10 Tips for Coastal Landscape Photography

Image by Cain Pascoe

1. Use the Light Luke!
A dull coastal scene can turn into a gorgeous photograph if nature provides a light show. To get beautiful light, you need to shoot around sunset and sunrise times. Start at least 1 hour before the sunrise/sunset and keep shooting once the sun has already set or risen. The best moments are when the clouds get lit by the sun still below the horizon.

2. Timing is Important
Waves are a form of high-speed photography, if you want to enhance your composition with a splash, you need to trigger the shutter at exactly the right time, the best way to do this is to study the scene carefully learning how to predict the interval between the waves crashing and the best display in the scene. Waves usually have cycles, study them and use that to get the perfect moment.

3. How to use your Tripod
The tripod is an essential tool for coastal work but it’s not easy to use. The first big problem is that as the waves come and go the sand will be unstable and your tripod will move, that’s very bad as you will get blurred photos. To avoid this problem you need to bury your tripod a few inches into the sand and shoot as the waves are receding once the sand has stopped its movement. It takes time to practice and both you and the tripod will get wet. To avoid corrosion damage rinse the tripod with tap water once you are back at home. If you are careful a normal aluminum tripod will last years shooting coastal scenes before showing any signs of damage.

4. Prepare for the Session and Your Safety
Use all the tools you can to prepare your shooting session. Research sunrise and sunset times, scout the area before. If you can look for nice compositions, check the tides as they are utterly important for coastal scenes.  Make sure you are safe and you have always have a quick  way to escape if the tide rises fast or if a rogue wave appears. Never change lenses or filters close to the coast, retreat to a safe place to do that and shield from the wind to avoid tiny particles of sand in your gear.

5. Invent a Foreground Element
Near/Far compositions with a wide angle lens enhance the sense of depth in the photo but finding a foreground element at the beach can be difficult. There are some options you can try: rocks even if small can create an anchor point in your composition, sea shells are a classic, a starfish is of course awesome if you can find one. When you seem to have nothing at all, try to use the small waves at the shoreline as an improvised foreground. Crossing waves or small splashes can add a key element to your composition. Tip: Build a small fence with sand to make the little waves crash into something.

6. Shoot at Night!
If you are very comfortable with the area and you know the locations and the tides very well, you can adventure a night shot. Scout at daytime to select your compositions, mark the locations in a way you can recognize them later, use a good flashlight and a headlamp and always carry a backup flashlight. If you plan carefully you can get a shot that was never done before from popular locations. The night adds a new dimension to the photos: mystery and if it’s very hot during the day you’ll be fresh and happy at night.

7. Experiment with Different Shutter Speeds
Never fix your mind in only one shutter speed. Very long exposures create a foamy/dreamy look, very short shutter speeds freeze the movement of waves in splashes getting every drop in the frame but the most useful shutter speeds are usually in the middle. Experiment with shutter speeds between 1/50 and 4 seconds to get both the abstraction of a long shutter speed and the dynamics of the waves in motion. Speeds such as 1/4, 1/8, 1/15 and 1/30 can get beautiful results and are many times ignored.

8. Intimate Compositions are Possible
The vastness of the ocean invites the photographer to shoot the grand seascape using a wide or ultra-wide lens. But a telephoto can be used to create intimate compositions from coastal scenes, specially if you have rocks. Try different focal lengths to search for a composition you haven’t considered, use a long exposure if needed to create an abstraction and you’ll have a new photo.

9. Use Black & White to add some Drama
If the weather is cloudy, think about Black & White as a way to add some drama to otherwise dull scenes, a combination of shutter speed and B&W can turn the ocean into a stormy scenario. Adding  a blue or selenium tint to the B&W photo when you edit it can be a good touch for a seascape.

10. Turn Around!
The Ocean is captivating and it’s almost impossible to stop staring at the sun as it sets or rises from the ocean but sometimes a beautiful scene is developing just at your back. As the first or last rays of light illuminate the scene you have beautiful tones in the landscape and sky at your back. Turn around and check, it only takes a minute!

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