The beach is a great place to get some stunning portrait shots and it provides so many photography opportunities. Many people want a shot of sun, sea, sand and their loved one frolicking in the water in some skimpy beach wear, and many parents want photos of their kids building sand castles or lounging around on an inflatable in the shallow rock pools etc. The beach is a place for fun and carefree times, and this is what many people want photos of.
Whilst it is easy to get good beach portrait shots it can be a challenge to get great beach portrait shots, but the following beach portrait photography tips should help you out.
1. Beach portrait photography tips – Nailing the exposure
The beach is one of those locations that will play havoc with your camera’s metering system. Whilst it may not seem it, sand is highly reflective and if you leave your camera to its own devices it will underexpose. When taking beach portraits you need to make sure you nail the metering and the easiest way to do this is to set the camera in spot metering mode, get in nice and close to fill the frame with the model and take a meter reading. These are the settings you need for the shot.
Once you have done this and set the exposure settings it is simply a case of getting the model in to position, composing the shot and taking the photos. When you’re doing this the exposure needle in the camera’s viewfinder is likely to show exposure issues, but you need to ignore this and carry on as the model will be correctly exposed – and this is all that matters.
If you want to nail the metering and exposure when taking beach portraits a light meter is a bit of kit you may want to invest in, and the Sekonic L08 is an excellent choice and it is simple to use too. All you need to do is dial in the aperture you will be using in to the L358, place the meter near the model’s face and take a reading. TheL358 will then indicate the shutter speed needed for the best exposure. A light meter may seem like a bit of an overkill but using one is quick, easy, accurate and looks professional – and looking like you know what you are doing is very important to get more paid gigs.
2. Beach portrait photography tips - Use an ND filter on the lens
The beach is one of those locations where there is no shade and shooting out in the sun requires a narrow aperture to make sure the photo isn’t over exposed. There are times when I have set the camera at the lowest ISO, set the shutter speed at its fastest speed possible and was going to have to use an aperture of f11 to avoid over exposure - Shooting portraits at such narrow apertures is far from ideal. The only way around this issue and make it possible to shoot at wider apertures and not suffer over exposure is to use an ND filter.
In my experience screw in ND filters are more suitable for beach portrait photography than the square ND filters. Screw in filters are smaller, neater and also don’t need a filter holder – and this makes them perfect for hand held shots. I have used several different brands of ND filters over the years but I have settled on Zomei ND filters because these are well made, don’t leave a colour cast and are better value than the premium brand ND filters, and just as good.
3. Beach portrait photography tips – Use a wide angle lens
Headshots never work for beach portraits, and the best shots are always full body shots and also a bit of background (i.e. sand and sea) to put everything in to context which means a wide angle lens is best. I usually use a Canon 24 – 70 f2.8L lens for portraits, but whenever I am asked to do a beach portrait photography shoot I use a wide angle lens.
If I am taking portraits of an individual I will use my Canon 35mm f2 IS lens. This may be a mid-priced lens but the image quality is easily as good as some of the professional grade L series lenses I own. In fact, the image quality of the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens is actually better than a couple of the L series lenses I own, despite it costing a fraction of the price! The Canon 35mm is small, light, doesn’t intimidate the model and is comfortable to use. Although the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens is sharp it isn’t super sharp, which makes it perfect for portraits where a little softness makes a better photo.
If I am taking portraits of multiple people I shoot even wider and will use my Canon 16 – 35 f4L IS lens to make sure I get everyone (plus a little background) in shot. This is an L series lens, which means it is made using the best materials and great optics to. The image quality of this lens is awesome, although there are times when I do find it a bit too sharp for portraits and have to soften the focus using Photo Shop Elements.
4. Beach portrait photography tips – Go candid
The beach is a place to mess around, have fun and be childish and the only way to capture this is to adopt a candid approach – I have never worked with any model able to act in a fun or childish way that looks natural. When I am asked to take some beach photography shots I pose the models but I also have a spare camera set up for candid shots, and at the end of the shoot I often find there are more “keeper” candid shots than posed shots.
If you want good candid shots you need to be alert, you need to be constantly watching and looking for good photo opportunities and you have to be ready (camera in hand) to capture them as they arise. You can’t drag your heels with candid shots, and you have to be on the ball.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.