Travel Photography Tips – Photographing the Coast

Travel Photography Tips – Photographing the Coast



Tranquil beaches and sheer cliffs offer some of the best opportunities for stunning travel photography, and it’s no surprise that some of these types of shots are my personal best-selling photos. Photos of a picturesque beach on a sunny afternoon, intense storm clouds gathering at sea, and dramatic waves crashing into rocks are all very popular scenarios; the possibilities are endless when photographing the coast.

Here are some simple tips to help you with your coastal photos:

Choose the Right Time

Coastlines offer a wealth of photo opportunities, which can all look different during varying times of the day. Head to a beach at midday on a sunny summer day and you may find it packed with sunbathers, but go early in the morning and you might be sharing it with just a few walkers. There is no right answer, but the question is – what type of emotion do you want to create? If time permits, scout the location beforehand and consider how you can portray it best. This could be at sunset when the light shines perfectly on the face of the cliffs, or at a busier time when the beach is bustling. You can always go multiple times in a day to capture a series of different photos to widen your collection.


I photographed this beach at various times, the best photo was this one taken in the afternoon and not my sunset shots.

Find a Vantage Point

One of the best ways to photograph the coast (especially beaches) is from a high vantage point. This can give the observer a view that they might not normally see and give your photo a grand scale; so be on the lookout for high places where you can shoot. This could be an elevated point on a sand dune, a rock or even your car! But remember to stay safe, especially on rocks, which can be extremely slippery when they are wet.


To get the view of this beach I simply walked to the top of a sand dune.

Use Filters

Filters can be a landscape photographer’s best friend. The harsh lighting conditions, coupled with reflections and low sun can be challenging, but by using filters you can accomplish the sort of image that you are after.

  • Polarizing filters can help you reduce the glare on the surface of the water.
  • If you are photographing during the day but still want to create the soft movement of the water you will need to use a Neutral Density Filter to allow you to have a slow enough shutter speed to capture the movement.
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters are a huge help when photographing any landscape where you want to balance the foreground and background when you have harsh lighting.

To capture the smooth water effect in this photo I needed my ND filters as it was too bright otherwise to have a slow enough shutter speed.

Think Beyond Sea and Sky

When photographing the coast it is tempting to just try and capture sea and sky, but unfortunately rarely do just these two elements look as impressive in images as they do in real life. Instead of photographing just sea and sky add a point of interest to the image. Things like rocks on the ground, cliffs in the distance or even people can really help enhance the photo; and try to use the rule of thirds to avoid placing your horizon right in the middle of the photo.


The foreground adds interest to the photo as both the sky and sea are flat and uninteresting.

Protect Yourself and Your Camera

It might sound obvious, but photographing the coast can be incredibly dangerous. If you are high up, especially on cliffs, be careful of slippery rocks or even loose ground near the edges. Also, be aware of high winds that can easily knock you or your camera over the edge, and be extra careful if you are using a tripod when there are high winds as it can easily blow your camera over. Weigh your tripod down with a heavy bag and you can even open the legs so that the centre column is closer to the ground. When lower down be vigilant about tides that can leave stranded, and protect your camera against salty sea water.

The coast offers a wealth of photo opportunities – and sometimes the same location can offer a completely different photo at different times of the day. So take your time, think about the scene, the light, and the composition, and you’ll end up with a mass of photos that will stand out in any portfolio.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts and tips below.

Marwick Bay

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

  • NCEE

    A few that I took over the past few months

  • Robsshots

    Very good set of “tips” – thanks! Will be using these as we head to the California coast.

  • enamul hoq

    hi Kav Dadfar,

    its really informative tips you have provided its really help full to me and also i am grateful to you by getting this informative post from you keep it up man,,
    i am welcoming you to visit my outsourcing photo stdio here

  • Kav Dadfar

    Great. I’m glad you found it useful.

  • Kav Dadfar

    No problem. Lots more articles coming up!

  • Kav Dadfar

    Nice. Try heading to these locations (if you can) at different times of the day. For example that lighthouse shot could look spectacular late in the evening or even early morning.

  • NCEE

    Thank you. That’s something I have been meaning to do, and will try harder to get it done. I’m going to see about early morning (maybe a foggy day?), and at night.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Yes a night shot at the lighthouse could be spectacular! If you get a good night and capture the milky way, it could be one of those WOW shots.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    It helps to find out the tide times for beach photography. Try this site which gives tidal forecasts for thousands of locations, including local wind predictions.
    If you want wide sand flats, and channels in the foreshore, choose a lower tide. If you want waves crashing over foreground rocks, try high tide.
    This picture was taken shortly before sunset at Waikanae Beach, New Zealand, at low tide (Kapiti Island in the background).

