Beach Photography Tips

Beaches provide excellent opportunities for digital photography because of their vast natural beauty, impressive hues, and fascinating patterns of light.

Moreover, some consider a beach vacation to be a dream destination for a family vacation, honeymoon or an intimate get-away.

Here are some tips to follow to help you capture more exciting and creative beach photographs.


Capture Enjoyment

Beach Photography - Fun on the beach

Being on the beach is all about fun, so make sure you capture the enjoyment.

Get your friends or family to run on the sand; set the mode dial to M (Manual mode) and use a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second to freeze the movement.

Use a relatively small or medium aperture (f/8-f/16) for a deeper DOF (depth of field).

Set the lens focus mode to AF (Autofocus) and select continuous focusing (AI Servo AF Canon/AF-C Nikon) mode so that the lens can constantly maintain its focus on the moving subjects.

Remember to protect your camera and lens from possible sand being kicked in your direction; always use a clear UV filter to protect the lens and electrical tape around the area where the lens fits onto the camera body.


Capture the Action

Beach Photography - Five girls in orange clothes jumping on the beach

For multiple shots use continuous (burst) shooting mode and hold down the shutter button as long as desired.

This gives you a better chance to capture a great beach action photograph than if you just wait for the moment that you think everyone is in the air.

Shutter lag creates a delay in the image capturing process, and if you use burst mode, you increase the chance of getting the beach shot you want.

Zoom in as closely as you can and use continuous focusing; you will have to preset it by depressing the button halfway, then taking the shot at the best possible moment.

Also remember that if the ocean horizon is in the background it needs to be straight.


Avoid Harsh Shadows

Beach Photography - Three smiling children posing on a beach wearing snorkeling equipment

When there is a bright sun, it means that harsh shadows are inevitable.

There are a few things you can do; use fill-in flash which will bounce some light into the subject’s faces, especially the eyes to counteract the shadows.

You can also zoom in closer using a standard or telephoto lens, cutting down on the number of shadows.

Typically you’ll want to use a circular reflector to bounce the light back onto the subject, but since most people don’t have reflectors as part of their beach equipment, you can use a white towel. You will probably need someone to hold the towel to make it work as a reflector. Hold it flat and position just out of frame or hold it straight and position it, so the bounced light is most pronounced.


Shoot in Black & White

Beach Photography - Smiling girl posing on a beach

Strong sunlight will produce a high contrast B & W image, due to the pronounced shadows and lit areas.

A polarizing filter and a red filter will bring out the contrast in the image as well as reducing flare.

Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and select a large aperture (f/2.8-f/4) for a soft and blurred background.

Let the camera choose the correct shutter speed.

Select the spot metering mode and meter on the person’s face.

Use an external flash to fill in any dark spots. B & W photography is great for making a photo better if the sky is overcast and dull.

The result is an almost white background making it perfect for beach portraits.

B & W beach images help to create the mood of a timeless (and perhaps more artistic) shot.


Interesting Subjects

Beach Photography - Iconic seagull sitting on a wood post on the beach

Beaches are great places to photograph animals too.

Birds such as seagulls and sandpipers frequent beaches. Make sure you use a good quality zoom or telephoto lens (at least 200 mm) to get close to the bird.

Use a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or faster and a shallow depth of field (f/2.8-f/5.6) to freeze the action and keep everything but the bird in focus.

Set the exposure metering mode to spot metering, so you can get a reading of just the bird while ignoring the background.

You may need to underexpose the photo (by 2/3 to a full stop) if the bird is white and it’s a bright day.

By underexposing you’ll see more detail in the bird’s feathers.


Time of the Day

Beach Photography - Seascape with the ocean in motion at sunset in Adraga Beach, Portugal.

Once the sun has started to set, return to the beach with a tripod to take images of the sky and sea.

The water will look calm and often the sunset will have many captivating and vibrant colors.

Place the camera on a sturdy tripod because of the lower light levels, and set the mode dial to TV or S (Shutter-Priority) mode.

Select a shutter speed of 2 seconds to begin with.

You may need to use an ND (Neutral Density) filter to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera, and this way the camera will allow you to have a longer shutter time.

Use your camera’s self-timer or a cable release to take the photo with absolutely no blurring.

Notice how the clouds and water create a soft blur, but stationary items like rocks will be sharp.


Recommended Settings

With bright sunlight, the camera will allow you to select very fast shutter speeds along with small apertures (for example f/32) and get a well focused beach photograph.

If the sun is too bright, you can underexpose the camera usually up to three stops to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.

This will also help retain detail in the sand and on anything light colored.


Recommended Equipment

When photographing at the beach, you will need protective gear, such as a UV filter, camera bag, and a plastic housing if possible to keep sand and water out.

Cleaning cloths are handy for any emergencies.

A polarizing filter is very useful as it helps cut down on flare and improves the color of water and the sky.

A separate, powerful flash device or a circular reflector are useful too.

Circular reflectors can be easily folded away for storage.

If you plan on shooting in black & white, then you might want to invest in a red 25 filter to increase the drama of the sky by increasing the contrast of the clouds. However, this filter isn’t as effective when the sky is cloudless.



Taking your camera to the beach can be a delight but be sure to take the right protective measures.

You can capture some fantastic photos on a bright sunny day, an overcast day or even when it’s raining.

The strong sun lets you use fast shutter speeds and small apertures for sharp photos that stop all motion (like waves, splashing or jumping).

The vivid and varied colors at the beach add excitement to all your photographs.

Don’t forget the appropriate filters and equipment to enhance your artistic palette.

Since you’re nowhere near a power source be sure to bring enough batteries and memory cards.

Experiment with black & white photography while you’re there (the water will show up as a deep shade of grey in most cases, which can make a great background).

Remember to return to the beach just before sunset (aka Golden Hour), because the lighting makes for incredible photos. Try to continue shooting even after the sun has set to get evocative and potent silhouettes.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.