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Seascape Photography

Updated on May 17, 2010

If the photographer is a landscape enthusiast, he will find that very much the same technique is needed to make a successful seascape picture. But it is not so easy to grade the tones of the picture to suggest distance, since the sea is of much the same tone all over, getting only a little lighter towards the horizon. First, to give the impression of depth, some large object is needed in the foreground. A medium or deep yellow filter will help to improve the tone rendering of both the sea and the sky. A lens hood is essential for all beach photography, but, even then, beware of light reflected from the water into the lens. If the hood is not deep enough to keep it out, the only thing to do is to wait until the sun is in a different position or until it is obscured by light cloud.

Those who prefer to take close-ups of still-life subjects will find that they abound on the beach. Pebbles, seaweed, patterns left by the tide on the sand, stranded starfish, are all excellent for close-up studies. Often the best way to tackle these subjects is to take them against the light. This not only gives them greater prominence against the background, but reveals their texture much better than flat lighting.

Here again a tripod is generally useful, although it is not always necessary since the light is usually bright enough for a fast shutter speed. But it is essential to focus accurately on the subject, because the lens has very little depth of field at close ranges. A filter is not necessary except when photographing brightly coloured specimens. To get close to subjects on uneven surfaces and slippery rocks it is best to crouch in the way which gives most steadiness.


Those who prefer the very lively scenes of holiday-making must be ready for a little more action. As a rule, people on beaches usually do one of two things: they either sleep or they jump about and play games along the sands and hi and out of the water. Pictures of people asleep can often be amusing to look at later, and they make easy subjects: it is simply necessary to take an exposure reading, set the camera, focus and expose. But the viewpoint must be carefully chosen to avoid including confusing objects (beach-bags and clothing and other people) in the background.

People running about need a fast shutter speed. It is often possible to use about 1/300 second with a yellow filter on the lens since the light on the beach is nearly always very bright and the reflection from the sand helps to fill in the shadows. It is wise to use a low viewpoint to get the sky as a background. The best way to shoot is to pre-focus, follow the subject in the viewfinder and release the shutter as soon as the subject is in the right place. People running towards the camera are less likely to be blurred than if they were moving directly across the line of vision, so, even with a camera which has a shutter speed as slow as 1/125 second, it is still possible to take some action pictures provided the subject is not moving across the camera's view. People jumping must be snapped at the "dead point" of the movement, e.g: when they are at the top of their jump and have stopped going up but have not yet started to come down. At this point they are reasonably still.

People swimming, surf riding and generally enjoying themselves in the sea are good seaside subjects. Stand at the water's edge (or even in the water) and keep the camera rather low down. This cuts out fussy background and shows the subjects against the sky. Use a yellow filter and a fast shutter speed to stop movement of both the subject and the water being splashed about. (Take care that none of the splashes fall on the camera.)


Make a tour of open-air entertainments like concert parties and Punch and Judy shows. Where there are children in the audience, concentrate on their faces; they will be much too interested in the show to take any notice of the camera. If pictures of children are wanted, do not forget to watch for incidents around the ice-cream trolleys on the beach or the promenade; pictures of children buying, eating, or wrangling over ices are always popular.

Children form one of the most worth-while subjects that the beach has to offer; they seem to belong to the beach scene as surely as the sand and the water, whether they are occupied in building castles or covering their sleeping parents with sand. They will generally be much too occupied to notice the photographer. So first take an exposure reading and set the focus at a pre-determined distance. Then just walk up and expose before the subject has time to become aware of the camera.

There are a great many subjects on and around the seashore: interesting people, amusing sights, exciting events, minor tragedies, so it pays to have the camera ready to go into action at a moment's notice.


Be on the look-out for boats, either drawn up on the shore or riding at their moorings. They are one of the most popular forms of picture material. The best way to take them is to choose a calm day and hire a rowing boat so that a choice of viewpoints can be made. As well as the boats themselves, close-ups of various parts (coils of rope, anchors, blocks) taken with strong side lighting to reveal texture make excellent subjects. Use a shutter speed of about 1/100 second, unless the camera is on a tripod on firm ground to eliminate any risk of shake.

Most seaside resorts have a lifeboat station which is worth visiting. It should be possible to find out when there is to be a practice launch. Take up a position either near the water's edge or close to the ramp and in either case, use a fast shutter speed even though the lifeboat may be coming towards the camera. If the aim is to catch the bow wave as the boat enters the water, there will be no time to alter shutter speed after photographing the boat coming down the ramp. Pre-focus on a spot the same distance away in both pictures. This saves refocusing between exposures.

Care of the Camera

Keep the camera away from the sand and salt water. These two form a most deadly combination for the ruin of a good camera and lens if they come into contact with them.

A small grain of sand can put a shutter out of action and call for an expensive overhaul, while salt water will corrode plating, make screw threads foul and stick, and take the high polish off the surface of a lens.

So take care to avoid splashes falling on the camera and particularly on the lens. A yellow filter placed over the lens will protect it from sand and sea water and will be needed for most shots in any case.

Keep the camera in a case with a lining instead of an ever-ready case and this will help to keep sand out.

If taking photographs in really rough weather, or in a small boat where there is a very real danger of the camera being swamped, obtain a polythene sandwich bag big enough to hold the camera. Keep it in this until it is needed and it will be fully protected.


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    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I love photographing at the beach. Thanks for all the tips.

    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 4 years ago from Indiana

      Beautiful. Looks so peaceful. But do you ever feel subconscious taking photos of people? Do you ask their permission first? I tend to feel like someone is going to rush over and take my camera away. :)

    • Darrylmdavis profile image

      Darrylmdavis 5 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

      There is something extra fun about doing a coastal shoot (need the rut spot, naturally). I did one not long ago myself and had a blast!

      Good stuff :-)

    • profile image

      Pennylu 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed this hub. Great tips on photography around water! Especially liked the idea of finding the ice cream wagon to photograph kids. That's a terrific idea. Loved the photos! Thanks. Voted this up.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks for sharing these useful tips and the beautiful photos in this hub. Voted up, useful, beautiful and interesting.

    • fidencio1 profile image

      fidencio1 6 years ago from Louisiana

      Thanks for the tips. I enloy taking pictures of landscapes, seascapes, sunsets etc.

    • amynichter profile image

      amynichter 6 years ago from Canton, Ohio

      This is becoming a passion of mine. It's always great to read about the techniques of other photographers. Well-written hub!

    • Camielacai profile image

      Camielacai 6 years ago from Philippines


    • Camielacai profile image

      Camielacai 6 years ago from Philippines