips for better beach photos

I have been fielding a lot of questions lately about shooting on the beach, which I do a LOT of all year round.  Since I live in a beach town most of my clients are either locals for whom the beach is a natural setting for family portraits... or they are tourists from other states who want to remember their visit to the Atlantic Ocean.  Either way, they want beautiful images that can bring them back to that amazing time on the beach... the sound of the waves... the sunsets... running bare foot in the sand. 

The beach presents many challenges to the photographer.  First and most obvious - it is BRIGHT.  While light is the most important thing to consider in any kind of photography, you CAN have too much of a good thing... which brings me to my first tip:

1.   Shoot during "golden hour"... that hour or so before sunset.  If you MUST shoot before then, try to find some kind of shade, whether from a building, a pier, or anything else you can find.  If there is no shade, you can use a scrim (this will require an assistant, or a willing client to hold it).  Or you can do what I do in a pinch, as in this image, and position another person between your subject and the sun. 

In this case, baby's mom was sitting at the baby's right shoulder (camera left) both to block the sun and to "spot" this little guy who was just starting to sit upright.  But look how beautiful and soft the light looks!  Had mom not been there the right side of his face would have been too bright, and the left too dark.

Ok... so you've got your clients at the beach and there's about an hour and a half before the sun sets... where do you start? 

2.   Think backlight...backlight... backlight!  I always try to start the shoot with my subject's back to the sun.  If I'm shooting a family, this is when I try to get some nice group shots while everyone is still relatively clean and dry... because believe me as you get into the shoot that will change very rapidly!  Shooting into the sun does not have to be difficult.  I use my in camera meter, set to center weighted, and get nice and close to one person and meter off of their skin.  I then take my position and start shooting, regardless of the fact that my meter is now screaming at me that I've got it all wrong!  Remember, the meter is going to try to expose for all that bright sun in front of you, causing your subjects faces to become horribly underexposed.  So once you've metered for the subjects face and you've set your camera you can ignore the meter until the light changes.  Here are a few examples...

You can also capture some beautiful sun flare using this method!  Such as this one...

Your clients are going to want images of them with the water as a backdrop as well, which leads us to the next tip:

3.   Save the "water shots" until the sun is very very low on the horizon, or has set behind any buildings.  Here's an example of one taken when the sun has almost set:

See how nice and even the light is, and how it has that beautiful golden glow?  Its also a lot more comfortable for your subjects to look at you without having to squint! 

Now, if you're lucky enough to have a cloudy day - that's great!  But you still need to keep in mind where your light is coming from.  If the light is overhead, even though it is softened by cloud cover, your subject's eyes will be dull and lifeless... not to mention the racoon eyes! 

Now this is by no means a comprehensive tutorial on how to handle this kind of lighting... there are other ways to deal with it such as off camera flash... but that is for another day!

4.  Choose your beach wisely!   Last week I had a shoot where I obviously did not choose my beach very wisely.  It was overcrowded, and there was litter strewn everywhere.  On the plus side, there was plenty of shade from the buildings on the boardwalk, and there were some palm trees... something not often seen in New Jersey!  So we made the best of it... we used the shade and the palms to get some nice family shots with some tropical flair...

I did the best I could to avoid the garbage in the images, but I did have to do bit of cloning on some images. 

5.  Go with the flow and be prepared for anything!  During that same shoot, perhaps 15 minutes into it, the littlest one got knocked over by a wave.  Thankfully I came prepared with a blanket we used to dry him off, and again we made the most of it and just stripped him down to his diaper.  To be quite honest, I prefer the shots of him shirtless! 

Its a good idea to advise your subjects before the shoot to bring towels and a change of clothes!

I hope these tips will help you improve your photos next time you're on the beach, or in any other harsh lighting condition!


sherry boles~ said...

Great tips, Denise! Thanks for sharing.

Michelle said...

Your beach images are fabulous! Thanks for sharing-

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