How to Take Better Beach Photos

Keep your equipment safe and pay attention to unique conditions

Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

If you take your camera to the beach, you're likely to get some beautiful shots of the water, sand, people, and surroundings. But getting these shots requires a little extra consideration for the unique conditions. Plus, you need to guard against the harm sand and water can cause your equipment. Follow these tips to create wonderful images of a lovely place.

In addition to the tips below, consider using a camera designed for beach conditions. This type of equipment is resistant to sand and other debris and you can use it in the water.

Keep Equipment Safe

Before you even think about taking your first shot, make sure you're protecting the equipment you use to do it.

Use bags. Protect your camera from the harsh beach environment by using a camera bag and a plastic bag you can seal. The camera bag will protect the camera from sand. The sealed plastic bag should keep it safe from water.

Stay out of the wind. If it's a windy day, you may want to rethink using your camera at the beach for a couple of reasons. Blowing sand could lodge itself in your camera's housing and damage sensitive parts. Likewise, spraying water could strike your camera, which could eventually cause water damage.

Avoid changing lenses outside. If you have a DSLR or DIL camera that requires you to change lenses while you're using it, go inside your car or perhaps a changing tent to do it. Damage could occur very quickly if the lenses are exposed to sand or water.

Use straps. If you’re going to shoot close to the water, use a wrist or neck strap to avoid dropping the camera into the water.

Keep equipment in the shade. Don’t leave the camera in direct sunlight; use the camera bag, a beach umbrella, a towel, or another object to protect it.

Avoid touching the camera. Before handling your equipment, make sure your hands are very clean and dry. If you have sunscreen on your hands, you can cause problems for your lens and LCD. If your hands are wet, you can cause water damage.

Optimize for the Environment

While the beach is unique in some ways, it's like other types of environments in that you need to be aware of the conditions.

Pay attention to the horizon. The place where the water meets the sky or where the sand meets the water can provide a clean line as a background for your photos. For best results, the line should be completely horizontal, not slanted. Some cameras place superimposed lines on the LCD, helping you line up the horizon. If you don't have access to this feature, just pay close attention to the horizon as you shoot. Try to place it in the upper or lower portion of the frame, following the rule of thirds.

Check your exposure. Beach photos often involve shooting with a strong backlight, such as the sunset photo above. Make sure you set the exposure for the subject and not for the background, or you'll end up with a subject that is underexposed.

Turn away from the water at times, too. Some beach activities don’t involve the water, so remember to also shoot subjects, such as birds, rocks, or colorful umbrellas, in the other direction.

Use the right shutter speed. For many beach activities, such as swimming and volleyball, the subject is moving somewhat quickly. In these instances, be sure to shoot at a fast shutter speed, which shouldn’t be a problem in the bright sunlight that often occurs at the beach.

Watch for shadows. Bright sunlight can create harsh shadows on some subjects. Consider setting your camera to force the flash to fire, creating a "fill flash" that removes them.