How to Photograph Coastlines [10 Tips]

How to Photograph Coastlines [10 Tips]

How to Photograph Coastlines

Image by ^riza^

I love heading for the coast and every year I attempt to head there at least once for a little rest and relaxation, which generally involves at least a few hours of photography each day.

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.

How to Photograph Coastlines

Image by -RobW-

Here are a few tips for coastline landscape shots. We’ve also included a few images to hopefully inspire you:

How to Photograph Coastlines: 10 Tips

1. Find a Point of Interest

If there’s a tip I write on virtually 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 at times 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.

Your focal point might be a physical aspect of the landscape like a rock in the sea or it could be movement like waves or it could be some sort of texture or pattern like ripples in water. Train your eye to see this way and you’ll create some great shots.

Photographing Coastlines - Point of Interest

Photo by Garry

2. Look for Reflections

Whene you’re around large bodies of water you introduce the element of reflections into your shots. These can make or break your shot. If you want to eliminate reflections consider moving the position that you’re shooting from or using a polarising filter however be aware that the reflections of a colorful sky or interesting rock formation can add depth and interest to your shots.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Reflections

Image by Orvaratli

3. Foregrounds

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.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Foregrounds

Image by BUR?BLUE

4. Mix up the Format of your Shots

Some coastline shots are very well suited to a horizontal or landscape format. However rotating your camera 90 degrees to a vertical position can produce powerful results. This is particularly true 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.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Format

Image by Jeff McCrory

5. Movement

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, especially with wind and waves. Try shooting with longer shutter speeds and capturing this movement. The results can be breathtaking.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Movement

Image by orvaratli

6. Color

Be very aware of the colors in your shots. I find that coastlines can be incredibly moody places and can present you with anything from vibrant 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.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Color

Image by MorBNC

7. Look for the Detail

I 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.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Details

Image by Storm Crypt

8. 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 such as a building you might find including people to enhance your photo.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Human Element

Image by camil tulcan

9. 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. Especially be aware of the opportunities just before and after dawn and dusk. Coastlines also change a lot from season to season so revisit the same scene over a year and you’ll quite often end up with an interesting and diverse set of shots.

How to Photograph Coastlines - Seasons

image by (nz)dave

10. Turn Around

When photographing coastlines many photographers make the mistake of becoming obsessed with the ocean and always incorporating it into their shots. This means you 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. You might find sea grass blowing in the wind, animals, flowers, wonderful windswept patterns in the sand and more. Don’t forget coastal buildings such as lighthouses and other features. You never know what you might find such as in the shot below!

How to Photograph Coastlines - Turn Around

Photo by matt.hintsa

PS: for more related tips you might also like to read my previous post on Beach Photography (some similarities to above).

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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+.

Some Older Comments

  • Tourist April 13, 2011 10:37 am

    I could cry. I just came back from a trip to Big Sur, CA and the majority of my photos came back terrible. I could not properly capture how AQUA the water was, there were areas where the water was aqua and then BAM! it would meet the deeper blue of the Pacific, but they all come out muddy if I capture the colour of the sky properly, and in order for me to get the true colour of the water I end up overexposing both sky and sand. I don't know what I did wrong, and I adjusted my f/stops so often trying to get it just right that I ended up almost forgetting why I went to Big Sur in the first place: To take in the beauty of that coastline. I almost want to hand my camera to my son and give up trying to take beautiful photos such as the ones above.

  • Glenn October 21, 2009 10:16 am

    Great post. All good advice. I love the coast and the beach. Here's one I took myself

  • jobob arikan August 20, 2009 11:04 pm

  • adbdnc July 11, 2009 02:10 am

    All the pics are beautiful ! i just started getting into photography, & took some pics at the beach near my home. i'm learning so much from this site. thanks for the help you don't realize you've given me so dar !

  • Logan June 3, 2009 01:46 pm

    These photographs are spectacular! Great composition and the colors are amazing! Awesome post, I will use this knowledge to the full extent. This web site is awesome aswell, I'm glad my photography teacher introduced my peers and I to it. Again, the photos are crazy!

  • SinnedCbu February 28, 2009 01:56 am

    I live on an island with lots of wonderful beaches, this was a great topic. Can't wait to go and apply these tips on the weekend. Thanks!

  • Don Bird February 16, 2009 11:51 pm

    I live in Michigan we have great places to photograph i use your tips all the time great tips .If you havent been to michigan your missing out on some realy great photos.Northern Michigan is beautiful Ive been
    all over the us michigan has beautifl places to see check it out for your self you wont be let down.

