7 Easy Tactics for Better Coastal Landscape Photography

7 Easy Tactics for Better Coastal Landscape Photography


Coastal landscapes can be an incredibly satisfying subject for landscape photographers and can result in some stunning images. Besides abiding by the general guidelines for landscape photography, here are a few other things you might like to think about next time you’re down by the coast with your camera.


1. Get There at the Right Time

While coastal landscape photography can be done at any time of the day or night, most photographers who are consistently getting great results will favour golden hour or blue hour as their favourite times to shoot. Getting there around these times allows you to capture stunning changing lighting conditions. Get used to shooting from before sunrise or until after sunset.

2. Get an ND Grad Filter

The secret sauce of coastal landscapes that are shot around golden and blue hours is an ND grad filter – a weapon of choice for a lot of landscape photographers. This simply makes it a lot easier to get a correct exposure on your skies (which basically act as a huge and bright light source) at the same time as the fore and mid-ground which can often be in shadow at the same time.

Bare Island Storm

3. Reduce Camera Shake

Shooting in lowish light means that you are going to have to stabilise your camera as best you can. That usually means a tripod for starters. You might also like to employ a remote shutter release or at least the delayed timing functionality that is standard with a lot of DSLRs.

4. Remember Your Foregrounds

When you’re concentrating on the beautiful colours of a sky in the golden or blue hours it can be very easy to forget that foreground interest can really add an element of interest to a coastal landscape that is irreplaceable. Usually a little scouting around a location will turn up all sorts of potentially interesting foregrounds that can complete your composition.


5. Shutter Speed and Water

Remember that if you are taking photographs in low light, with a slow shutter speed then water can appear blurred or misty. Personally I like that effect. If you don’t then you will want to make your shutter speed faster and adjust your other settings accordingly. This can get difficult in low light, so it’s probably an idea in this case to get to the location when there’s a little more light around. Alternatively you could shoot with wider apertures or increase the ISO but neither of those options is necessarily great for landscapes (depending on your intentions).

6. Don’t Forget Black and White

While the colours of coastal landscape photography are a great reason to be attracted to this subject, amazing results can also be had with black and white (and you don’t necessarily even have to shoot at blue or golden hour to get them). Play with your images in post production and test the effects of black and white – sometimes you can get a real gem by accident, but going with the intent of shooting b&w can get you even better results.

Bare Island Bridge

7. Turn Around

At popular photography locations on the coast around the time of sunset, there is a big mistake you see the entire crowd make most of the time (assuming you’re shooting in a location that’s popular with photographers). They only look towards the sun. Quite often there is amazing light in the other direction too – especially if there are a few clouds around! Don’t forget to at least look at what is happening in the rest of the sky.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips for coastal landscapes (in fact you can even find some other great ideas right here on DPS). Why not share some of your own tips in the comments?

Rob Wood is the founder of Light Stalking. He recommends you check out “How This Award Winning Coastal Photograph Was Taken” and this guide to “Landscape Photography for the Serious Amateur“.

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Some Older Comments

  • Gary Mc Nutt May 27, 2012 08:58 am

    Black and white photos sometimes do turn out well:


  • Nubia May 27, 2012 06:09 am

    Great information and images. I would suggest in the "Reduce Camera Shake" section to turn off the vibration compensation, if your camera has it, and also the auto focus if you are doing a long exposure. For the auto focus part you may auto focus first, change it to manual and take the photo making sure you keep the focus just obtained in AF mode.

  • Jenny May 25, 2012 03:10 pm

    I love the dramatic skies.
    I also like the moon in some photos. How about some tips to capture the moon? So often the moon looks amazing but hard to capture that in a shot.

  • Paul March 3, 2012 03:16 am

    If you don't have a tripod, maybe use your camera bag or even roll up a jacket or something?

  • Reinhard Schimek November 14, 2011 01:37 am

    I have to agree that besides looking at the sunset , look around how the sunset effects the coast with its golden light.
    I was in Yachats, Oregon and putting the camera on a railing on looking post got a shot of how the light of the sun on the coast line... here is the picture :


  • Monja November 12, 2011 01:50 am

    Wonderful landscape pics and a gorgeous view! Thanks so much for the tips!

