six Tips for Jaw-Dropping Coastal Pictures

6 Tips for Jaw-Dropping Seaside Photography

tips for stunning coastal photography

Looking to catch stunning landscape photos of coasts, beaches, oceans, and seasides? You’ve come to the correct place.

I’ve been photographing shorelines for many years , and in this article, I offer my best methods for stunning coastal photography, which includes:

  • The 2 key accessories most beginners forget
  • The very best light for coastal digital photography
  • How to create stunning coastal compositions (that feature tons of depth! )
  • Much, much more!

So if you’re ready to become a coastal image expert, then let’s dive right in, starting with my number one tip:

1 . Bring 2 essential filters

Before you head out to do coastal photography, I highly recommend you add two key items to your kit:

Both of these products are critical if you want seaside images that are highly comprehensive and jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

You see, a neutral density filter restricts the amount of light that enters your camera lens, which in turn allows you to slow down your shutter speed to 1/10s, 1s, and beyond. And a slow shutter swiftness will allow waves or clouds move through your frame as you catch photos, leading to smooth, ethereal blurs. Check out the misty water in the shot below, which usually required a lengthy shutter swiftness:


Serious coastal photographers tend to carry several neutral density filter systems, but if you’re just starting out, you are fine. I’d recommend the 10-stop ND filter, that is about as powerful as you’ll ever need. (And as your gear bag expands, you can always add lower-strength filter systems like a 6-stop or a 3-stop option. )

Graduated neutral density filters are like standard neutral density filter systems, except that they only decrease light in a portion of the frame. Check out the rightmost filtration system in the image below:

Here’s a drop-in filter system with a GND to the right.

What’s the value of a GND filter? It allows you to reduce light from a shiny sky without affecting the particular darker foreground. That way, you are able to capture sunrise and sun images without blowing out there the sky or underexposing the foreground landscape. To put it differently, with the proper use of the GND filter, you can catch a well-exposed image of the bright sky above a shadowy coastal landscape.

One quick note: Some photographers choose to use high-dynamic range (HDR) imaging as an alternative for a GND filter. While HDR techniques are definitely effective, they do require additional processing time, so if you are more of a “get-it-all-done-in-the-field” type of person, I’d still recommend investing in a good set of GND filters.

second . Go to the right location


When photographers get started with coastal photography, they have a tendency to go to one of two places:

  • A scenic overlook
  • A beach

But both of those locations come with problems. For one, scenic overlooks tend to be higher off the ground, which makes it difficult to establish foreground interest (more upon that later! ). You will have nothing you can use to bring the viewer into the picture, as well as your images will turn out frustratingly flat.

Plus beaches, while beautiful, will often be rather boring. They’re simply sand, and if you photograph sand in front of a beautiful sun, your photos may be underwhelming. Sand is nice, yet an eye-catching foreground issue – that is, a center of interest, such as a boulder, the boat, or colorful moss – will be far more powerful.

My point is not to avoid seashores or even scenic overlooks. Rather, before you head out, think about the beaches and scenic overlooks you’re familiar with. Research them on the search engines Maps. Look at photos that will other photographers have taken.

And ask yourself: Will I find powerful foregrounds? Will I find eye-catching components I can use to create a center of interest?

By the way, you can always scout out locations beforehand , looking for areas of attention. Go out during the middle of the time, when the sun is high in the particular sky and the light is simply too harsh to capture great images. And see what you will find! Then return to your primary locations when the light gets good for some stunning photos.


a few. Head out at sunrise plus sunset for the best light

Coastal photos look amazing when captured on the right time of day. If you can occur before sunrise, you’ll quickly witness beautiful golden lighting falling across the landscape. And when you arrive just before sun, you can combine a stunning downroad subject with a beautiful stones for a gorgeous coastal image.

This particular tip is easy to follow, yet it’s also easy to separate, and I highly, highly decrease this. You see, coastal pictures tend to feature lots of skies, and you require this to be (sunset-level) interesting. Plus, if you go out in the middle of the day, you will face harsh contrast that will lead to clipped shadows and blown-out highlights.

Unfortunately, many beaches plus scenic coastal areas are closed and blocked off until sunrise or even afterwards. In such cases, you may miss the very best light waiting around for them to open. So pick your locations in advance, pay careful attention in order to opening hours and gain access to, and make the most of your shooting time!


4. Use near-far compositions to create depth

Composition is an essential part of surroundings and coastal photography, through carefully arranging the elements inside your scenes, you can create sincerely jaw-dropping photos. But it takes finesse. So how do you get started?

I recommend thinking of three elements for every picture you take:

  1. The background
  2. The subject (or center of interest)
  3. The foreground

And then work with the three elements to get a beautiful, well-balanced outcome. The background is the easiest to take care of; in coastal photography, the background will usually be the sky, through heading out at sunrise or even sunset, you can often promise a stunning background.

