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Beach Photography Hints

written by: digitaldan1•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 8/26/2010

Take better pictures at the beach while protecting your camera from the elements.

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    Photography at the beach

    Ahh, the beach! Sun, sand, salt spray! While you may be filled with anticipation for all the fun and relaxation ahead during your trip to the shore, your camera (and any other electronic gear you bring along) will be filled with dread (at least as much as inanimate objects can be). You see, windblown sand particles and salt spray are an electronic device's worst nightmare. There's almost nothing as bad for your camera as salt spray.

    Still, it is possible to bring your camera to the beach, have fun and get good photos without ruining your gear. This article will look at some beach photography hints to learn how to get good photos at the beach and also how to protect your gear so it can live to shoot another day.

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    Preparation

    It's not hard to keep a small point-and-shoot camera or cell phone protected from sand and spray. While there are many protective carrying cases on the market designed for such circumstances, you don't need to blow the bank on one if the budget's tight. The same plastic lunch bags you use for packing sandwiches can help you protect your gear. Just go with the kind that can be zipped closed and seal your camera or phone inside two of them (three if you're going out on the water).

    If you're working with a dSLR, things get a bit more challenging, but not impossible. Keeping the camera in a closed camera bag will do the job of protecting it from spray and sand until you're ready to use it. Minimizing the time the camera is exposed to the elements helps, but you can further protect it by shooting with it inside a plastic bag or camera raincoat. A protective case such as the Camera Armor can help, but not completely protect your gear. (Sand and grit can work their way inside these coverings but they do make it harder for them to reach the camera body and reduce the amount that get through.)

    Keep a microfiber cloth with you that you can use to wipe your camera body and lens down as soon as you're done with your day at the beach.

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    Making great beach photos

    The beach provides a wealth of photo opportunities including colorful beach towels and umbrellas, flashy swimsuits and a variety of human behavior. Here are some things to consider when shooting at the beach:

    • Camera angles -- be sure to try shooting from various camera angles (up, down, high, low, left, right, head on, from behind)
    • Compositions -- be sure to vary your compositions (wide shots, medium shots, close ups, horizontals, verticals, groups shots, individuals)
    • Movement -- be sure to look for both action and stasis (the beach is about fun and relaxation)
    • Subject variety -- don't just concentrate on people, look at architecture, the ocean, boats, games, food and other sights the shore offers
    • Lighting -- your best light comes when the sun is low in the sky so try and be there early in the morning or late in the day; not only is this lighting more beautiful, it's also easier for your camera to handle because it's lower in contrast than mid-day sun

    Make lots of photos and try lots of different things. Be ready to use flash too even though you're shooting outdoors in the bright sun. Shadows are common under bright sun and you're going to need to clean them up with flash.

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    Exposure considerations

    While you'll usually have plenty of light at the beach, you'll still probably have some exposure problems. The first of which is your camera's tendency to underexpose images because of all the sand and water. Camera light meters are calibrated to see the world as averaging 10 percent gray. White sand is about an f-stop to an f-stop and a half brighter than that so your camera ends up being fooled. Set your exposure compensation to +1 or +1.6 and make a test exposure relying on your camera's histogram to more accurately check the results.

    Another exposure concern is high contrast lighting. Noon day sun on a cloudless day can make getting good photos very difficult as the beach and ocean reflect all that bright light causing hot spots and strong specular highlights. Often, your best choice is to shoot early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and the light is more interesting as well. No matter what time you're shooting, you may need to consider using flash to fill in shadows.

    If you have some cooperative friends, holding a sheet over the model can help diffuse some of the strong sun.

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    Conclusion

    A trip to the beach can be a fun summer's escape while providing an opportunity for memorable photos. Make sure you follow these beach photography hints and take care of your gear, pay attention to the lighting and look for colorful backgrounds and settings.






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