Last year, one of my goals was to learn how to photograph water properly. And after a lot of trial and error, most notably more error than trial, I finally nailed it. So this year, one of my goals is to learn how to photograph waves. You know, at the beach. I've started following Julian Wilson on Instagram and not because he is lives really close to me on the Sunshine Coast in QLD and I am obsessed with being friends with his fiancee, but because he has really inspired me to give surf photography a go this year. What better way to combine three of my favourite things this year - photography, the ocean and swimming.

But I am obviously swimming in deep waters because I have no experience. So when our France based contributor Lisa from The Wandering Lens told me she wanted to write a blog post sharing with my readers how to take better beach photos, I couldn't believe the perfect timing! So take it away Lisa! Ps. I miss you Lisa, come home soon.


Whether it’s to walk the dog, take a morning swim or photograph a beautiful sunset I find it so relaxing to test out new photography techniques at the beach.

Capturing beach landscapes sounds pretty easy but pointing your camera out to sea and hoping the settings are correct won’t create an amazing photograph. It’s all about reading the scene, knowing how to find the best light and composing a creative image to make your beach photo stand out from the millions of others taken this summer.

Below are some tips and techniques I use when photographing at the beach which I hope can help you create your own beautiful shots when summer comes around in your part of the world or when you escape to that exotic island you’ve been dreaming of.

#1 Shooting the sun and the sand During the middle of the day you’ll see the white sand and blue skies are shining but an incorrect setting on your camera could make that sand really glow and take away the vibrant colours of the sky and water. To avoid this take a quick test shot once you arrive to see how the scene is looking through your lens and then adjust as needed. Generally you’ll need a low ISO like 100 or if your camera allows it even lower, an aperture of f/4 along with an exposure of +0.3 just to ensure the image isn’t too dull.


#2 Slow shutter – Make the waves dance Beaches mean waves and water so what better place is there to practice your slow shutter shots!? Making waves blur, dance and glide through your photo will add an element of drama and intrigue turning a standard beach photo into a beautiful scene people will love staring at. To create movement in the water you’ll need to drop your ISO down really low, increase your aperture to f/22 or the highest your camera will allow and then usually have your exposure set at +0.3 to ensure the waves are lit up a little bit but not too much that you’ll lose detail. The point of this is to keep your shutter open longer and give enough time for the waves to move through the image.

If you find the entire photo is blurry then it’s simply a matter of bring down the aperture to something more manageable like f/10 or increasing your ISO to around 200 or 400 depending on the time of day. There is no perfect setting it’s just a matter of finding what works best for you with the light you’re given on the day.

The best time to attempt the slow shutter shots is in low light so sunrise or sunset. I find the best colours are just after the sun has set in the afternoon when you still have enough light in the sky for the pinks and purples but its dark enough to make the waves blur beautifully. With slow shutter shots it’s essential to stay really still so either take a tripod, learn to hold your breath (this is my technique) or balance your camera on the sand for a unique viewpoint.

#3 Reflections on wet sand I love a good reflection shot and am on the endless hunt for the perfect mirror image of an incredible landscape. In the meantime though beaches are a great places to test out your reflection photography because when the water has just trickled over the sand it leaves a little shine which you can use as your mirror. If the water is super still then you can try this with any body of water such as a lake or pool but just after a wave has washed over the shoreline you’ll find about 2mm of water is left and this is what works great as a reflective surface. Create some fun by having a friend jumping a short distance away and you’ll find it reflects beautifully in the sand.


#4 White Balance If you’re looking to add some warmth to your beach photo switch your White Balance to ‘cloudy’ mode which will create a beautiful warm tone to your image. This is particularly useful if you’re photographing the beach at sunrise or dusk when the colours in the sky and water are enhanced by changing your White Balance.

In the middle of the day it’s best to keep your White Balance on ‘sunny’ or even auto to keep the sand nice and white and the sea a beautiful rich blue.

#5 Exposure It can be fun to play around with exposure levels on the beach because the white sands can work as a reflective screen to the sun. As the sand lights up so will objects around or above meaning you can highlight trees or people just by adding a little extra exposure to your image. Typically I keep mine at around +0.7 when I have a subject in the frame and am always sure to point the subject toward the sun enabling maximum light.

#6 Composition Making a scene known around the world look different can be quite a challenge. Most photographs of the beach are taken looking straight out to the horizon with a little sand, a little water and a lot of sky so try and think outside the box to change it up. Lying on the sand can alter the perspective or focusing on the grainy patterns of sand can also make your shot a little more creative than the norm.

If you have some land, rocks or an island to focus on this will also work well to compose the scene by keeping the ocean horizon to the left or right of the image.

#7 Get Wet If you’ve been reading my blog The Wandering Lens it’s pretty obvious I love jumping in the ocean with my camera and I stand by it being one of the best ways to capture the beach! Being amongst the environment will allow you to photograph the beach in a new way adding the element of water into your shot. Grab yourself an underwater housing for your camera or even a waterproof case for your iPhone!

TipsJaharn Giles2 Comments