The subject is very important but varies dramatically from scene to scene (and from photographer to photographer). I certainly recommend you incorporate a main subject – whether natural element, like big river rocks or plants, or a human-made item, like a boat or even a lighthouse. Your subject can even be an intangible thing, like a leading line or a shape.   Just make sure you consist of something eye catching, something that ties the image together; otherwise, you’ll end up with a mere snapshot.

Finally, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the foreground. It’s often the hardest part of the image to set up, but it’s also the most important. You want to  use foreground to create a sense associated with three-dimensionality, of depth; you wish to make the viewer feel like they could just stroll into the picture. Look for interesting sand designs, as well as rocks, boulders, or vegetation. Even a rolling wave can serve as your foreground, though you’ll need to time it carefully!

If you follow these steps – that is, if you carefully include a front-end, a background, and a subject of interest – then you will end up with a powerful, eye-catching composition. Over time, you’ll get better at acquiring and incorporating these components into your images, and the procedure will become much easier!


5. Select the great settings for your coastal photograph

If you can toe nail your camera settings, then simply you’ll create a high-quality photo with a detailed exposure and a lot of mood. But to get this right, you cannot simply set your camera on Auto and let your digital camera do the work; instead, you’ll need to switch over to Manual mode and carefully select the perfect settings.

First, I recommend you think about your shutter speed. If you’re working with a tripod – when you should be! – you’ll wish to consider slowing down the shutter to between 1/8s plus 1s; that way, you can blur moving water to create a marvelous effect:


Alternatively, if you want to emphasize the ability and harshness of the ocean, a shutter speed of 1/320s and above can generally do the trick.

And if you want a misty-looking ocean, you can use a very slow shutter speed, within the range of 10s or more. Right here, though, you’ll definitely need a sturdy tripod, and you’ll also need relatively calm circumstances, because wind will cause camera shake that blurs the entire shot.

Sadly, you can’t just dial within the perfect shutter speed, after that forget about it; in order to achieve a good exposure, you’ll generally need to adjust your aperture plus ISO alongside the shutter. If you’re working in low lighting and you need a fast shutter speed, widen your aperture and/or boost your ISO.

On the other hand, if you want to slow down the shutter speed, I’d recommend narrowing your lens aperture and using your own camera’s lowest native ISO (usually 100).

In certain cases, especially if sunlight has set and you’re working with limited light, the lowest ISO and a narrow aperture will reduce incoming light enough to allow for a slower shutter speed. However , you’ll often find that you simply can’t use a slow shutter speed without overexposing your images, which brings me to my next tip:

6. Use a neutral density filter to slow down the shutter speed

If you dial in a slow shutter speed, you’ll frequently possess too much light and your photos will turn out overexposed.

But as I discussed earlier, a neutral density filter is specifically made to block the light.

So if you want to use a slow shutter swiftness and the light is too vivid, simply attach an ND filter to the front of your lens. You’ll lose light, and you’ll be able to obtain the perfect shutter speed (though you may need to tweak the aperture and ISO to get a fine exposure! ).

For example , let’s say you are currently shooting a seaside scene at 1/60s, f/16, and ISO 100. You are getting a well-exposed shot, however, you want to slow the shutter speed down to around 1s – to blur the water – and your lens will not go narrower than f/16, while your camera won’t go lower than ISO a hundred.

If you screw on a 6-stop natural density filter, you’ll reduce 6 stops of lighting. Once the filter is mounted on the lens, you can decrease your shutter speed by 6 stops until you achieve a proper exposure.

What is 6 stops more slowly than 1/60s? Each quit roughly corresponds to a halving of the shutter speed, therefore you’ll drop your shutter speed to 1/30s, then 1/15s, then 1/8s, after that 1/4s, then 1/2s, after that 1s. At that point, you can catch a well-exposed image using a 1s shutter speed, plus you’ll get plenty of fine detail and beautifully blurred drinking water:


Of course , this is just one example. Different neutral density filters will offer different results – for example, if you had a 10-stop fairly neutral density filter, you could lengthen your shutter speed to 15s instead. And if you only had a 3-stop ND filtration system, you could lengthen your shutter speed to 1/8s.

And you also have your own ISO and aperture to utilize, too. If your lens narrows to f/22, you always have the option of stopping down for any longer exposure. Alternatively, if you want a faster shutter speed, you may widen the aperture and boost the ISO to 200, 400, 800, and further than. That way, you could capture a shot like this one:


Coastal photography tips: final words

Ideally, you now feel confident in your coastal photography; after all, you now know where to go, when to look, how to compose, what to bring, and much more!

So the next time you visit the coast, keep these guidelines in mind. And don’t forget your ND filter!

Now over to you:

Which of these coastal photography tips can be your favorite? Which do you intend to incorporate into your workflow? Share your thoughts in the comments beneath!

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