Gorgeous, glowing skin, twinkling eyes, powerful waves, soft sand, and colors that dance in the light; when a beach photo works, it is MAGIC. However, with reflective sand and water, big open spaces with very little shade, and ever-changing light and colors, photographing at the beach poses a unique challenge for photographers. That’s why we asked our generous community of Mastin Labs photographers to offer advice based on their own experience photographing on the beach.
Lighting Tips for Photo Sessions on the Beach
As it is with many other things in life, timing is everything. With the water and sand acting as reflectors and shaping the light as the day progresses, the time of day greatly affects how beachside photos turn out. We asked our community what times they recommend shooting at the beach, and their answers differed; it stands to reason that different beaches and coastlines look their best at different times. Generally, our community agrees that the best times of day to photograph on the beach are slightly before and after sunset. Their recommended time window ranges from +/- 40 minutes to +/- 2 hours.
In the words of Rachel Ashcraft, “The absolute most important thing is the time of day with the beach. Don’t think you can do mid-day sun. 90 minutes before sunset should be your starting time.” Other Mastin Labs community members had similar time block recommendations. Mastin Labs user and Hawaiian local, Bailey C. Makaimoku, says, “The best times I’ve found for shooting are sunrise or about 40 min before the sun sets so then you can still get some pretty pictures with those sunset colors in the session.”
Mastin Labs community member, Breanne Michelle, added another time frame into the mix, “The best option is definitely close to sunset or sunrise. The sand and water act like reflectors and there’s no shade.”
If you’re not familiar with the beach you’re planning to photograph, take a field trip before your session to study the light. As the day progresses and the sun is reflected off the sand and water at different angles, the light can create interesting color effects. Whenever possible, experiment ahead of time; light changes day to day and there are no guarantees, but you’re sure to come away with some ideas you can try day-of.
With changing light, spot metering is the ideal way to dial in the best exposure to draw attention to your subject. You can also use a fill flash to even out any harsh, unwanted shadows such as hats, glasses or other shadows cast by odd lighting. If the flash is too strong, try moving away from your subject and zooming in for a milder effect, if it’s too weak, do the opposite.
Mastin Labs community member, Rachel Ashcraft, shares, “I usually expose just a teeny tiny bit under. Especially [if I’m shooting] a white dress.”
Background Tips for Photo Sessions on the Beach
Pay close attention to your background. A dramatic wave crashing or a seagull swooping into frame can greatly add to your image; the same way a tacky beachgoer or trash on the beach can take away from it. Our community advises that photographers pay close attention to the horizon line. Make sure it’s always straight and not slicing the picture evenly in half.
Having an ideal background also means planning your session for a time when the beach won’t be crowded. Don’t be afraid of less-than-sunny weather or off-season trips to the beach, this sometimes means you’ll have the beach to yourself, free of visual clutter. Dramatic weather in the off-season can also add a lot to a beach photograph; for example, fog offers an eerie landscape, while stormy weather provides movement and drama. If you have a hard time scheduling around busy times, try going off the beaten path or traveling to a remote beach. It’s often possible to edit beachgoers and unwanted objects, but it can be tedious and time-consuming.
What Gear You Need For a Photo Sessions on the Beach
Know that if you’re traveling to a humid beach, your lens may fog up. Often, your lens will self-adapt if you simply let it acclimate for a time. Mastin Labs user, Lauren Kay Weber, points out, “Lenses can fog pretty easily with big temperature differentials.” With that in mind, try to let your lens acclimate on the way to your destination, avoid blasting the heat or A/C in your car before a shoot.
Avoid switching lenses on the beach to help keep your sensor clean and free of sand. Mastin Labs user, Emily Main, admits, “I never really switch the lenses because of the sand.” Vanessa Adams insists, “I live by the beach and have one rule: Never change lenses on the beach. I pick one lens and stick with it or have two camera bodies [I] also have a lens cleaning cloth easily accessible when shooting since waves can throw moisture droplets into the air.”
Speaking of the dangers of giving your camera a very expensive bath, always use a camera strap, and leave any unattended gear far away from the shoreline to keep it from being taken out to sea in high tide
All you really need for a beach photo shoot is a camera and a lens; however, it’s fun to experiment, so don’t be afraid to gear up. Bring an off-camera flash to play with lighting, backlighting, and silhouette tricks, bring a lens hood to cut back on overhead glare, bring a tripod for long-exposures of the waves, and bring a light meter to make your lighting challenges a little easier.
What Outfits are Best For a Photo Sessions on the Beach
In general, make outfit choices that add to the mood of your image. For a light and airy mood, our community agrees that, weightless, sheer materials shine… literally! The wind from the ocean can tease the cloth to add movement to the garment and drama to the image; the light can shine softly through the fabric and give your subject a soft glow. For moodier images on overcast days, consider heavier material, flannel, jeans, textures, and darker colors. There is no hard and fast rule of thumb for beach outfits, just consider how the outfit will look in context. It should always add to the energy of the image.
Bailey C. Makaimoku supports clients wearing slightly contrasted colors, “I always encourage my clients to wear something that won’t blend in with the water or sky [and] won’t distract from the beauty of the location. Blue seems to be the hardest color for me when taking pictures at the beach. I just don’t encourage large doses of it for outfits.” Other community members encourage incorporating colors from the location into outfits. Know your preferences ahead of time and advise your clients accordingly
Ask your clients to bring options, beach weather can change dramatically, and they might find they need a second layer, a clean alternative to a dirty or wet outfit, a swimsuit, or a change of clothes to travel home in. Encourage fun accessories like sunglasses and hats, sweaters, picnic blankets, pails, and above all, don’t forget the sunscreen and water on a hot sunny day! Bailey C. Makaimoku encourages photographers to set realistic expectations with their clients, ”Don’t be afraid or upset about getting wet, especially with photographing little kids. They can’t resist!”
Community member, Leah Labourde brings up a great point that what you wear as the photographer also matters. “I [wear] a huge white sweatshirt so I [can] be my own reflector.” Brilliant! Avoid wearing neon colors to prevent color casting on your subject and wear darker colors if you want to minimize reflections.
What Mastin Labs Preset is Best for Photo Shoots on the Beach
When we asked our community what presets they like to use with beach photography, just about every preset pack was mentioned, but there were three that seemed to be the most popular for editing beach photos.
Each preset pack has the power to enhance beach photos in different ways; choose the one that best matches your style.
Thank you to everyone who drew from experience to offer advice for photographing on a beach. If you have any additional tips to offer, please comment below, we’d love to learn from you!