A quick guide to coastal photography

Coastal photography is fantastic for producing dynamic and textural photos. This short guide wlll help you capture these stunning landscapes.

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The coastline is a brilliant location for photography. Rock formations, patterns in the sand, waves hitting the shore and even the more intricate details make for some great photographic subjects.

As with all photography there is an element of luck that plays its part in getting a brilliant image. However, with the right approach and a bit of understanding of your equipment you will be a step closer to capturing that perfect shot. Here are a few pointers to help you out.

Look for the patterns and shapes in the land

Standing on a beach or at the edge of a cliff can be overwhelming as a photographer. The vastness of space as well as the variance in the land can offer great views that have no single point of interest. Just as with all types of landscape photography, you ideally want to take your viewer on a journey through your images and provide them with something to focus on.

The formation of the land can often produce fantastic shapes that can be used to your advantage. Rocks may have lines and layers in them and beaches may have sand and pebbles forming beautiful patterns. Use these to add texture to your images and draw your audience into the scene.

Predict the light

The weather is not always predictable, however, the movement of the sun really is. When you are on location try scouting out compositions that would look their best when lit in certain ways. If an eastern rock face could do with some warm golden hour light to really pull out its colours then get there early in the morning. Already knowing where you best compositions are will make you extremely efficient as a photographer. This way you won’t be chasing your tail as you will already know where to be and at roughly what time.

Shoot wide angle if your scene deserves it

Wide angle lenses can really come into their own when used in this field of photography. Getting down low to the waterline and capturing the movement of the sea while also framing the rest of the scene can result in some powerful imagery.


Photo by Owen Walters

The trick is to make sure that using this type of lense is purposeful. It can be very tempting to throw on a wide angle lens simply because you haven’t yet worked out how to frame the scene in front of you. Make sure your wide angle photos have strong elements in them. Leading lines are important. These can be found in rocks or even from the motion of water captured at slow shutter speeds. Use them well and your images will really come to life.

Shoot telephoto to pick out points of interest

Sometimes picking out bits of the landscape can be better than trying to capture it all. With a telephoto lens you can do this very easily. The beauty of a long lens is that it compresses the background and foreground together which can produce some really interesting layers. You will also probably find that you can frame several compositions even without moving too far from one spot.

Use long exposures to smooth out movement

As previously mentioned, longer exposure times can be great for smoothing out water movement. By opening the shutter for longer you will blur any movement that happens in frame. When photographing waves crashing over rocks the effect can be really satisfying. Depending on the length of exposure time that you use you will get different levels of blurring. You will obviously need to stabilise your camera either with a tripod or something similar. Any camera shake will be very obvious.

For long exposures you will most likely need to reduce the amount of light that is entering your camera. This is achieved by using an ND filter. These filters attach to the end of your lens and reduce the exposure by a defined number of stops.

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With really long exposures (2 seconds or more) the movement of the water will be invisible and instead water will look more like low lying fog. A shorter exposure time (⅕ – 2 seconds) will result in the motion of water coming back and this can produce interesting patterns and leading lines.

Use short exposures to freeze a moment of action

Although long exposures produce great results with water movement, so can freezing the action entirely. A super fast shutter speed (1/400 or faster) can capture every droplet of water as a wave explodes onto shore. Photos like these really show the drama of scene such as this and emphasize the power of the sea. Using a fast shutter time will also mean that a tripod won’t be required.

Use a polarising filter to reduce glare

A polarising filter is a great tool to have when photographing wet rocks, the sea or anything that might cause glare. By using one you will be able to reduce this effect and instead bring back some otherwise lost details in the highlights. Other great benefits to using these filters are; colours can become more saturated and skies will look less washed out. Check out the Gobe polarising filter.

Gobe produce brilliant filters at very reasonable prices. These are suted for both amateur and professional use so can rely on them to produce stunning results. Gobe also promise to plant trees for every product they sell, read more about their mission here.
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Revisit the same spot

Many photographers will struggle with the idea of revisiting a location. As creative and adventurous individuals it can be hard to go somewhere and repeat something. However, if you have managed to find a great composition then consider the fact that in different conditions that composition could look even better. Different weather can bring different lighting, more dramatic skies and completely shift the colour palette in scene. Going back to the same spot more than once can really pay off.

Be safe!

When photographing in places such as the coastline it is extremely important that you are aware of the dangers and that you pay attention to any warnings and guidance displayed. It can be very tempting as a photographer to step over a barrier, climb up a rock or get anywhere that offers a unique vantage point. However, often the risks far outweigh the benefits so make sure you aren’t being reckless.

Take care of your kit

Second to keeping yourself and others safe, you should also make sure you look after your kit. On many occasions photographers have got a bit too daring and ended up losing expensive equipment to the sea or scratching a lens up with sand. Take care and take your time setting things up and putting stuff away.

A cleaning kit is great thing to pack with you when near the coast. There is a strong possibility of grit or salt damaging your equipment if not taken care of.
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Final note

Remember that just as with all other forms of landscape photography, capturing great images of the coast is going to take patience and persistance. Being in the right place at the right time is important and so too is knowing how best to use the kit at your disposal. Above all stay creative and look for the compositions the provide an interesting journey through the scene.

If you are planning a landscape photography trip to the coast then be sure to read this article too: Your guide to planning an awesome landscape photography trip

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