15 Tips for Photographing the Ocean

With warmer weather on the horizon (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at least), it’s a great time to start thinking about the way to photograph the ocean. The ocean is my personal favorite surroundings subject, but anyone who has taken their camera along towards the beach knows that capturing the ocean can be trickier that it may appear. Today we are going to take a look at 15 tips for photographing the ocean so that you can come home out of your next beach adventure with amazing photographs.

Table of Contents

Protecting Your Gear at the Ocean

Before you even get started taking seascape pictures, it’s essential to think about how you are going to shield your camera. Sand, salt water, and wind really are a brutal combination and can effortlessly damage your valuable gear. Planning ahead can go a long way toward protecting your camera. Use weather sealed gear when you are able to, or use a rain cover to protect against air and water. Make sure your digital camera bag is waterproof and maintain it zipped when you aren’t actively retrieving things from it.

X-T3 + XF18-55mmF2. 8-4 R LM OIS @ 18mm, ISO 200, 1/40, f/5. six

1 . Keep your camera dried out

The particular ocean is never foreseeable. Even when you think you are significantly enough away from the water to remain dry, a rogue influx can come along and drench you and your camera, so plan ahead. I was photographing across the coast of Big Sur one morning, and after spending about 45 minutes in the equivalent (dry! ) spot shooting the sunrise, a hit-or-miss wave came out of nowhere plus drenched both me and my camera from head to toe! Fortunately, everything had been weather sealed, so the damage was limited to my having to wear wet clothes in order to breakfast that morning, however it could have easily been even worse.

GFX 50R + GF110mmF2 R LM WR @ 110mm, ISO 400, 9/10, f/9. 0

2 . Protect your camera from sand

If water isn’t enough of a danger, shooting near the ocean often presents sand as well. Sand can simply do as much or more damage than water. Even just a grain or two associated with sand can damage your camera sensor or shutter system. Plan ahead and consider using a zoom lens (preferably internal zoom) to cover your preferred focal lengths without transforming lenses. If you do need to modify lenses, make sure to dust all the sand off of the outside of your own gear before taking off the lens, and changes lens only in a sheltered place.

X-Pro2 + XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 10mm, ISO 100, f/22. 0

3. Clean almost everything at the end of the day

After a day of photographing at the beach, it is essential to remove all the sand from your gear. You may use a clean rag along with a rocket blower to remove fine sand before taking the lens off a camera. Make sure there is absolutely no sand in your camera handbag, and if your tripod has been sitting in the sand plus salt water, you’ll want to take it apart, rinse this with fresh water, and let it dry.

Lighting Tips for Ocean Photography

For many of the Americas, the sun rises over the Atlantic ocean and sets over the Pacific. You can find exceptions to this, though: the particular Gulf coast of Florida, for example , as well as islands where you can photograph from different directions. And while most people think of sea photography in terms of east plus west, there are locations, most commonly found on islands, that give you a fantastic view of the drinking water while facing to the north or south. No matter which direction you are facing, there are great images to be had, as long as you understand how to mange the light that is before your lens. The following tips should help.

4. Photograph early and late

Fuji X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2. 8 R LM OIS WR @ 56. 3mm, ISO 1000, 1/2500, f/10. 0

Regardless of which ocean you are photographing and which path you are facing, one thing you’ll find in common is very harsh light during mid-day. In many places, sandy beaches or even rocky coasts aren’t known for providing any sort of shelter in the harsh overhead sun. When the sun is directly above, it bounces off the water, leaving specular highlights, tough shadows and conditions that are just not good for photographing. There are a few exceptions, but for the most portion, ocean photography is best done for the hour or two surrounding sunrise in the morning and the hour or two encircling sunset in the evening. While dawn in the east and sunset over west facing water gives you the traditional sun falling over the horizon image, do not neglect to photograph while the sun is at your back as well. And the good news for those of us looking to capture some ocean pictures while on vacation, is that you can certainly slip out for photographs two times a day and spend the best lounging hours on the beach without worrying about the images you might be missing!

5. Wait for bad weather

Right after storm light captured with an iPhone XS Max  6mm f/2. 4 @ 6mm, ISO 16, 1/500, f/2. 4

While most people go to the seaside hoping for bright, sunny, cloudless skies, the occasional rain shower or storm can make for great lighting conditions for photographs. Instead of packing up your digital camera gear at the first indications of bad weather, have your own camera ready, because the gentle immediately following a storm could be some of the best. This is also one of the few times that photographing the particular ocean mid-day still works. The clouds from the tornado soften the light, and you often get sun rays and even rainbows as the light starts to come out from the clouds following a tornado. You can also photograph the developing clouds as a storm begins to roll in across the sea, but for safety reasons, it should go without saying that you want to be off the beach during the tornado itself.

