8 Beach Photography Tips For Unique Summer Shots

Beach photography tips

Popular summer destinations are ripe with creative possibilities — and bursting with overdone clichés. The sun, sand, and waves make the beach one of those great places. Photographing the beach means balancing between shooting the image that everyone has already seen and the great photo that makes everyone itch to dip their toes in the sand. Add in the fact that sand and water can spell death for a camera, and capturing a great beach shot isn’t easy to do.

Try these eight beach photography tips to get in on the fun and move from the cliche coastal image to postcard-worthy perfect shots.

Protect your gear.

Beach photography tips

Water is an obvious hazard for any electronics, but new photographers often don’t realize that sand can be just as disastrous. I couldn’t photograph the Grand Canyon because sand had gotten stuck inside the lens barrel of my travel camera. Sand will prevent lens barrels from moving, scratch the lens, and for interchangeable lens cameras, get inside and have you Photoshopping random spots out of every single image for eternity.

Use a rain cover even if you don’t plan on taking the camera near the water and keep your camera in an enclosed case when you’re not shooting. Avoid switching lenses while at the beach and keep the lens front protected with a uv filter.

Looking to take your own beach photography to the next level? Join renowned instructor Ian Shive for The Complete Guide to Outdoor Photography and Motion.

And before you try underwater photography, make sure you know the difference between waterproof and water-resistant and which category your camera falls under. With any wet camera, make sure to completely dry the camera before tucking it in the back or opening the SD card or battery compartment.

Avoid shooting towards the sun if you can, and use fill flash if you can’t.

Beach photography tips

The sun that just begs a few minutes on a beach towel isn’t always the best light source for beach photography. If the sun is high but behind you, you’ll get bright blue skies and colorful water. If you point your lens into the sun, you’ll either get a silhouette or a washed out sky.

Planing that beach visit around the position of the sun creates ideal conditions for photos. Noon isn’t an ideal time for beach photography because there’s no way to actually choose where the sun is. Head out when the sun will be behind the sand instead of over the water will make for a beautiful golden hour effect. Unless, of course, you want to capture sunset or sunrise — the low position of the sun makes it easier to shoot towards the light source and still get a good shot. If your camera has spot metering you can manually fix some of these exposure issues.

If you can’t change the time you’re headed to the beach or want to shoot while you wait for the sun to set over the water, try using a fill flash to prevent blowing out the details in the sky.

Find a subject beyond “just” the beach.

Beach photography tips

The beach is a great place to shoot, but not a great subject. If you are only photographing the beach, you’ll end up with a boring line of sand and a stretch of water. Look for other focal points within the open space of the beach. Define exactly what or who your subject is and seek out photographic opportunities. The dock on the water. The sailboat in the distance. A sand castle. A family member. Spend some time photographing people with the beach scene in the background or hold a photo shoot with different lenses like a wide-angle or fisheye can also make for great photos of your subjects.

Look for lines.

Beach photography tips

Lines lead the eye through the image — and are easy to find at the beach. Check your surroundings for lines and use the rule of thirds when possible. Maybe the lines of a fence, the natural curve of where the water meets the sand or the path down to the beach itself. Use the lines to draw the eye toward the subject or add interest into the scene.

Use a polarizer to control water reflections.

A bright sky bouncing off the water makes you squint — and it’s hard on your camera too. Try adding a circular polarizing filter to the front of your lens. Twisting the polarizer will allow you to maximize or minimize the reflections off the water and help with white balance. That allows you to exaggerate a reflection or remove one to make the blue of the water pop. As an added bonus, the way polarizers control reflected light also tends to make the sky look even bluer.

Master the waves with shutter speed.

Beach photography tips

The rhythm of the waves is hypnotic — but that same movement can also make great photos if you know how to master that motion. Shoot in shutter priority mode to capture the motion of the waves. For splashes of water frozen in time, use a high shutter speed and turn the burst shooting on to capture several shots in fast sequence. Or, smooth the water into glass by taking a long exposure with a tripod. (You’ll also need a neutral density filter if you want to smooth the water during the day).

Photograph the lesser-known side of the beach.

Beach photography tips

Beachgoers flock to the beach during the hottest parts of the day and at sunset — but sometimes, the best times to stay at the beach is after everyone has packed up their towels and umbrellas and headed home. For beaches that are away from the lights of a big city, try photographing the stars over the beach.

Don’t neglect editing.

Great beach shots don’t end once the camera is backed away — finish the shots off with a round of editing and post-processing. Adjust the exposure and colors and use the drop tool to make sure the horizon is straight. The dehaze tool in Lightroom can also create a dramatic before and after, especially with humidity and fog.

Looking to take your own beach photography to the next level? Join renowned instructor Ian Shive for The Complete Guide to Outdoor Photography and Motion.

Hillary Grigonis FOLLOW >

Hillary K. Grigonis is a web content writer and lifestyle photographer from Michigan. After working as a photojournalist for several years, she made the leap and started her own business and now enjoys sharing tips and tricks with emerging photographers.