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5 Quick Tips for Coastal Photography

There’s nothing like a great coastline to get me excited about photography. Whether it be unmarked sand dunes, sea grasses blowing in the sea breeze, rugged outcrops of rocks and cliff faces or a beach scene complete with all the color of families on their day at the beach – coasts can present photographers with some great opportunities.

Here’s 5 tips for your next coastal photography outing!

1. Look for Reflections

Image by midlander1231

Any time you’re shooting around bodies of water you should be aware of the potential for enhancing your image with reflections. This is particularly relevant when shooting at sunrise or sunset where your images can be brightened and have interest added to them by reflecting those pretty pinks and oranges in the water before you.

2. Focus in on Details

Image by Max xx

What often grabs your attention most on coastal shoots is the grandeur of the landscape – so it’s easy to overlook what might be at your feet as you’re lining up your shot. The coast is full of smaller opportunities for amazing shots – whether it be sea shells on the waters edge, the footprints of an animal in the sand, small wild flowers growing in the dunes or patterns in rock formations. Take the time to look around you at the detail of what surrounds you. Oh… and don’t forget your macro lens!

3. Add Foreground Interest

Image by Kyle Kruchok

When shooting seascape shots its very easy to end up with images that contain few focal points of interest (ie: shots that are half sky and half sand). One way to add interest to these shots is to look for opportunities in the foreground of your shots. If you’re able to place something interesting in the foreground (perhaps some interesting rock pools) you’ll lead the eye into the image. When doing this test shooting from different heights – sometimes getting down quite low and will add more interest to the shot while sometimes a higher vantaage point might work better. Also remember that if you want the foreground and background to be in focus that you’ll want to shoot with small aperture (high f numbers).

4. Slow things Down

Image by Matthew Stewart

Another way to add interest and atmosphere to seascape shots is to slow your shutter speed down so that blur any part of the image that is moving. In this way you might get a misty looking sea that captures the movement of waves or a furry carpet of swaying sea grasses. Of course to do this you’ll want to shoot with a tripod to make sure your camera is perfectly still.

5. Horizons

Image by Garry

Two last tips when it comes to horizons. Firstly – make sure they’re horizontal with the framing of your image. There’s nothing like a horizon that slopes unnaturally down at one edge of the frame to make those looking at your shot a little sea sick. If you’re going to break this ‘rule’ – break it well and make it an obviously intentional thing. Secondly – the convention is to avoid placing your horizon in the middle of your frame but rather to position it nearer one of the thirdway points (depending upon whether there’s more interest in the sky or foreground of the shot). Of course ‘rules’ are made to be broken but for balanced shots keep these in mind.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Lee Lip Pang

    Dusk at Jeram,Malaysia.

  • NadiL820

    Sea critters on a rock looking like fossils. Franklin D Resort, Runnaway Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica

  • NadiL820

    little wave. Franklin D Resort, Runnaway Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica

Some older comments

  • Sonny

    November 30, 2012 10:02 am

    As a costal photographer myself, I second everything you say here. Thank you for this article. Even though I take costal pictures all the time it is so easy to forget the tips you mention.

  • Leon Nery

    November 30, 2012 09:19 am

    Beautiful photos and helpful tips. But I agree with eric and others on the issue of post production. We have in our readers some amateurs trying to capture similar pictures. I think it should be qualified if pictures are heavy on post production. We might be discouraging some startups if they could not achieve the same quality using their shooting skills alone.

  • Sanjay

    November 27, 2012 05:46 pm

    How important are Filters for such shots? During day for long exposures are filters mandatory or there is some workaround possible?

  • Scottc

    November 27, 2012 09:23 am

    Great tips, especially like #3.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8088031104/

  • Guigphotography

    November 27, 2012 06:38 am

    Think it'll be a while before I get any as good as those in the article. Wow! However, I will attach an example of being brave (but never, ever, foolish)!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8083427308/in/photostream

  • Steve

    November 27, 2012 05:54 am

    Get down low for a different viewpoint

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Eastbourne/G0000cP6wr7zzUNQ/I0000KmbXOdvWQz0/C00006idB3II8aC4

  • Satesh R

    November 27, 2012 12:53 am

    Great tips!
    http://500px.com/photo/18287821

  • Pool Equipment Sunshine Coast

    March 21, 2011 01:42 pm

    it is a very nice post

  • Naz

    December 13, 2010 02:56 am

    Really nice photo Kyle- love the sun peeking out over the rock-

  • Kyle Bailey

    December 11, 2010 06:47 am

    Awesome collection of tips - wish I had these before my trip to Oregon as it may have allowed me to take a few better shots. Here are a couple I managed to get that I think are ok. Please leave me comments - I can only get better with input.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/5141808523/' title='Canon Beach / Sunset / Oregon / Beach / Water /Ocean / Waves / Silhouette / Lens Flare / Light / Natural Light / Sun / Reflection / Kyle Bailey / Canon' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4071/5141808523_0d9ac86b8c.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/5189364408/' title='Surfer / Surfing / Sunset / Ocean / Alone / Texture / Water / Waves / Clouds / Kyle Bailey / Canon' url='http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1274/5189364408_706b78a947.jpg']

  • James

    December 1, 2010 01:51 pm

    Would you share your settings for the first photo. I wonder what is the exporesure time. I always have the problem when setting long expore time at sunset. My photos tend to be overexposed despite me setting the aperture to the smallest.

