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How To: Take The Best Beach Pictures Ever
by Laura Hicks -  4/9/2013

Blue skies. Fluffy white clouds. Sand on your toes. The sound of the ocean. Don't you wish you could capture this sensory bliss on your camera for endless enjoyment? Well, you can. And it's easier than you think. It just takes a little planning, a little patience and a little practice and you'll be shooting like the pros.

1. Choose an interesting location. When you head to the beach, it's easy to pull out your camera and take a basic picture of the beachfront that sits directly in front of you. But curb that desire and take the road less traveled...sometimes literally. On a recent trip to Myrtle Beach, I researched local beaches and found a driftwood beach nearby. Driftwood beaches are not nearly as common as traditional beaches. So we made the 3.5 hour drive to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. I am so glad we did! I was able to capture amazing images that most people don't get on their typical beach vacation.

2. Try a new angle. Shoot from above your head or from the ground. A lot of the new cameras have tilting or swiveling LCD screens. This helps tremendously when trying to shoot from a challenging viewpoint. Also, try tilting your camera to one side or the other to change your perspective. Sometimes changing your angle gives a whole new perspective to your image.

3. Head to the beach for the sunrise or sunset. The most amazing colors can be seen dancing across the sky first thing in the morning or just before the sun sets in the evening. Being able to capture that "golden hour" in your beach photographs can make the difference between a picture that is OK and one that is amazing. 

4. Enjoy Nature. Find things in nature that speak to you. Whether it's an interesting shell that has washed ashore, a starfish wading in shallow waters or a grass lined fence that rises from a sand dune, find a piece of nature that begs to be photographed and get to snapping. Items in nature can change in the blink of an eye, so make sure you are on your toes. What's there one minute might not be there the next. Or, if you are feeling particularly patient, wait for that exact moment when nature does exactly what you want it to do. Some of the best nature photographers wait all day for that elusive shot.

5.  Savor the quiet times. For me, a day on the beach is filled with children's squeals and laughter, dogs barking and chasing Frisbees, and people running on the sand. But every so often I get to capture a moment of peaceful silence (minus the glorious sound of the waves crashing on the beach). During this moment is a perfect time to grab your camera and snap an image. Remembering the quite times at the beach will come in handy when the hustle and bustle of the trip is knocking at your door.

6. Find the light. Our recent trip to the beach was plagued with less than desirable lighting and weather conditions. The clouds covered the sky and finding that perfect lighting proved to be a challenge. Every so often, however, I caught a glimpse of the open sky with the sun peeking from the clouds. This is when I picked up my camera to snag the perfect shot. Being able to capture the sun reflecting from the water adds dimension and interest to an image. 

7. Follow the birds. Watching the seagulls in flight can be very relaxing. This image was taken as I sat in my beach chair watching the kids play in the ocean. Want to get a pelican soaring into the water to catch a fish? This one will take a little more planning and patience, plus a good telephoto lens. Pelicans tend to stay further from the beach than seagulls, so using a long zoom will increase your chances of capturing that image. Sadly, I lack the patience necessary to show you one of those pictures.

8. Use your flash. Backlighting can be very difficult for your camera when trying to take pictures of people on the beach...especially if you want to see their face. Adding flash is a necessity of you want to retain the details in the background and have a well-lit face. Even with a small point and shoot and no photographic experience, you can make sure to get these images. Most cameras offer an in-camera or pop-up flash. Make sure to set the flash to "on" or release the lever for your flash to pop up and leave the camera setting to auto. Your camera will read the ambient light and expose for the highlights while the flash will fill in the person's face.     

9. Enjoy the landscape with a wide angle lens. Beaches look fantastic as a panorama or wide angle image. Find an interesting subject, use the rule of thirds to compose your image and add some great lighting. Be sure to look for distractions in your image and remove them if possible. Nothing takes away from a great landscape more than a misplaced flip-flop or lone piece of garbage.

10. Find the perfect spot for family pictures...and then go with the flow. With my background in portrait photography, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the family beach picture. Over the years I have taken beach portraits and been a subject of the portraits. From either side of the camera the experience can either be fun or dreadful. Although I could do a whole How To article on beach portraiture, I will keep it simple for this one. The easiest time of the day to be beach portraits is in the evening (or morning if you are an early riser). The sun is softer during the "golden hour" and your subjects will not be squinting. Or find a place away from the busyness of the beach. Below is an impromptu family portrait. I have decided to turn the image black and white in order to diminish the lack of outfit planning. But I think the image is a good example of finding a nice location for your portraits. Next time, I will try to plan ahead and do a better job of coordinating our clothes.