How to Get Awesome Beach Portraits

Taking pictures at the beach is, well, not a “day at the beach”. I’m sure you’ve seen beach portraits with a beautiful ocean, but the people in the picture look bleh – or vice-versa. If you’ve ever seen a truly great beach portrait, a well-prepared photographer probably took it.

Beach Portrait Problem #1

Sand:Your camera equipment’s worst nightmare.

If you need to change anything (cards, lenses, etc.), either go back to your car or reach in and change it inside your bag. After your shoot, make sure you clean everything (love the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster) – even the outside of your camera. Also, make sure you have a UV lens filter to protect your lens (as a bonus it will cut back on atmospheric haze).

Beach Portrait Problem #2

Exposure: What do you expose for? The sky? The water? The people?

Depending on which is prettier, you’ll want to expose for the sky or water. You can’t make the sky less bright. Also, if you have perfectly exposed people but blow out the sky and the water, what was the point of a beach shot?

After metering for the sky or water, chances are the people in your shot will either be in direct sunlight and have not-so-flattering shadows on their faces. If it’s sunrise or sunset the people will look too dark (and I don’t mean a nice dark beach tan – I’m talking dark as in you can’t barely tell who’s in the picture). This is a time when a flash comes in handy. (Unless you want a silhouette. Then just expose for sky – you may even need to underexpose – and forget about the flash).

In direct sunlight, set your flash’s power so that it fills in the shadows on people but doesn’t blow out the details. Use your viewfinder as you “guess and check” until it looks how you want.

For sunrise or sunset, you want the flash to illuminate your subjects, but be careful not to have it look overpowering or too “flashy”.

As always, off-camera flash is best if that’s an option for your shoot. You’ll definitely want an assistant to make sure your flash doesn’t blow over into the sand (see problem #1)!

Now if you’re just getting a candid of your kid building a sand castle, expose for your kid. Who cares about the water and sky in comparison to that work of art (especially if the sky and/or water aren’t even making it into the shot).

Beach Portrait Problem #3

All beach portraits look the same.

If you feel that way and want something unique…

  • Change your angle. Shoot facing down the beach rather than the water.
  • Move your subject. Position people on rocks, piers, life-guard towers, or just something other than standing on the beach.
  • Change the mood. When you’re post-processing, try converting your image to black and white (or another color conversion) and see what it does for the image.

Now for a few of tips:

  • Think about the horizon. A horizon right down the center is amateurish. Place it either in the top third or bottom third of your image. For a portrait, be careful of the horizon-line going through people’s heads – it can be distracting. Also, a slanted horizon is disconcerting. Keep it straight.

  • Shoot on a day with scattered clouds. Some clouds above the horizon make the sky much more interesting.
  • Double-check for distractions. There can be a lot of activity or just things at the beach. Is anything distracting from your shot? If so, recompose!

 

Now enjoy your day at the beach – while making your shooting as relaxing as a day at the beach too!