Seascape Photography Tips

Seascape Photography Tips

One of my favourite places to shoot is the coast due to its variety and ease of access. I’m fortunate to live in a country such as New Zealand which has an abundance of beaches, even in a big city like Auckland. Here are some tips on how to capture beautiful photos at the beach.


Like all landscapes, including some foreground interest is important in order to produce an interesting photo. One way to do this at a beach is to look for interesting rocks or rock formations and use those as your foreground interest. However don’t just find a rock and stick it randomly in your photo – try and find some sort of pattern or structure to lead the viewer into the shot. Experiment with different points of view – e.g. try placing the camera at different heights and angles – to see what works best.

Below is a shot with the camera about chest height and pointing down to accentuate the shape of the rock pool. Having the camera lower would have ‘flattened out’ the rock pool, and having the camera higher would restrict the amount of sky I could have included.


Here I found some old tree roots that I found really interesting. I got the camera low down and very close to the foreground to take this shot, using a wide angle lens to exaggerate the tree roots.


Some beaches offer great views from the cliffs above and these can make for some great shots. Including large rock formations or cliff faces in the foreground really work well for these types of shots. The below shot was taken above a gannet colony, and I found the inclusion of the gannets nesting on the rocks also gives a sense of scale.


Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. Wet sand can offer gorgeous reflections and this is best with an outgoing tide as there are fewer footprints to worry about.


Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list of the types of shots you can get near the sea. One of the main reasons I love seascapes is just the variety you can get from different beaches. Or even the same beach at different tides.

And don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Sometimes the best compositions are those taken from in the water!

Shutter Speed

Another important factor to consider with seascapes, or any photos containing water, is shutter speed, as this often has a significant impact on the overall look of your photo.

A faster shutter speed will freeze the action and will therefore show the water without any motion blur. Depending on how fast the water is moving, this is typically anything from 1/20 sec and faster. This is the most realistic way to capture water and would be what non-photographers would expect to see. But we know photography isn’t always about realism!

The below photo was taken at 1/50 sec and as you can see this was fast enough to freeze the movement of the water.


Slower shutter speeds will blur the water to varying degrees. Again it depends on how fast the water is moving, but I find that shutter speeds of around 1/2 sec will show some motion blur while still retaining a reasonable amount of detail of the water. This shot was taken at 1/3 sec and captured the splash of the water against the rocks while still getting some motion blur.


Once the shutter speed goes above 1 second the water starts to give the foggy/milky effect that is quite popular. Although some people dislike this effect, I love using it in my photos. The below shot was taken using a shutter speed of 4 seconds.


The shutter speed you choose is usually down to personal preference. Sometimes it’s dictated by the light (e.g. before sunrise or after sunset the light is too low to use a fast shutter speed) but often it depends on how you want the photo to look. I find it’s also a case of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to mix it up a little and experiment.


The two types of I filters I commonly use for seascapes are graduated neutral density (GND) and neutral density (ND) filters.

GND filters are used when the dynamic range of a scene to too much for the camera’s sensor. This is often the case at sunrise and sunset when the sky is much brighter than the foreground. A GND filter is dark at one end and clear at the other end, with a gradual transition in between. The dark end is placed over the brighter part of the scene (e.g. the sky) so that the exposure is balanced with the brighter part (e.g. the foreground). An alternative to using a GND filter is to take multiple exposures and blend them together with post-post- processing but I prefer to get it in one shot where possible.

ND filters are used to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor. They are useful when you want to use a longer shutter speed than the light would normally allow. ND filters come in different strengths, commonly around 3-stops (reducing light by 8 times) but can go all the way to 10-stops (reducing the light by 1024 times).

The below shot was taken using a 10-stop ND filter. The sun was just rising above the horizon so conditions were quite bright, but the filter allowed me to use a shutter speed of 60 seconds.


See my other DPS article for more information on using strong ND filters.

I hope you found this tutorial useful. You can view more of my photos on my website, on my Flickr page, or on Facebook.

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Some Older Comments

  • Mike December 29, 2012 08:40 am

    The first image on top on this page I really like, I am not a fan though of long exposures for seascape scenes, the milky effect is over done too many times to be just a photographic gimmic, but getting back to the first image it's great

  • Rajesh Al-Rashed July 27, 2012 07:10 am

    Tutorial is very helpful. These tips are really important to make a simple scene attractive.
    Thank You.