  • Max

    November 25, 2010 08:25 pm

    Thanks for featuring my Sally Lightfoot crab photo Darren on your great blog! Makes me relive that memorable Galapagos trip for my 60th ;-) Have a look at my other Galapagos Flickr sets for more of the wonderful fauna of those isalnds, so important for Darwin and the 'Origin of Species' ...

    Cheers, Max

  • Kenneth Hoffman

    November 21, 2010 04:04 am

    Beautiful photos! A good part of getting a good image is in the prepearation, If on the wast coast,, sunsets are not a problem. But on the east coast, sunrises require early rising and warm clothes. Always pay
    attention the the curves the shore makes.

  • Christine Giglio

    November 20, 2010 09:31 am

    Old Gull taken at the Manasquan Inlet, NJ.. I love to use the center focus at the water.

    http://kryssiesdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2010/10/ebb-and-flow.html

  • Mark Holmes

    November 20, 2010 01:58 am

    Great article. It gets straight to the point and covers all the important details concisely. I'd like to add for your readers that "slowing things down" here in San Diego isn't always easy to do. Even on cloudy days it is quite bright. I recommend a neutral density filter as an essential tool of coastal photography. It's like putting sunglasses on the camera and allows you to get a slow shutter speed even in bright sunlight. You can even stack them if necessary to make it even darker. You might have to crop the resulting photo though, as stacked filters can create heavy vignettes. A polarizing filter for strong colors and a graduated ND filter to bring coast and sky into similar exposure range are also useful tools in your coastal photography arsenal.

  • Naz

    November 19, 2010 04:29 pm

    pam i'm pretty sure those are hdr- the rock I mentioned it seems to me should have been dark sillouette- maybe it was getting reflected light, but to me it looks post processed

  • Naz

    November 19, 2010 04:28 pm

    good link Rick- that guy definately has his perspective and foreground down pat- I think I just don't have an eye for that kind of seeing like he does- when I try to get foreground and perspective nice, it just always fails- llooks too flat, boring etc or too severe an angle or something

  • prabha

    November 19, 2010 03:32 pm

    which camera is best

  • Rick

    November 19, 2010 02:48 pm

    Tip #6: Learn to shoot like this guy.

  • Sameer

    November 19, 2010 02:26 pm

    Hi Darren,

    Thanks for the tips, I always used to mess up some of my shots while photgraphing on coast.

    I think this would help me to get better pics.

    Sameer

  • wendell asuncion

    November 19, 2010 01:53 pm

    These tips are very enriching on how to take pictures more lively with full of emotion and embedded meaning. Thanks a lot for sharing this article. Just continue on sharing new insights on photography!

  • Dev

    November 19, 2010 12:35 pm

    very goods tips i, nice picture and i will trying to improve my skill based on your experience.

  • Guilherme Lima

    November 19, 2010 11:16 am

    Nice tips and better yet images!
    Well, I have a technical doubt about cleaning lens and filters while shotting in the beach with all the salty sea breeze that quickly let any lens completly "blind" and everything gets clammy... How do you deal with that?

  • George E. Norkus

    November 19, 2010 09:50 am

    Hey, don't forget after the sun goes down!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/5177853956/

  • Rae Merrill

    November 19, 2010 09:49 am

    Love these shots. Its worth bearing in mind the risk of sand getting in the camera or lens. Zoom lens seem particularly at risk as they suck in a lot of air due to the zoom action. Fine particles of sand can get in the focusing races.

  • Derik

    November 19, 2010 09:11 am

    A very practical tip that I'd like to pass on for anyone thinking about doing any shooting around salt water, and that is to buy a carbon fiber tripod, because the salt water will corrode and destroy aluminum tripods.

  • Colin

    November 19, 2010 08:08 am

    Not about your images - but be very very aware of wind blown fine sand particles and spray. Your pride and joy loves neither.

  • Peggy Collins

    November 19, 2010 08:03 am

    Excellent suggestions! I can see how you've kept all of your points in mind for each of your shots (except for #2, which isn't appropriate in this case). Each image looks as though it was carefully thought-out before your ever clicked the shutter.

    Since I live on a coast (the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada) and my favorite thing to do is photograph wildlife, I usually check to see what the tide is doing before venturing out with my camera. An ocean's shoreline becomes alive with birds when the tide is low or on the way out. I intentionally went down to the rocky shoreline to get this shot of a mink, knowing they can often be found foraging for starfish, clams and mussels when the tide's out.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/4631972248/' title='A Day for Minks' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4024/4631972248_0532169a16.jpg']

  • Pam

    November 19, 2010 05:37 am

    Are these hdr images?thanks

  • Naz

    November 19, 2010 04:26 am

    nice photos- last one has loads of foregroun d interest- really makes the photo- #1 however, the HDR is kinda wonky- especially on the rock in middle- too dark at top of rock, while colors and light were allowed to show through closer to water. As well, the long exposure makes the water look like ice- the longer exposure works better in photo #4 and #5 for more of a misty look I thjink

  • Chintamani

    November 19, 2010 03:46 am

    The article is good.. (all your articles in fact).

