Tips for Photographing a Beach Landscape

Oceans are great subjects for nature photographers. Oceans have personalities and whims. They can be calm and placid one day, and the next day turn into a raging turmoil of crashing waves and foamy surf. If you’re fortunate enough to live near an ocean, you have incredible photographic opportunities.

Unless you’re out at sea on a sailboat or yacht, your photos will include some land in them, but the best pictures of the ocean include a beach. But the beach has to be interesting. If all you have is the ocean with a patch of sand in the foreground, you have a yawner that won’t hold anybody’s attention for long.

Instead, look for unique, unusual features on the beach. They add interest to images. Also use the following recommended settings, which are much like those described in the preceding section:

  • Use a wide-angle lens. To capture the beauty of a pristine beach and the ocean, use a wide-angle lens with a focal length that is the 35mm equivalent of 28mm or wider.

  • Use Aperture Priority mode. Choose a small aperture with an f-stop value of f/16.

  • Use the lowest possible ISO setting. Achieve a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the 35mm equivalent of the focal length you’re using to take the picture.

    If nature gangs up on you with low light, increase the ISO. But don’t exceed ISO 800, if you own a full-frame digital SLR, or ISO 400, if you own a digital SLR with a sensor that is smaller than the frame of a 35mm film negative.

  • Include objects in the foreground. Look for something on the beach to draw the viewer into the image. An egret or great blue heron can serve as a focal point or a compositional element to lead the viewer’s eye. A patch of sea oats or other vegetation can also serve as a great point of interest.

  • Use rocks to compose an image of the ocean. Look for a series of rocks starting on the beach and ending up in the ocean. As long as the tips of the rocks are exposed, they act as stepping-stones into your image. If the surf is up, the rocks will kick up spray when the waves hit them.

  • Concentrate on the surf line. The spot where the wave starts to crest can be used as a point of interest to direct the viewer’s eye. If you don’t have huge waves, you will have a nice line of foam when the wave spills onto the shoreline.

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  • Add interest with clouds. The type of clouds you get depends on the time of year you photograph the beach. In Florida, towering thunderheads appear in summer and high cirrus clouds at other times of the year. In winter, high cirrocumulus clouds are common, which is sometimes referred to as a mackerel sky.

  • Position the horizon line appropriately. The placement of the horizon line contributes to the success (or lack thereof) of your image. When you photograph the ocean, place the horizon in the upper third of the image. If, however, the clouds are more interesting than the ocean, place the horizon line in the lower third of the image.

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