  • peterk November 11, 2011 08:30 pm

    I like the tip with the ND grad. Only that you have to pay attention and to align pretty well the filter with the horizon. By the way, you should try Cockin. They're a bit bulky, but it's a pleasure to work with them. Now, if you don't feel very comfortable with the tripod, remember that you always have the option of the bean bag - cheap, light and stable (remote release is a must have)

  • Peter November 11, 2011 04:45 pm

    So true, but are these the most basic stuff for a landscaper? I thought this is ADP not BDP site....

  • Rishin November 11, 2011 12:26 pm

    Thanks for the article. I could get one natural shot with beautiful golden and blue hues..


  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead November 11, 2011 08:35 am

    Getting there early is not good enough. Be there A LOT EARLIER!
    Conclusion of a 2 year on DSLR beginner.

  • Alan Cooke November 11, 2011 07:28 am

    Need to reduce camera shake and dont have a tripod? Quick easy convenient keep in your camera bag gadget.

    1. A tripod screw or similar to scre in the socket under your camera. I have my Manfrotto quick release plate fitted which is perfect for the job.

    2. A length of cord which is tied to the tripod screw and long enough to reach the ground from eye height (bet you get the idea now huh!)

    3. Something like a large washer on the other end of the cord to stand on.

    4. Screw cord into socket and stand on other end and tension the cord.......steady camera.....voila!

  • SHvnDave November 11, 2011 06:00 am

    One of my better shots of the piers at South Haven occurred when another photographer walked out to the very end of the pier and set up his tripod and camera (and hence only got the setting sun over water). I was able from the head of the pier to center him and his tripos inside the circumference of the sun, and he became the local landmark point of a great sunset on Lake Michigan. Point being, when going to the shorre to shoot sunrise or sunset - don't go to the water's edge - you will have only two elements (Water and Sky). Move back and get shoreline sand, rocks, trees, and structures int the picture to create the depth necessary for a pleasant picture.

    One other tip - getting there at the right time means getting there at least a half hour earlier than you think you need to. for sunrise, perhaps an hour. Some of the best light and color occur 45 or more minutes before sunrise and after sunset. So many times I have seen people shooting the sunset turn their back and walk to their car when the last of the sun dips below the water and the sky is just starting to explode with grandure.

  • Hagen November 11, 2011 04:06 am

    The turn around one can be critical. I've gone to several locations and didn't get the planned shot for a variety of reasons, not only weather cooperation. But just behind you, or on the way back, can be some brilliant alternatives.

    The intended shot

    The 'turn around shot'

    And on a different night, coming back from a shoot

  • Eduardo Romero November 11, 2011 03:55 am

    The last tip is very important. Almost all of my shots are away from the sun. here is an example:

  • Matt Daniels November 10, 2011 05:36 pm

    Getting there at the right time is definitely one that I live by. Thanks for reminding me of some of these!

  • Steve Coleman November 9, 2011 12:08 pm

    Sometimes it's also helpful to be mindful of the tides.

  • Sohail November 9, 2011 11:06 am

    Thanks for the tips let me know what yall think of this one.

  • Scottc November 9, 2011 11:02 am

    Great idea for a topic, never thought of it as "coastal" (more like landscape) but it does deserve special attention.


  • Richard Taylor November 9, 2011 07:36 am

    You may find this tool helpful in planning shoots.
    (It will give times and directions of sun/moon rise/set and the moon phase, from a location you nominate)


    Take a torch (and attach it to you).
    (1) It helps to be able to see where you are walking.
    (2) It helps see camera controls.
    (3) A powerful one can illuminate the landscape making composition and focussing (which can be extreemly difficult in very low light) a lot easier.

  • James Clancy November 8, 2011 09:10 pm

    The tip on the ND grad filter is excellent.