6. Be careful not to underexpose

Most of us depend on our camera’s meter to get well exposed images, but the camera meter isn’t very as smart as many of us assume it to be. The particular meter inside your camera has no idea what exposure you need, and it usually aims for any “medium” exposure even in advanced metering modes like matrix or evaluative.   Several ocean scenes, especially those with white sand and brilliant blue water, are quite a little brighter than that middle gray, so your camera is probably going to underexpose your picture. We run into the same issue when photographing snow. Generally speaking, you will want to expose your scene to be about a stop better than the camera meter feels it should be, but be sure to look at your exposure with your histogram , too. Regardless of the risk of underexposure, all those specular highlights can also allow it to be easy to capture an exposure that is too bright, coming out the white suggestions of the waves in your pictures (i. e., making them so bright that there is no detail). Take care not to go too much in either direction.

X-T3 + XF16-55mmF2. 8 R LM WR @ 55mm, ISO 500, 1/2400, f/8. 0

7. Consider excluding the sun from the frame

Whenever the sun is in your own photograph – a common sight in seascape photography at sunrise and sunset – you often experience extreme dynamic range. Dynamic range is the difference in brightness between the darkest and lightest servings of your image. If the dynamic range is wider compared to your camera can handle, a person won’t be able to capture adequate details in both the features and the shadows of the image.

X-H1 + XF16-55mmF2. 8 R LM WR @ 16mm, ISO 200, 18/10, f/22. 0

The sun is so bright that which includes it in your frame is really a surefire way to run into an issues with dynamic range. Photographing with your back to the sun (or with the sun to the side in case you are fortunate enough to be on a north or south facing beach) can make for easier exposures and softer light. In case you are going for the traditional orange-pink sunset or sunrise sky, you can try shifting your own frame to not actually include the sun. Sometimes shifting slightly to the left or to the right plus excluding the actual sun is enough to fix the problem while nevertheless leaving all of the fabulous colors in the sky you are looking for. The same will also apply to shooting just before sunrise or simply after sunset.

8. Photograph inside RAW

With the strong light plus large dynamic range typical to ocean photography, it really is especially important that you photograph within RAW format. RAW reflects much more information than a JPEG file and will give you the capability to recover shadow or emphasize detail that would be lost within a JPEG image. While it is important to try to get your publicity as correct as possible in camera and minimize the particular recovery you’ll need afterwards, photographing in RAW can provide you with the extra dynamic range you should get a properly exposed last image.

9. Create silhouettes

X-T3 + XF55-200mmF3. 5-4. 8 L LM OIS @ 200mm, ISO 200, 1/1250, f/10. 0

Another way of dealing with the large dynamic range of sunset/sunrise images is to expose so that the skies and water are properly exposed and allow your downroad and other elements to simply go dark, creating silhouettes. This particular works best with simple moments and shapes that are easily recognizable like sailboats, palms, and even people. To create silhouettes, make sure that your sky is without a doubt properly exposed. You can use your own camera’s spot metering mode to tell the camera in order to meter for the sky, or you can simply meter for the entire picture and underexpose by a prevent or two, until the skies is properly exposed as well as the shadowed elements are a great, deep black.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/105, f/2. 0

Choosing a Shutter Speed meant for Seascapes

When it comes to photographing the ocean, few camera settings will have a larger impact on your picture than your choice of shutter velocity. Photographing at long shutter speeds allows you to get some amazing motion on the water, turning receding water into lines or rendering waves like a hazy mist over the ocean’s surface. But don’t ignore the possibility of using faster exposures, either. Especially when photographing surf or water crashing across the shoreline, the splash effect that is created using fast shutter speeds can lead to really fascinating images.

10. Use a slow shutter speed…

X-T3 + XF10-24mmF4 Ur OIS @ 10mm, ISO 160, 20/1, f/8. 0

The particular ocean can be really fascinating when photographed at sluggish shutter speeds, creating a blurry effect in the water. The actual look of your image depends not just on your shutter rate, but also the amount of water relocating along the shore. For example , little waves along an inlet are very different than the huge waves of Maui’s north coast or the water fatal crashes along the shore at Huge Sur. With the right settings, you can aim for anything from a gentle blurring effect to completely smoothing the water into a misty fog.   You will also get very different effects making your own long exposure when the drinking water is coming towards you versus when it is receding, so be sure to experiment with both your shutter length and your timing.

As with any long publicity photography, a good, solid tripod is essential for long publicity photography. Also, as a result of the sun reflecting off of the water and the sand, the ocean is commonly very brightly lit during the day. Even around sunrise and sunset, you will likely need a Neutral Density filter if you want to use shutter speeds of several seconds or multiple short minutes long. A Neutral Denseness (ND) filter is essentially just a darkening filter; it reduces the amount of light entering your camera, which allows you to use an extended shutter speed while nevertheless getting a correct exposure.