  • Pandu Adnyana June 15, 2012 05:13 pm

    I love to have motion as foreground in my seascape.
    I use 0.7sec exposure for the below image, and using ND gradual filters to balance the light.
    Always keep an eye on the wave movement to save your gear from the splash.

  • Pandu Adnyana June 15, 2012 05:11 pm

    I love to have motion as foreground in my seascape.
    I use 0.7sec exposure for the below image, and using ND gradual filters to balance the light.
    Always keep an eye on the wave movement to save your gear from the splash.

  • Kathy Nowell June 11, 2012 11:02 pm

    Help me out with seascapes that are completely flat, i.e., the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sunrises are beautiful to the eye, but boring to a camera. Do I just need to find something to put in the foreground? A photo through the dunes? I have found that really flattens out the sunrise and is just uninteresting.


  • Gail June 11, 2012 04:15 pm

    Beautiful photos of the(gannet colony at Muriwai Beach and Rangitoto Island. Some excellent tips here.....I am one who is not so keen on the flat water look, preferring a more natural effect. Also living in Auckland I look forward to a lot more practice of sea shots. We do have pretty good sunsets to photograph and sunrise is even better.

  • Keith Duncan June 9, 2012 09:23 am

    There are many things which can add interest to a seascape. This photo was taken on an overcast day in early spring and has an almost monochromatic effect. Interest is added by the tyre tracks on the sand, the couple walking down those tracks, the distant people with surfboards and gathering shellfish and the splash of red from the sunshelter at the bottom of the dunes on the right.

  • Dave June 8, 2012 08:18 pm

    I love seascapes and right now I am thinking of going the Lee filter system way - you have just made my decision easy - Great post thanks

  • Claudio June 8, 2012 07:56 pm

    Thanks Chris. I'm a novice in photography, recently acquired a DSLR, with which I'm much excited. I was expecting to get to your filter section, as the colours seemed awesome to me. Those great purples and overall warm colours are all natural kiwi sunset/sunrise colours? By the way you describe ND filters, it seems like just exposure balancing, between one half and the other half of the photograph, or there's something else to it? Do they make those warm colours? And what about polarised filters to remove glare from water or wet surphaces, do you not used them? Many thanks! Great shots!

  • Michael McNally June 8, 2012 07:47 pm

    The photo compositions, foreground, leading lines, etc are all great, but the colors are way too saturated for my taste. Toning down the saturation might result in a softer more natural look.

  • Anand June 8, 2012 12:09 pm

    I am holidaying in Jamaica near Negril. These tips are useful.

  • BB June 8, 2012 10:19 am

    Great tips, but I would have like to have seen shots with more typical "real" colors than overly processed or HDR processing. Its difficult for beginners like myself to see shots that can be expected without also needing to differentiate the effects of post-processing.

  • Joanne June 8, 2012 09:37 am

    I will definately be keeping your tips in mind. Might have to wait for Christmas to get filters. If I can make images half as gorgeous I'll be ecstatic.

  • Russel June 8, 2012 09:05 am

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  • Russel June 8, 2012 09:03 am

    [eimg link='' title='baclayon mangrove forest' url='']

  • Joe June 8, 2012 07:39 am

    I like the article. What do you think about the use of a polarized filter for waterscapes?

  • Dave K June 7, 2012 02:37 am

    There is nothing better then the beach on any day if the year, nice or nasty weather always fun and always something to shoot.

  • Marcus Davis June 6, 2012 07:19 am

    Amazing color in your photos. I don't live near a beach, but this makes me want to move to one. lol

  • Tina Thompson June 5, 2012 02:05 pm

    Funny thing - in the Caribbean the water is far less colorful in the golden hours than it is during high daylight. That takes away a lot of its beauty in my opinion.

  • Scottc June 5, 2012 10:35 am

    If the article doesn't make the point, the photos certainly do!

  • Steve June 5, 2012 05:00 am

    I agree that including people always gives extra interest to the composition. I would also say that you can get some good seascapes in light other than the golden hour

    This is a bit different;
    An artist painting a seascape;

  • John June 5, 2012 01:26 am

    I absolutely love shooting at the coast. I wish I lived a bit closer to it, but I do what I can.

    One of the things I like to try and do is incorporate the human element within seascape style shots like in this shot of a fishing boat heading out for an early morning catch.

    Thanks for this post - awesome series of photos as well!

  • Mridula June 5, 2012 12:51 am

    Amazing shots. But these days I have been with the mountains.