Seascape Photography Tips

The sea is a place of great drama and moods. A photographer can’t control what will happen when shooting a seascape but can be observant and wait for the right moments. Everything can be taken in consideration; people in the shots, rocks, the beach, the sky.


Wait for the Right Time

Seascape photograph

If you are serious about seascape photography, you need patience. Always be on the lookout for changes in the weather, colors and moods. Central to seascape photography is natural light and how it affects the scene. Light has three basic qualities-intensity, direction and color, and all of them are affected by the time of the day. Composing your scene at the correct time enables you to get the best shot. Remember to protect your equipment from salt water and sand, which can be damaging. To add protection, use a specialized housing or a plastic bag. As usual, use a clear protective lens filter.


Use a Wide-Angle Lens

Low tide on oregon beach with haystack rock in distance

Not every seascape image has to be of crashing waves. On calmer, misty days, use a wide-angle lens to capture a different look. If you are on a beach, you can focus on points of interest like rocks, and people who may be exploring. Use a tripod or monopod since light may be low, and shoot using a small aperture f/16-f/32 to keep the whole picture sharp. On a hazy day the result is a soft focused image.


Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Wave breaking

Capturing a wave as it curls creates great drama in a shot. Remember you need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the water (around 1/1000s) and to avoid overexposure due to reflections from the sun. Try to underexpose the image slightly by 1 to 2 stops. You may be able to shoot a wave from a distance using a telephoto lens. With a waterproof housing, you can even be in the water for dramatic or creative photographs.


Capture Movement

Waves breaking on Southwold beach in Suffolk, UK

To capture gentle moving water that gives the photo a soft, smooth whitish feel you must use a long shutter speed. Place your camera on the tripod and set the mode to TV or S (Shutter-Priority). Choose a slow shutter speed and allow the camera to choose the correct aperture. Using a ND filter helps reducing the amount of light reaching your camera fooling it into thinking it needs a longer shutter speed.


Dramatic Reflections

Man walking on the beach at Sunset

The moment the sun bursts though the clouds, when it’s either setting or rising, creates real drama because the action is mirrored on the water. Use a tripod to avoid camera shake and set your camera to AV (Apertue-Priority) mode. Use a small aperture f/16-f/32 for a deeper DOF (depth of field). For a more dramatic effect use a polarizing filter which will improve the color of the sky, bring out the clouds and reduce the reflected glare off the water.


Use Lines

Old wooden pier at sunset with some people walking and fishing

Long exposure times create dramatic skies, which look like cloud trails and smooth, foaming water. Use a wide-angle lens and a small aperture of f/16 – f/32 to keep the foreground and background sharp. Always use a tripod to capture controlled movement. Remember to use lines to draw the eye into the image. For example, a pier that begins in the foreground and leads into the water creates a look of infinity.


Photograph Lighthouses

Vuurtoren Breskens lighthouse in the Netherlands shining in the night

Lighthouses are iconic and create excitement in adults and children alike. Remember, to photograph a lighthouse well, you need good composition. Using a wide-angle lens and placing the lighthouse in the far left corner makes the shot instantly different. Using a slow shutter speed captures the soft light beaming out at the top. Choose a wide aperture of around f/16 and place your camera on a tripod to avoid camera shake.


Time of the Day is Very Important

Boats sihlouetted against the sun
Two boats at the beach

If you shoot in the early morning there can be a red hue in your images. As the morning progresses the red hue will turn to yellow. Long shadows are cast along a scene during these early hours. As you approach mid-day, the shadows are gone. Towards evening, the sun casts stronger colors similar to morning.


Recommended Settings

Creating movement in seascape shots add drama. To do so, place the camera on a tripod and choose a slow shutter setting of 1/30s to begin with. You can even lower the shutter speed to a few seconds in low light conditions to create an ethereal soft blur effect. One more option is to choose your depth of field (by using aperture priority) and allow the camera to decide the shutter speed.


Recommended Equipment

Clean cloth: Even if you are shooting on a calm day, you can’t escape the salt spray and the blowing sand. These conditions can play havoc with your camera. When you have completed the photography for the day, wipe the camera with a clean cloth and ensure that there are no grains of sand.

Lens filter: Keep the camera in the bag when not in use to protect it from salt and sand. Always have a filter to cover the lens to ensure that the lens does not get scratched (it is more expensive to replace a lens than a filter).

Lens cleaning kit: Get away from the salt spray. Use lens cleaning fluid, or distilled water, to clean the front element. Protect your camera and always keep the lens cap on until you are ready to shoot. Hopefully this advice eliminates cleaning later.



Seascapes vary widely; even if there are no dramatic waves or skies, you can work with a moderately dull day by looking for aspects of interest in the rocks, the people, and sand. A shot capturing movement is always popular because of the dramatic effect it creates. Reflections are wonderful to use in water photographs. Use polarizers and neutral density filters as necessary; it’s far easier than using Photoshop later. Remember, photographing seascapes will not only produce beautiful images, but is a relaxing way to spend your time!

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.