How to Photograph Coastlines

Coastlines present the photographer with a wonderful array of photographic possibilities ranging from people shots on a crowded summer beach to more landscape oriented shots with waves crashing, ragged cliff faces and moody skies. Here are a few random tips for coastline landscape shots to inspire you:

Find a Point of Interest
If there’s a tip on every type of photography, it is to find an interesting focal point for your shot. This is particularly important for coast line shots which can (if you’re not careful) be made up largely of sky and water. Of course there’s nothing wrong with sky or water – but unless you’ve got something in your frame to draw the eye of the person viewing your shots you’re unlikely to create something that holds their interest for long at all. Your focal point might be a physical aspect of the landscape (like a rock in the sea), it could be movement (like waves) or it could be some sort of texture or pattern (ripples in the water). Train your eye to see this way and you’ll create some great shots.

Look for Reflections
Whenever you’re around large bodies of water, you introduce the element of reflections into your shots. These can make or break your shot, depending how you treat them so be very aware of their impact. If you want to eliminate reflections consider moving the position that you’re shooting from or using a polarizing filter – however be aware that the reflections of a colorful sky or interesting rock formation can add depth and interest to your shots.

Coastline shots quite often have empty backgrounds (horizons with the sea meeting the sky) so it can become even more important than normal to find shots with interesting foregrounds. Use a small aperture to help keep both your foreground and background as in focus as possible.

Mix up the Format of your Shots
Some coastline shots are very well suited to a horizontal (landscape format) – however rotating your camera 90 degrees to a vertical position can produce powerful results – particularly when you have an interesting foreground, an interesting cloud formation or when you’re shooting with a high cliff along one edge of your shot.

Photographic location that has an element of movement presents itself with both opportunity and challenge for a photographer. While the coast can be a very still and serene place it’s also one of constant movement, particularly with wind and waves. Try shooting with longer shutter speeds (with a tripod of course) and capturing this movement – the results can be breath taking.

Be very aware of the colors in your shots. Coastlines can be incredibly moody places and can present you with anything from vibrant colors (blue skies, translucent emerald waters and bright yellow sand) through to the cool and more subtle colors of a stormy day. Both of these options (and everything in between) can work well if you think about how you might work with them (consider using filters, shutter speeds, the time of the day that you shoot etc).

Look for the Detail
You may love the size and grandeur of coastlines and particularly enjoy shooting with a nice wide angle lens to get as much of it in as possible – however the coast is also full of a wonderful array of smaller details that are worth zooming in on. Shells, sea animals, seaweed, patterns on the sand – all of these things can make for a wonderful image.

Introduce a Human Element
Coastlines on their own can be wonderful and on many occasions you’ll be willing to wait for the scene to clear of any trace of people to capture a ‘pristine’ shot – but sometimes it is the people IN the shot that give it the point of interest that we talked about above. Whether it be a person, a number of people or some other element that shows that people use this part of the coast (a building for example) – sometimes while you’re waiting for people to get out of the way you should probably be looking for ways to include them in your shots.

Seasons and Tides
Coastal locations are constantly changing – both on a daily and seasonal basis. Keep an eye on the times of the tide as they can completely change the mood and composition of the shots you take. Similarly the time of day you’re shooting at (and the direction and color of the light) will change a coastal landscape. Revisit locations at different times of the day and you might find a spot that doesn’t ‘work’ is one that presents you with the money shot later in the day – particularly be aware of the opportunities just before and after dawn and dusk. Also coastlines change a lot from season to season – revisit the same scene over a year and you’ll quite often end up with an interesting and diverse set of shots.

Turn Around
When photographing coastlines many photographers make the mistake of becoming obsessed with the ocean and always incorporating it into their shots – sometimes ignoring the richness in subject matter just a few meters away. Venture into the vegetation behind you and you’ll find all manner of interesting shots (sea grass blowing in the wind, animals, flowers, wonderful windswept patterns in the sand etc). Don’t forget coastal buildings (lighthouses can be great) and other features – you never know what you might find.

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