Seascape photography can be as varied as the coast itself. Wherever the earth meets the sea there are opportunities for images that can vary from aqua blue tropical scenes to stormy skies and crashing waves. Through the entire gamut of possibilities the photographer can create equally dynamic images. Much of what you photograph, and how, will not only be determined by the location itself but by the prevailing weather and the nature of the light. There’s little point trying to create tropical seascapes on a cloudy day. The elements of light and subject matter within the image need to be entirely congruent for the image to be convincing. Strong foreground interest is usually an essential compositional element in seascape photographs. This can include anything from seaweed to swimsuits, but failing to include an interesting foreground can mean vast, empty areas of the frame in which the eye is led aimlessly about, looking for something to keep it interested. It is for this reason that sunset images usually fail as truly dynamic images. Photographers need to be careful that they create their own art – not just copy it. Photographing the colourful sunset sky is hardly original. The sunset is in itself a beautiful artwork, so it needs to work as a backdrop to another – perhaps even more dominant – element within the frame, such as a person, a sailboat, a rocky outcrop or any other thing that makes the image slightly less cliché.
Leading lines are also effective in making an image more interesting to the viewer. They can be found in rock formations, piers and jetties, rivers, driftwood and many other things naturally found along our coast. These can also be used to lead the eye from the corner of the frame through the frame or to the subject. People There are great opportunities for people pictures at the beach. The vast array of shapes and sizes in which humans present them is very evident as they gleefully disrobe to toast themselves in the summer sun or play in the ocean. A great variety of activities occur by the coast, providing photographic opportunities in which people interact with very colourful objects – towels, sails, surfboards, sandcastles and many other potential subjects. The coast is an ideal location for more formal portraits also. Most beaches and coastal locations offer the photographer an abundance of options for posing, lighting and situating their subjects. For reasons explained further in this article, however, the portrait session needs to be very carefully scheduled for light and weather. Because photography is hardly uncommon at the beach, your presence with a camera will hardly be noticed.
Images of children playing, parents slumbering or suntanned surfers are easy to capture. Having a long zoom – 200mm or more – will make it even easier. But again, the light you choose for these photographs needs to be chosen and scheduled wisely if the images are to have impact. The bright Summer light is harsh – especially at the beach, where there’s often little to diffuse or soften it. This kind of light can be used effectively for strong colour saturation, but it can also produce deep shadows and high contrast – the kind of light that photographers usually avoid for portraits and other “people” pictures. It can be used for other subjects, provided they’re carefully chosen and composed. At either end of the day, summer light is truly beautiful and much easier to work with. During early morning and very late afternoon it’s both soft and warm in colour. It’s this kind of light that can be used very successfully for truly beautiful coastal images. Late morning, midday and afternoon are usually going to be off limits for much of the photography you’ll want to do. Be particularly vigilant if shooting “beach photos” for a wedding. Most couples don’t factor in the harsh afternoon light, hard shadows and blistering heat that are the norm for the time of day that they often schedule for their beach photographs.
Filters can enhance seascapes and other seaside photographs dramatically and there are several that can be used. For many photographers, the polariser is the ultimate seascape filter. Polarisers reduce reflections and make possible the tropical blue seascapes we often see in travel brochures and postcards. They also deepen the blue in summer skies and saturate colours in many of the things we see naturally at the beach. They can also be used to darken the looming black clouds on a stormy horizon. Warming filters – which usually have a reference such as 81a, 81b, or 81c – are also effective, especially for those early morning and late afternoon seascapes. These filters highlight and enhance the warmth evident in the light as the red component of the spectrum overwhelms the other colours as they travel through the atmosphere. A day by the ocean can yield an incredible variety of images. Don’t limit yourself to shooting the big picture all the time. Textures and colours abound at the beach and can in themselves become the elements for vibrant and interesting photographs. Keep your options open and keep your cameras ready to make the most of your coast.