How to Photograph Seascapes

Seascape photography can be as varied as the coast itself. Wherever the earth meets the sea, you’ve got the opportunity to capture a wide variety of landscapes, from those perfect blue tropical scenes to stormy skies and crashing waves. Given all these possibilities, you can also create some pretty 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. Even if you’ve got the perfect conditions, your photograph can still fall flat if you fail to achieve a dynamic composition. 

So in this blog post, we outline some of the ways you can achieve truly captivating photographs by the sea.

How to Photograph Seascapes

Create Strong Foreground Interest

deckchairs on beach

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, where the eye tries to seek out something of

Leading Lines

pier at beach

Leading lines can be used to lead the eye through your photograph, typically from the corner of the frame through the frame or to the subject.

It’s an effective way to make an image more interesting to the viewer. At the beach, leading lines can be found in rock formations, piers and jetties, rivers, driftwood and many other things naturally found along our coast.

Pick the Right Light

man standing on beach

The light you choose for sea photography needs to be chosen and scheduled wisely if you want your images 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.

Late morning, midday and afternoon are usually going to be off-limits for much of the seascape photography you’ll want to do.

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. You can use this kind of light very successfully for truly beautiful coastal images.

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 they often schedule for their beach photographs.

Using Filters

Lens filters can enhance seascapes and other seaside photographs dramatically. There are several you can use.

For many photographers, a polarising filter 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. You can also use them 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.

How to Photograph Beach Sunsets

jetty in water

Photographers need to be careful that they create their own art – not just copy it. Photographing the colourful sunset sky is hardly original. We’ve all seen the endless beach sunset shots on our friends’ Facebook profiles and Instagram accounts.

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.

This could be a person, a sailboat, a rocky outcrop or any other thing that makes the image slightly less cliché.

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.

And for more photography tips and advice, be sure to check out some of our other articles on the Camera House blog!

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