  • Ozlat February 14, 2009 11:37 am

    Some great tips... doesn't matter where you go but the beach always has something to offer... will have to try some of these new ideas !!

  • peddy February 14, 2009 09:10 am

    nice picture...i try to take a picture like u...but it doesn't work...hmm...

  • Lillian February 13, 2009 11:07 am

    Thanks for the excellent tips and lessons in photography. There's so much to learn and its great to be able to come to one site and learn it all. I'm going down to Tasmania (Australia) next week so I will be putting all these lessons into practice. Thanks again!

  • Joyce February 13, 2009 09:09 am

    The most beautiful images, great job.

    I will be heading to the East Coast of Florida soon, hope to get some images like these.

  • fiery_sunset February 13, 2009 05:13 am

    Amazing and breathtaking photos!!! ^_____^

    I salute those brilliant photographers and this site.

  • JD February 13, 2009 03:58 am

    Beautiful, beautiful.

    I love this site.

  • Geoff February 12, 2009 08:28 pm

    I've just discovered this website and it looks like it could be really useful.
    I've put a few of my latest photos up and would love any advice on how to improve them.

  • The Bogtrotter February 12, 2009 07:03 am

    Excellent tips. I love visiting the coast and taking pictures. My personal favourite is from a visit to Costa Rica a few years back -
    I just love the range of colours and the almost metalic reflections on the water.

  • Globetrotting Bride February 11, 2009 11:50 pm

    WOW! Those pics are all amazing. Is that plane landing in St. Martin? I just started a hobby of taking photos of my wedding rings on vacation but it would be nice to incorporate some coastline shots like these too. Here's the link in case you want to see mine:

  • kim February 10, 2009 07:37 am

    I am interested in object photography.I wonder if there is any special article on object photography.

  • David February 10, 2009 07:34 am

    Photography is an excellent hobby.Especially with digital photography you can enhance a website very easily.I just love the photos.

  • rayhan February 10, 2009 07:31 am

    These photographs are excellent.Digital photography can play a lot to enhance a blog.

  • David February 9, 2009 06:09 pm

    Really nice photos! But there aro no beaches in my country :( Only small ponds and lakes.

  • Dee Langdon - BloggerNewbie February 8, 2009 01:05 pm

    These photos remind me I am in definite need of a vacation!

  • Angie February 8, 2009 05:28 am

    I love the shot by camil tulcan! Awesome images to support great content!

  • Lara February 7, 2009 11:39 pm

    How wonderful! These are gorgeous, and give me some great inspiration!

  • jeffrey byrnes February 7, 2009 12:48 pm

    Great post. There were some great compositions as well as fantastic shots altogether.

  • Eric Hamm February 7, 2009 12:19 pm

    Absolutely breathtaking, Darren! I LOVE the coast even though it's rare that I see it more than once every couple years. I bet Australia has beautiful beaches. :-D Eric

  • KD February 7, 2009 12:08 pm

    Nice article, concise with really good examples.

  • Tanya Plonka February 7, 2009 05:54 am

    After a few moments of looking through these photos longingly, I realized: the same all applies of shots on the prairies (except for reflections on the water)!

    Thanks for showing such amazing examples... it's all really inspiring. Now, to make fields as gorgeous...

  • Steve Berardi February 7, 2009 01:34 am

    To get some amazing reflections of the sunset on the wet sand (like the one in this photo), make sure you get really low to the ground, and shoot the photo well after the sun actually sets (about 15-20 minutes).

    Also, as Michael pointed out above, watch out for the tide! Don't be the guy in this photo!

  • Michael VanDeWalker February 7, 2009 01:02 am

    I didn't get the link to the photo to work..

  • Danferno February 7, 2009 01:02 am

    I'm not sure if it hasn't been said already, but make sure you have a filter on your lens when shooting at the beach. A 10£ UV-filter is enough to stop the sand from scratching your 100+£ lens. Also be extremely careful when changing lenses, sand is one mean element.

    The images in this post are simply amazing.

  • Michael VanDeWalker February 7, 2009 12:55 am

    A couple of quick points I didn't see above:

    1. Always keep an eye on the waves! This is especially true if shooting storms on the beach. Have someone with you to act as a lookout if need be. The sea can be one mean woman and you and your gear can end up very wet or worse. There was actually a guy standing out on this point shooting until just before this wave hit. I'm sure he was glad he moved.

