destin girl in a white dress

7 Top Tips for Beach Photography (Picture Examples!)


Girl wearing white dress at Destin beach sunset

Beach photography is one of the most beautiful forms of photography – though I may be biased as a beach photographer myself!

Crashing waves, beautiful sunsets, sparkling white sand – what’s not to love about the beach?  But in order to capture those wonderful aspects of the beach properly, there are some considerations that we need to take.

1. Rule of Thirds

Composition plays an important factor in beach photography – especially rule of thirds.  Having the focus of the image in the center of the lens makes for some great shots, but sometimes we want to take in more that the beach has to offer.  Perhaps we want that gorgeous horizon highlighted in the background, or there could be a huge ship in the water that we want to get along with the primary focus.  Utilizing rule of thirds is a great idea when there are multiple interesting things going on in your picture.



Posing for maternity session in Destin FL

The expectant mother is placed slightly out of our center point of focus to highlight her sash and the dunes behind her.  Rule of thirds for the win!

2. Silhouettes

The sun has begun setting and we are nearing that perfect opportunity to capture a silhouette.  Silhouettes are great at mystery – the focus of a silhouette tends to stand out more and attract the viewer’s attention, but at the same time leave more to be desired.  You don’t exactly know everything that is occurring in the photo but that is the magic behind it.

A few ways to effectively capture a silhouette:

  • The subject really needs to be distinct so that the viewer doesn’t lose interest in it.
  • Turn off that flash!  Extra light introduced into the shot can destroy your silhouette.
  • We need to focus more on the light in the background behind the subject than the foreground light.  Wait till the sun sets right behind your target!
  • The brighter the background, the better.  This will intensify your silhouette.  Ensure your subject is in front of the light!



Destin Florida engagement Beach PortraitsDestin Florida engagement Beach Portraits

Who knew such little detail could portray such strong emotion?  That is the power of the silhouette.

3. Sunsets

Sunsets are one of my favorite aspects of beach photography. The Golden Hour at sunset being the perfect time to get that sunset photo. 

Here are some great ways to capture a sunset:

  • In order to actually have time to capture the sunset, you need to get to the beach early.  You want your equipment set up and ready to go because you won’t have much time once the sun begins to set.
  • Once the sun begins to drop, the manual mode on your camera will allow you to get the most accurate exposure possible. 
  • Filters are unnecessary for sunsets!  That means both UV filters and polarizers.  We want to saturate all of the colors and filters are not going to help us do that.
  • If you are taking pictures of people, utilize that off-camera flash!  We aren’t aiming for a silhouette this time.
  • Make sure your horizon is straight.  A broken horizon can definitely ruin your sunset photography attempt.
  • On that same point, put the horizon line at the chest or mid-section of person if they are the subject of the photo.
  • Try a wide angle to capture more of the landscape.  Use a tripod for this!


Couple posing at Golden Hour

4. Avoid Crowds

This might be fairly obvious.  Avoiding crowds is a priority when trying to capture a sunset.  Random figures walking about could really distract from that silhouette you worked so hard to create!

Try staying away from large restaurants or public beach access points because most people congregate around those areas.  There are also less people around in the morning and late evening.  Try getting out on the beach in the winter when it is desolate.  The atmosphere is different but gorgeous pictures are still possible. 

It isn’t always possible to be alone on the beach but it is key when capturing your subject.



Sea oats and beautiful salt water

Try to find an area that is desolate, like this.  It’s almost like we are on a deserted island!

5. Use Long Exposures

Ever wanted to replicate those milky-smooth waves you’ve seen?  We can do it with long exposures.

You need a good tripod and decent waves to pull it off.  Or, you can go for rocky areas or places where objects protrude from the water.  An overcast day also helps to avoid overexposure.  You can still do it on a bright, sunny day but you really need a Neutral Density filter to pull it off. 

Slowing down your shutter speed is mandatory here.  The longer the exposure, the smoother those waves are going to look.  Just keep in mind that longer exposures need a higher Neutral Density filter.

Maybe you like just a little movement with your waves?  Try to keep the exposure under 10 seconds to get some slight movements.

Lastly, don’t forget about your ISO and aperture!  ISO 100 is typically considered a standard ISO and will do beautifully here for medium exposures with long shutter speeds.  You can expect neat images with little noise/grain this way.  For aperture, smaller is better is here.  This will give us greater depth of field and ensure we get a sharp image – foreground and background.



Water details by slowing shutterspeed

Since the waves are providing a little movement, we can tell that more of a medium exposure was used.  This goes to show that you can take cool pictures without completely freezing the water.

6.  Lighting

Beach photography is one of the trickiest genres of photography when it comes to lighting.  You have harsh sunlight during most of the day that causes shadows.  Ideally, you could try avoiding the midday sun and aim to shoot at dawn or sunset.  But shooting during midday is entirely possible if you have the right gear. 

  • You could try using off-camera flash as a fill-light to lessen the effect that shadows have on the subject’s face.  Balancing fill flash and natural light is key so that your background doesn’t wash out.  You may need to try adjusting your flash power a few times until you are satisfied.  Using on-camera with off-camera flash is another way to achieve unique results.
  • Use a lens hood!  Without a lens hood, sunlight can strike the side of the lens – lowering contrast and generating flare.  Deeper saturation and more defined colors are also possible.  Lens hoods are generally inexpensive and also work to protect the lens by reducing accidental times where you might touch the lens by accident when shooting.
  • Pay attention to your exposure settings.  A bright, sunny day will do best with a low ISO setting in tandem with narrow aperture.  A faster shutter speed is great for capturing freeze frames on waves, also!

With the right equipment and angles, you can manipulate light to work for you and not against you.

7.  Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is a type of filter that is placed in front of your camera lens to increase contrast, suppress glare, and deal with reflective surfaces.  A circular polarizer (CPL) is what you would use in a modern camera.

The CPL contains a linear polarizer that, when adjusted (rotated), can give the contrasted effect originally mentioned.  So how do we use a linear polarizer at the beach?  When should we use one?

  • When there’s a glare: the CPL will drastically reduce the glare from the sun bouncing off the water.  If you are around shallow water, it will allow improved visuals inside it.  A great time to do this is if you are using water as your foreground subject.  Anything under the surface will become much more defined.
  • Improve cloud definition: the CPL can make clouds brighter and improve blue colors in the sky. 
  • Remove shine from people: the CPL can also remove shine from an individuals face and smooth the skin tones.

Don’t use a CPL when you are trying to capture a sunset because the color reflects off the water and any other objects that are protruding.  The beautiful light that emanates from the water during a sunset can be hampered by the use of a polarizer.

Don’t use a CPL when you want to reflect off the water instead of see through it.  Perhaps you are photographing a family that is standing in the water?  Capturing their reflections in the water is much easier without a polarizer. 


A polarizing filter (CPL) is used here to create defined clouds and ethereal water

Source: Flickr

Want more photography tips?  Check out my post at SixthBloom!

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