Even the best, most expensive camera equipment will produce poor results if your subject isn’t ready, comfortable, relaxed and feeling their best. Being photographed is quite an unnatural and therefore stressful experience for the subject, so your job as a photographer is to make the experience simple, fun and stress-free. Break the ice by making small talk. Even if you know the person well they may still be feeling apprehensive. Explain the kind of shot you want – or ask them what kind of shot they’d like. Be open to suggestions from your subject. For children portrait photography, get down to their level and talk to them gently. Tell them you’re going to have great fun. And encourage them to play and forget about the camera. If possible ask your subject to wear neutral colors – preferably dark colors – because this helps your subject’s face stand out better. Check your subject over for anything that might be distracting such as fluff on clothes, uneven buttons and zips, collars, lapels, clothes riding up, shirt half tucked in, etc. One of the best preparations you can make is to be prepared yourself. Have your camera and any additional equipment set up, and take a few test shots before expecting your subject’s full attention.
In portrait photography the background is just as important as the subject. A busy or distracting background will take attention away from the person in your photo. Usually for portrait photography you’ll want a neutral, uncluttered background that won’t distract the viewer from your portrait subject. However, you don’t have to choose a completely plain background. For instance, an interesting wall or fence could provide a wonderful pop of color or texture. Another technique is to include an object in the background to provide added interest or context. For example, an artist in front of her easel, a fisherman in front of a boat or a musician in front of her guitar.
Personal safety as a photographer should always be on your mind regardless of shooting in a dark alley or climbing a peak to capture an eagle. On the beach, watch for the impacts of too much sun – dress appropriately, stay hydrated and take precautions to protect yourself from the UV rays. Be aware of safety issues such as sea life that washes up on the beach, rocky outcroppings and the odd stray ball from nearby beach cricket. And finally, be respectful of the environment and try not to disturb any wildlife you find during your photographic adventures.
I recommend that any outdoor photography excursion includes a thorough check of the weather forecast. There’s no point showing up to the beach with your expensive camera if it’s raining cats and dogs… Or is there? While the temptation is to only undertake beach shots when it’s hot and sunny, there’s a lot to be said for the moods foul weather could create. Provided your camera can withstand the elements, capturing beach photography in the middle of a storm or on a cold foggy morning makes for compelling images. Head to the beach in any type of weather – you’ll be amazed at how the same location takes on drastically different moods.
Golden hour is a photography term to describe the time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset. During the golden hour, the light is far softer and warmer in colour. Subjects have a warm glow that makes skin-tones pop. Using this time window to your advantage gives your images a lot more punch and character than those shot at midday. Plus, during the morning golden hour there are far fewer people on the beach. For more tips to shooting photos at golden hour, see our guide.
In beach photography, you’ll get a lot of light bouncing off the water and the sand – hence the need to carefully control your exposure. Imagine being able to capture the reflection of your child playing in a still rockpool. Or using the reflection from a puddle of water left by the retreating tide. (Remember too that if you can always ‘fake’ reflections in the water, using a powerful image editor called Luminar AI.) Use the water to form a core part of your composition. Taking a moment to thoroughly explore all the elements you could use in a composition is essential – before you even grab your camera. See our guide for more tips on water reflection photography here.
One of the golden rules of photography is to have your pictures correctly orientated against an imaginary horizon. Fortunately, in beach photography, the horizon is not imagined – it’s right there! Use it as a guide to ensure that your images are correctly aligned. Apply the rule of thirds so that the horizon line doesn’t sit in the middle of the frame. Position the horizon line higher in the frame to get more of the foreground or lower in the frame for more of the background.
Silhouettes are another great trick to have up your beach photography sleeve. Creating a silhouette or backlight photo is simple. Thanks to the abundance of glaring sunlight, you can position your subject directly in front of the sun. They’ll appear with a halo of light around their body, and their hair will glow with the filtered light. But their body and facial features will appear as a black silhouette. Get your subject to dance, run or just play on the beach and the contrast between the black and bright areas will tell the story.
Sun stars occur when a cliff, tree or outcropping of rock partially blocks the sun. When you point your lens directly at the sun, the light will split into beams. The aperture blades within your lens catch the light and cause this effect. To achieve sun stars, use a narrow aperture on your lens to reduce the light hitting the image sensor. Sun stars add narrative to beach photography on a hot day – the sun appears to beat down on the scene.
When taking pictures of the beach, find natural props around you to give them interest. Consider having a local plant species as your focal point. Shooting through tall grass in the foreground with a stunning background looks impressive. Don’t bring flowers from home as introducing a foreign plant species can have a dramatic impact on the local environment. If there’s no vegetation nearby, hunt for feathers dropped by sea-birds or even pieces of driftwood. Plant these into the sand at interesting angles to make a frame for your composition or a foreground subject. Speaking of driftwood, if allowed, build a small beach campfire and shoot through that or capture the sparks at play.