11. Or try a fast shutter quickness

While water is often photographed on slow shutter speeds just for seascape photography, it’s also worth experimenting with faster shutter speeds as well. Waves ramming along a rocky the shoreline can be photographed with a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and capture the splash. Don’t overlook the opportunity to photograph water sports as well. A fast shutter speed will freeze the action of the athlete and the energy of the waves which can make for a few very dynamic images.

GFX 50R + GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR @ 45mm, ISO 200, 1/600, f/4. 0

When taking photos of the waves themselves, consider photographing from the side and using a faster shutter speed to capture the snuggle of the water as it crests. At first glance, one might imagine to photograph waves through the side, you need to be out within the water, but that’s not always the case. If you look around, you’ll often find rocky outcroppings, jetties, or even the angle of the land itself that can enable you to capture the side of an influx, especially with a longer lens.

X-T3 + XF100-400mmF4. 5-5. 6 R LM OIS WR + 2x @ 602mm, INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 2000, 1/5000, f/10. 0

Composing ocean images

While metering and getting the light right can be tricky, it’s often crafting ocean images that photographers find most difficult. For starters, you almost always have the horizon to cope with, and it’s often a directly line across the frame. Then, depending on the shoreline, you may not have much to use as a downroad, and you are left trying to fit a powerful, dynamic scene that literally stretches as far as you will see, into a single frame. The following tips need to make things a bit simpler.

twelve. Pay close attention to the horizon

X-H1 + XF100-400mmF4. 5-5. 6 R LM OIS WR @ 100mm, ISO 3200, 1/2900, f/13. 0

Most of the time, the first choice you have to make when composing your ocean scene is where to place the horizon. Newer professional photographers often place their horizon right across the center, while those familiar with the guideline of thirds are often torn between placing it across the lower or upper 3rd. But these are not the only options, and it’s also probable to take good seascape pictures where the horizon is near the very top or bottom from the frame – or somewhere between the center and thirds markings – if it works best for the image at hand.

The easiest way to decide where to place the horizon is to consider exactly what your image is about. Have you been photographing the ocean or the sky? Either is a legitimized choice, but whichever your own photograph is about should from the larger portion of your image.   Most of the time, if the horizon is directly across the center, then your sky and water will compete for the viewers’ attention – sometimes resulting in a photo with less path. Simply asking yourself what is more essential in this scene – stones or water – will give you a much clearer idea of where to place the horizon. It’s also worth mentioning that it is necessary to get the horizon level (or at least perceptually level ) within the frame. A tilted horizon will make your image appear “wrong” even if the rest of the image is great.

13. Include foreground elements

X-T3 + XF16-55mmF2. 8 3rd there’s r LM WR @ 16mm, ISO 160, 1/400, f/5. 6

As with other forms of landscape photography, a strong foreground can do wonders for your seascape images, drawing the viewer into the scene and giving your image more interest. When you think about walking up to the sea and photographing it head-on at standard eye height, you can probably see how the particular resulting image could absence depth and direction. Rather, consider getting low and allowing sand patterns, shells, or rocks dominate the downroad. Foliage, sand dunes, plus palm trees are options too. You can get low and close up and let the waves serve as front-end to the larger ocean and sky beyond. Get creative, and try to think of your image in terms of foreground, middle terrain, and background. If you do, you often will end up with much stronger compositions.

14. Photograph up the coastline

One of the simplest ways to add depth to your composition is to position yourself so that you are capturing along the coastline instead of directly toward the ocean. Switching your camera 90 levels adds instant depth for your image and can open up plenty of new compositional possibilities. Even though it’s true that, in busy beach areas, taking photos of along the coast can expose a lot of “people clutter” into the image, this still works well very early in the morning, prior to most beachgoers are out there yet. And for non-commercial seaside areas, rocky coasts, or even more secluded areas, it’s sometimes easier.

X-H1 + XF16-55mmF2. 8 3rd there’s r LM WR @ 55mm, ISO 400, 1/550, f/8. 0

15. Capture the facts

The particular ocean is immense, and as such, most people immediately gravitate towards photographing it with a wide angle lens. But concentrating on the details can make for some fascinating images as well. Because you can never capture the entirety of the ocean in one frame, instead of trying to capture as much as possible, think about seeing just how much you can plants and still tell your story. Occasionally a closeup of a wave, the water lapping against the fine sand, or a macro shot associated with shells and rocks shows the viewer more about what you are experiencing than a wider scene ever could.

X-Pro2 + XF55-200mmF3. 5-4. 8 R LM OIS @ 200mm, ISO 500, 1/420, f/14. 0


Standing at the ocean is a sensory experience in the best of ways. The fresh sea air, hot sun, rough fine sand, loud waves, and comfortable breeze all combine into an experience that is very difficult to capture in a two dimensional image. But photographing the ocean is immensely nourishing, and once you know how to handle the particular extreme conditions (both physical conditions and lighting conditions), and you start looking at how to develop a stronger composition, you will be sure to come home with some great ocean images. Feel free to share your personal best ocean photography tips and hints and your favorite seascape photography locations in the comments!

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