    I literally got one about a month ago and I've had some great success with it. It really does make a big difference. The detail you can get from clouds, especially darker, almost thundery clouds is breath taking.

  • Fuzzypiggy November 8, 2011 07:39 pm

    Wrap up warm, long exposures you will be standing about with nothing to do but wait for very long periods of time!

    Always ensure you have microfibre cloths, sea-spray is a bugger and gets all over the camera when salt-water dries it leaves residue on filters and lenses. Clean it off carefully and completely or all you shots will be "misty" with salt residue.

    Get online resources to help, get the tide-times tables for the spot you're going to. Nothing worse than getting there to find out the tide is in the opposite direction to what you wanted.

    Get an idea the direction of the sun, so you can catch those golden rays from the correct angle. Photographer Epehmeris is perfect for this.

    Be aware that tripod feet are very small and all that weight will sink in soft sand, get some "sand plates" or large plates you use on wooden floors for furniture to stop the tripod sinking during 2-3 minute exposures.

    Sand is as bad as salt, ensure you keep the sand out of the camera and lenses, clean very careful when you get home. Sand is very, very abrasive and a few grains hitting glass at very high speed is not good. Use lens hoods and umberellas to stop the sand getting into the camera and lenses.

    Three of my personal favourites I have shot.




  • Adrian November 8, 2011 12:38 pm

    Nice shots at la perouse. Heres one of mine from there. (composite shot exposing for sky and forground) http://500px.com/photo/2265455

  • ccting November 8, 2011 10:36 am

    Wow... I will never capture that high quality of photos in my life...

  • Mandy November 8, 2011 08:42 am

    'turn around' tip is a good one to remember, but I really like the 'don't forget black and white' tip. I read the black and white tip post a while ago and this could be a good chance to try it out...

  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com November 8, 2011 08:11 am

    Wonderful tips. I find it difficult to set up tripod whenever there's a "rocky" situation. There's some landscapes that are just too rocky :D

  • Lou November 8, 2011 07:07 am

    ha "don't forget to turn around" love it.

  • Maarten Westmas November 8, 2011 06:12 am

    Great Tips! I would add some protection against the salt water.

  • John Davenport November 8, 2011 03:11 am

    I'd love to spend some solid time at a nice coastal location to try these things out.. it would certainly give me a nice excuse to go some place warm and away from my standard working schedule!

  • David Moore November 8, 2011 02:28 am

    I always bring an old tripod along when shooting in beach sand. It's easy positioning and leveling the tripod in loose sand, since you don't need to fiddle with the tripod adjustments at all. Simply push the legs into the sand until it's in position--leveling is a breeze, even easier than a ball head. Digging the legs into the sand also keeps the tripod steady if water rushes in.

    Remember to use an old or inexpensive tripod that you won't mind getting wet or sandy.

    One other tip: bring shoes you won't mind getting wet, if you wear them. I've been unexpectedly trapped knee-deep during long exposures.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 8, 2011 02:14 am


    Love the useful tips! I like to use a Singh-Ray Variable ND filter when is comes to hard light and coastal photography. This was shot close to 11 AM, using a 70-200mm f2.8 and a variable ND. Tried to get the smokey water, but did not have time to wait until dusk.


  • Francis November 8, 2011 02:06 am

    Nice read.

    I also need to invest on tripod,

    This was taken handheld.


  • Bekah November 8, 2011 02:01 am

    I don't live near a coast, or get to one very often at all, but I still found this post somewhat useful.
    One of my all time favorite photography tips is turn around I think it goes with most any form oh photography and can lead you to shots you would have otherwise missed! Except my 'turn around' is more like a 'spin slowly in a circle.' :)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer November 8, 2011 01:51 am

    Interesting tip about using a ND grad filter instead of just a ND filter. Is this recommended for shots even in complete darkness or just sunset time?

    The winter solstice moon with reflection from last year:


    This year I invested in a real tripod and hope to make more time for these types of shots.

  • Keivan Zavari November 8, 2011 01:11 am

    Don't have so much experience with coast! good to read at least... :-)