    2. When you get back to your motel or back home clean all of your gear well. Sand and salt are hard on things. Damp wash cloths rinsed often work well on camera bodies and lens exteriors. Blow off your lenses and filters carefully. Sand will scratch the best coatings on your glass. My tripod or monopod most generally ends up getting a shower then allow to dry with the legs fully extended.


  • Ralph Thomas February 7, 2009 12:25 am

    I often stay at a beach that I have considered to be photographically dull. You have convinced me that it is not the beach but my lack of visualization. Thank you for the inspiration. I look forward to my next trip to that not so dull beach.

  • Paula G February 7, 2009 12:06 am

    Excellent post. Love the suggestions and it is one of my favorite places to shoot. Recently was away on retreat and got to shoot a number of sunrise photos as well as some other "magic hour" shots of the sand.

  • Douglas Schultz February 6, 2009 11:25 pm

    I am definately inspired.

    Great shots.

  • LisaNewton February 6, 2009 10:53 pm

    Wow, thanks for the great advice. I live close to the beach and use it often. Your idea of having focus is important for me. Sometimes I just see so much beauty, with the sand and surf, it's hard to find one point to focus on, but the way you describe it, definitely draws the viewer in.

    I often to try to look for interesting people at the beach, and here in LA, there's usually no shortage. A friend a blogger friend of mine who also lives in LA had a great beach shot using the local subject matter as the subject of a blog post.

  • Irieness February 6, 2009 10:33 pm

    I used to live on the island from the last shot of the 747 landing. Alot of photographers make that shot of the planes landing, but not turning around and coming up with that back view shot. I thought it was brilliant and curse myself of not thinking of that.

    This was a brilliant post. When I first got my camera I ran to the beach to make shots of the coastline. It's funny that without prior knowledge, the shots that worked for me were the ones that are discussed in this post.

    Also, a small additional tip, try to make shots of coastlines from high viewpoints. You can create pictures of panoramic views, pretty much any time of the day. I made one with harsh light, that turned out great with this one being my favorite

  • Scott Bourne February 6, 2009 10:10 pm

    I particularly liked the advice to turn around - but would add that you could expand that to any photographic situation in the outdoors. Turn around while photographing the ocean. Also consider turning around when photographing any natural site. When photographing a well-known lake at Mt. Rainier National Park near Seattle, WA, USA - I once decided to turn around just in time to notice a small waterfall forming by some early flowers. This caused me to coin a simple acronym I use when shooting outdoors - LUDA - Look Up Look Down Look All Around. Great post Darren.

  • Sarah Faith February 6, 2009 08:25 pm

    Thank you so much ....saw your link on twitter. Loved the shots and the advice.... I feel I have taken away some thoughts to use.

    Very grateful.


  • Ilan February 6, 2009 08:14 pm

    I really enjoyed the photos posted as examples!
    Mostly, I enjoy the human element cause I think that most of the long exposure shots, although beautiful, but bit more banal, after seeing hundreds of such photos, they start to look very much alike :)

  • Will February 6, 2009 08:03 pm

    Nice article with some nice pics.
    Here's one of my favorite coast pics... I took it last year in New Zealand:

  • Ed O'Keeffe February 6, 2009 07:59 pm

    Great article Darren, I have a friend at the photography club who does some fantastic coastline photos in vertical format rather than the traditional landscape aspect ratio - I also loved the example photos you used.

    Additionally whenever I shoot around the coast I make sure I have my neutral density graduated filters with me to darken the sky / sea but keep detail in the foreground, I suspect a lot of the examples included have used a one or two stop grad filter (yes you can Photoshop it but noise can become an issue compared to doing it at the time of capture).

  • Justin Wright February 6, 2009 07:57 pm

    Very informative! I always try and take shots of the coast but it can be difficult sometimes. I really liked some of the shots you included in the post. I think the main thing is to have a main focus in the picture or something that draws your eye towards it. It really helps make the picture look interesting.

  • Carol@ iPentimento | Genealogy and More February 6, 2009 07:55 pm

    As I looked at the photos and read your article, I thought about all the 'good' photos I have taken over my lifetime. They were not through skill, but it looks like I have followed your advice unknowingly. I came to DIGG your article and found a gem. Thanks!

  • PRH February 6, 2009 07:55 pm

    great tips and a lovely selection of images Darren.

  • Jeremy Lim February 6, 2009 07:35 pm

    Brilliant. Wish I could offer more, but you nailed it all. Fantastic post, and amazing photos.