    It would have been nice if you would have added few camera settings for those shots.

    It is helpful for new photographers like me.

    Thanks.

  • eric

    November 19, 2010 03:09 am

    lovely photos but a little heavy on the post production... starts looking like another planet unless your trying to achieve fantasy art i dont see the point

  • Elena

    November 19, 2010 03:01 am

    Ramelli: your image is wonderful, thank you for posting parameters too! Darren: I love photo #5, is it possible for you to describe how it was taken? I live right next to the beach and take similar photos often but was not able to achive such sharp focus... or the secret is in post-processing? I used Canon 7D and 10-22mm lens for most of my landscapes... Thank you!

  • Anthony Howarth

    November 19, 2010 02:41 am

    Thanks for the tips. I'm an amateur photographer, and I'm going on my first sunrise photo shoot this weekend. I'll definitely try out some of the things you suggested.

  • fortunato_uno

    November 19, 2010 12:08 am

    I have had some fun trecking to the coast (west side of Florida/Gulf coast) to get both sunrise and sun set. Most of the time I wind up getting shots of birds and/or the sea life I can find. One of my favorite shots (http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/794672-dpp-1019-crabs-gallor) is actually of the fiddler crabs that are so abundant. I even got one shot where iI had ventured out (about) 200 yards (not sure of the metric conversion) and was charged by a (bottle nose) dalphin. (http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/582030-dpp-0231-charge). So I guess your second point is the one I would stress.
    Thanks for another insightful article.

  • Farnoosh

    November 18, 2010 11:25 pm

    Stunning, breathtaking, amazing photos - and I shall take all these tips with me when I return to Hawaii for the 6th time next year ......! Or to the Aussie beaches for that matter....THANK YOU!

  • Mei Teng

    November 18, 2010 11:19 pm

    Awesome photos and great set of tips!

  • Glyn Dewis

    November 18, 2010 10:15 pm

    Absolutely stunning imagery here, thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes to you,
    Glyn

  • Maik-T. Šebenik

    November 18, 2010 07:02 pm

    Very nice articel with good tips and hints.
    I love taking photographs at the coastline!

    Here are some of my examples:
    A beautiful sunset on the west shore of Maui (Hawaii):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38524442@N05/3575796121/in/set-72157618884984717/

    Makaha Beach on Oahu (Hawaii) at dusk:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38524442@N05/4502937967/in/set-72157618884984717/

    "Golden" waves at DT Fleming Beach Park (Hawaii):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38524442@N05/4563391511/in/set-72157618884984717/

    Again, Makaha Beach with the golden sun hiding behing clouds:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38524442@N05/3747534534/in/set-72157618884984717/

    And finally, footsteps on the beach of Barcelona (Spain):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38524442@N05/4645760088/in/set-72157622741807412/

  • Ramelli

    November 18, 2010 06:29 pm

    Dear Darren,

    I might add just a little tip on n°4, slow things down, you get very interresting picture by forcing a long exposure with an ND 400 filter, you get the the same result but during the day, check out this photo from Hermosa Beach in LA taken in the middle of the afternoon with a 30 second exposure time due to an ND 400 filter:

    http://sergeramelli.com/?p=87

  • Adrian

    November 18, 2010 04:34 pm

    Great tips!!
    Will definitely try a sunset type of shot soon.

    Here is my coastal shot btw.
    ---->http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostacrayon/5168671393/

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer

    November 18, 2010 09:38 am

    I completely agree with your rule on paying attention to the foreground. If a landscape photo is going to have real impact, it's got to be more than just a pretty sky and distant nature.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever

    November 18, 2010 09:33 am

    Excellent tips.

    Number 3 is so important. So many people go to the coast, see a beautiful sunset, photograph it, and wonder why the photo is so bland. Foreground makes all the difference and gives such a perspective!

    NEK Photography Blog

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    November 18, 2010 06:46 am

    Hi

    These tips are extremely useful and I totally enjoyed this article. I like to use a 10-20mm lens in order to capture the Details as well as keeping the Horizon in view. I always use a tripod and lock up the mirror when I shoot HDR. This image is a 3 shot HDR that captured the details of the rocks and seaweed right underneath me as well as preserving the sweeping coast of La Jolla.

    Cheers, Erik

    http://tinyurl.com/29lpcpv

  • Scott

    November 18, 2010 06:08 am

    Very good tips and great photos to illustrate the points.

    Not enhanced, but one of the very few photos I have of an actual "Sunset" on the Atlantic, from the West Coast of Africa (P&S):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4422202043/

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