Tranquil beaches and sheer cliffs offer some of the best opportunities for stunning travel photos. It’s no surprise that some of these types of shots are my personal best selling photos. After all, who doesn’t love looking at a photo of a beautiful beach taken in the late afternoon light? Or the dramatic storm clouds or crashing waves into the rocks? The possibilities are endless when photographing coastlines. Here are 8 tips to help you capture better photos.
Choose the right time
Coastlines offer a wealth of photo opportunities. The great thing is that they can all look and feel different at different times of the day. Head to a beach at midday on a sunny summers day and you may find it packed with sunbathers. Go early in the morning and you might be sharing it with a few walkers. Early morning and late afternoon light is generally best. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t photograph at other times.
The question is what type of emotion do you want to create? If time permits scout the location beforehand and try to think about how you can portray it best. Is it at sunset when the light is on the face of the cliffs? Or is it at a busy time when the beach has people on it? The wonderful thing is you can always go lots of times in a day to capture a series of different photos.
Find a vantage point
One of the best ways to photograph the coast (especially beaches) is from a high vantage point. This can give the viewer a view that they might not usually see and give your photo scale. So be on the lookout for places that you can take photos from. This could be a high point on a sand dune, a rock or even your car! But remember to stay safe especially on rocks which be very slippery when they are wet.
Filters can be a landscape photographer’s best friend. The harsh lighting conditions, coupled with reflections and low sun can be challenging. But by using filters you can achieve the sort of image that you are after. The main types of filters for photographing coastlines are:
- Polarising filters can help you reduce the glare on the surface of the water
- If you are photographing during the day but still want to create the soft movement of the water you will need to use a Neutral Density Filter. They will allow you to have a slow enough shutter speed to capture the movement
- Graduated Neutral Density Filters are also a huge help when photographing any landscape. You should use them when you want to balance the upper part and lower part of an image. Especially at times when the sun is low in the sky like sunrise or sunset.
Think beyond sea and sky
When photographing the coast it is tempting to try and capture the sea and sky. But unfortunately, rarely do these two elements alone look as impressive in images as they do in real life. Instead of photographing sea and sky add a point of interest to the image. Things like rocks on the ground, cliffs in the distance or even people can help enhance the photo. Try to use the rule of thirds to avoid placing your horizon right in the middle of the photo.
Get your settings correct
The good news is that getting your settings correct is not difficult. You can make life even easier for yourself by using a tripod. Which you should be doing if you want to capture the best possible photos at the best time.
The key is to keep your image sharp all the way through. So this means using a smaller aperture for greater depth of field. Start at around f/8 and raise your f/number for the desired depth of field. Be very careful at very small apertures such as f/22. These can actually have an adverse effect on the sharpness of the photo
If you are using a tripod, then your shutter speed can be determined by your aperture. You shouldn’t have any issues at slower speeds with a tripod (other than wind). The only other factor that might affect your shutter speed is if you are wanting to freeze the action. If you are using a smaller aperture and faster shutter speed, you will need to raise your ISO to be able to achieve the shot. But only raise the ISO as much as you need to. Remember that the higher your ISO is the more noise will appear in your photo (which will make the photo lack sharpness).
Protect yourself and your camera
It might sound obvious, but photographing the coast can be dangerous. If you are high up on cliffs be careful of slippery rocks or even lose ground near the edges. Also, be aware of high winds that can knock you or your camera over the edge. Be extra careful if you are using a tripod when there are high winds as it can blow your camera over. Weigh your tripod down with a heavy bag and you can even open the legs so that the centre column is closer to the ground. When lower down be vigilant about tides that can mean you become stranded. Don’t forget to protect your camera against salty seawater and sand.
Don’t forget to edit
If you want your coastline photos to look as good as they can, you should spend time editing them. This doesn’t have to be extensive, but subtle changes to brightness and contrast will help. As will boosting the saturation and vibrancy. At the very least ensure that your horizon line is straight. A wonky line in coastal photography will look terrible.
The coast offers a wealth of photo opportunities. – Sometimes the same location can offer a completely different photo at different times of the day. So take your time, think about the scene, think about the light and think about the composition. If you do, you’ll end up with a host of photos that will stand out in any portfolio.
Kav Dadfar is a travel photographer and author of almost 300 articles on photography. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
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