If you are going to be photographing at the beach, you need to make sure that you are prepared ahead of time! Like any natural environment, it can be unforgiving to mistakes. Make the wrong move and you could end up with a ruined camera, no useful shots, and a model who has to be taken to hospital with hypothermia. You probably don’t like the sound of that, so if that is the case, here are some tips you absolutely need to follow.
Bear in mind these aren’t all that you need to take great photographs at the beach – you will need to do a lot more work even after following these tips! At least when you take action on these points, you know that you won’t end up with a disaster on your hands.
Protect your equipment
The number one thing you need to think about is taking care of your equipment. You don’t just want to take a set of photographs today, but also for many days in the future! If all of your gear is damaged, you won’t be able to do that. You may not even make it through the shoot.
The first area of concern is the sand. It can get into small gaps, so you should never place your camera down on the sand and should also try to protect it even while you are shooting on a clear day. Imagine a bit of wind whipping up and putting tiny granules of sand inside your lens and the body of your camera – granules which then show up as dark spots on every image. It’s a lot less hassle to get a cover for your camera than it is to have these removed. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy: just a clear plastic bag will do, so long as you can make a hole for the end of the lens to poke through.
When going closer to the waves, you may wish to consider a full waterproof cover. These can be purchased from professional camera retailers, and will protect the whole of the camera from getting wet while still allowing a clear line of sight for the lens. Again, you will be regretting skimping on the cost if the next wave that comes along sprays all over your camera body – or worse, pushes you off your feet and buries the camera underwater!
Find a focal point
One of the main mistakes that photographers make with beach shots is to have a very plain scene. Anyone can take a photograph of a smooth beach leading to an empty sea and a clear sky, but does that really give us anything to look at? Even when you are shooting with a model, it’s better to have something that will give the background a more impressive look.
You can find focal points easily on most beaches. They might be large rocks forming part of the shoreline, or further out to sea in the background. A pier, the remains of an old pier, or just old wooden structures are common elements on beaches. How about an area of rock pools, or a sea wall that divides the water from the town? Trees or other greenery, as well as the stalls, stands, and wares of those who ply their trade on the beach could look great. Different countries tend to have different features to their beaches, largely due to the climate, so look out for things that are quintessential to the local area. This will make your image all the more interesting for those who view it.
Get up early (or stay up late)
When is the best time to photograph on a beach? You want it to be as empty as possible, and also to get great light. Rather than waiting until the sun is overhead and the beach is crowded, hit those moments when the sun is just above the horizon and casting light full into the face of your model or creating an interesting sky. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon you will find that the beach is less busy, and you may even be lucky enough to find it empty.
You can also go at non-peak times for the best results. When the weather is cold, or when the tourist season is over, less people will be crowding your background. This might make for less of an appealing sky, but you can always fix this with filters and with creative Photoshop.
Wrap up warm
If you do go during the off season, and you have a model shooting swimwear, it’s really important to take care of them. You need to make sure that they can withstand the cold and look great in the images. It’s not going to make a great set of photographs if they look grumpy and miserable from the cold! Keep big fluffy robes or coats on hand so they can wrap up between shots, and make sure the rest of your crew are warm as well.
Similarly, if the heat of the summer is in full force, make sure everyone has plenty of suntan lotion on and that they are wearing hats – except for when your model is in front of the camera, of course. You don’t want a series of images where the model’s skin gets progressively more red, or where she slowly becomes groggy due to heatstroke! Look after yourself and your crew and the images will be all the better for it.
Fill in flash
The sun’s height can cause deep shadows during the day, and if you have your model facing right into the sun instead you will end up with squinting eyes. Bring a fill-in flash and both problems are eliminated. It might seem counterintuitive to bring more light into a sunny situation, but it could really help to get those shots looking just right.
You should also bring a reflector so you can bounce the light into the right places, getting rid of any shadows you don’t want to stand out on the final image!
Use a UV filter
Finally, using a UV filter can really help your images pop. It will improve the blue of the sky and the sea, giving a great contrast against the sandy beach (and hopefully minimizing any problems you might have with colder weather). It can also cut down on the glare that you see from the brightness of the sun. This is great news all round! Experiment with other filters too in order to get different results.