  • hannah

    Could anyone give me advice on these two ? They were not planned photographs, just a couple of shots that I found when I went through the photos of my holiday…

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Bob, yes very good tip both for photography and safety. It’s important to know tide times. Nice composition, I would add a grad filter to the photo in post (or you can do this when you are taking the photo using a filter) to bring out the foreground more. Question – did you capture photos any later that day with the sun lower? There’s lovely cloud formations and I’m interested to see what sort of sky you would have got.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Hannah

    First shot – I really like this but I think it could benefit from a bit of post production to boost the contrast and colours. But you have a lovely light. Have you got any shots of this composition slightly wider? I’m intrigued to see what’s around.

    Second shot – you’ve got a nice scene and your composition is good but you need to straighten your horizon line. Also, try to avoid the horizon being in middle. I personally think that the shot would work nicely as a panoramic so play around with the crop. If this is somewhere that is local to you, I would go back later in the day at a time of year when you would get a late afternoon sun (or early morning) lighting up the lighthouse and rocks from behind you. Also, days where you might have interesting cloud formations could look good.

    Third shot – Again a nice composition but the light seems a little flat (I’m guessing the sun is behind clouds?). So you could try to boost contrast and colours in post production or again if local to you try a late afternoon light from the side that lights up the rocks. This scene could also make a nice photo on a stormy day.

    Hope this helps and remember photography is subjective, so this is just my opinion.


  • Ivona Kostyra

    One of my first ones

  • David

    Hi. Just before/after sunrise is generally the best time for me (facing east). Getting up early and being dressed warmly for the occasion including good footwear (rock boots etc) is essential. Always go with a buddy!
    Wide angle is the normal view but zooming in for waves that create waterfalls can be great as well. Even if the weather looks overcast and there is no sun, you can increase the clarity of the sky using graduated filter in post and the clouds can really pop. Similarly, if there isn’t a lot of colour, then change to black and water and look for contrast.
    Even if you don’t have filters, reduce the size of your aperture (at 100 ISO) to slow the shutter speed for milky water shots.
    I don’t use circular polariser filters for dawn shots. Sometimes the reflections can be a positive in shots for instance. I also prefer to kept the wide angle rather than the extra vignetting from adding another filter. YMMV
    Take the time to clean your tripod, wipe down your camera body/lens as soon as possible. Salt water is corrosive and will shorten the life of your gear.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi David. Good tips especially around the salt water. And nice work. Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    Nice work. The pier leads the eyes into the distance and a lovely sunset. Kav

  • Harshal Prabhune

    Alibagh beach

  • MrTJ2

    Last saturday evening on the pier at Den Oever, the Netherlands

  • MrTJ2

    To get to know the right time and sun/moon/tide times… you might use
    The Photographer’s Ephemeris ( to get
    to the right spot at the right time

  • Kav Dadfar

    Nice work, this might work really nicely as a monochrome.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Lovely photo which could really “shout” with a bit of post work. I would brighten the foreground a little so the silhouettes stand out more and also play around with the white balance and saturation. But a lovely composition. Well done.

  • Ryan Mavi

    Sharing mine

  • Dan S

    My shot of the coast, thoughts?

  • Tammy Weigel

    Rough waters on the Oregon Coast

  • Katrina Miller Gustafson

    Oregon coast

  • Kav Dadfar

    Stormy skies do make great and dramatic coastal photos. If I were you I would drop the age slightly more to the right so that we see more of the rocks as the waves crashing against it would be very dramatic (but that’s just my opinion). Good work. Well done.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Wow! That’s pretty dramatic isn’t it? Great shot that clearly illustrates the power of the ocean. A slight tweak I would make is to move the crop slightly right so that the lighthouse (I assume that’s what it is) is a bit more in the centre – think rule of thirds here. But that’s a minor amend. Great shot!

  • Kav Dadfar

    Stunning! Beautifully composed and captured and works perfectly in monochrome. And a great example of when to break the rules and place your horizon near the middle. Well done!

  • Kav Dadfar

    Great shot! The couple are absalutly imperative to the photo and has made a good image into a great image. I think it could also look great as bit more of a panoramic by cropping the sky down. Great work Ryan.

  • Ryan Mavi

    Some other shots taken during our travels. Any thoughts?

  • Tammy Weigel

    Thanks. That is a great tip. This is another.

  • Matt Vargo

    From my recent trip up the California coast.

  • Sam Siador

    Pigeon Point Lighthouse CA.

  • Sam Siador

    Monterey Bay CA.

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