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How to Photograph Coastlines [10 Tips]

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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.

coastline photography

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!

coastline photography

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
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+.

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