Monday, 11 February 2013

Tips on Photographing Coastlines

Diane Bohlen

The challenge when photographing beaches is trying to make wide-open spaces interesting. Here are some tips:
Time, Season, Tides:
Early morning called the blue hour and late afternoon called the golden hour are the best times of the day for seascapes. The sun shines at an angle, which provides interesting shadows and colours. There are also less people at these times. Learn to shoot from before sunrise to after sunset. Changing seasons gives different light. Stormy weather can make your shot dramatic with storm clouds,wild seas, wind in trees or flags are the best times of the day for seascapes. Low tide can create large areas of wet sand with interesting patterns and reflections. High tide can give crashing waves over rocks.
The Blue Hour - DPS (photo from  Digital Photography School)
The Golden Hour  DPS
Stormy weather  DPS
Low tide patterns
High tide crashing waves

The challenge with coastal photography is the bright light. Your camera can automatically under expose especially in the foreground of shaded areas as it is adjusting to the bright sky. You may need to use Exposure Compensation setting and slide down a stop or two.  
Automatic Exposure Bracketing also fixes this problem. Check in your menu or manual. When this setting is used your camera will take 3 shots at a time. One under exposed, one over exposed and one normal. Then you can merge these 3 shots in post processing and the exposure will be right for dark and light areas of the photo.
Spot Metering can also help get the correct exposure especially for the darker areas. If your subject is in the shade spot meter the face. The exposure will be right for the shaded face but the background will be overexposed.
UV Filter protects your lens and cuts back on the bluish haze.
Polarizing Filters are very good for bright light. It will reduce the sun reflections on the sea. It also boosts contrast and the blue colour of the sky. It is like us wearing sunglasses. In fact you can use sunglasses in front of your lens.
no filter
with polarising filter
Graduating Neutral Density Filter is the secret sauce for correct exposure. It darkens the bright areas and controls exposure especially with sunsets and sunrises.
Neutral Density Filter reduces the light hitting the sensor. This is handy when you want to use a longer shutter speed than the light will allow.
When the sunlight is behind the subject or if the face is in shadows cast by a hat use a flash. If you can adjust the intensity of the flash reduce it or use a diffuser or a tissue over the flash.
Shutter Speed:
Shutter speed is important with water. A fast speed (1/20th and less) will freeze the action so you can see the droplets in the spray of a wave. A slow speed (I sec or more) will blur the water and give it a foggy, milky look. This will also let more light onto the sensor so you need to make the aperture smaller and the ISO the lowest possible or use a ND Filter. Blur creates interest or a focal point when there is not much else in the photo. Experiment with different effects.
fast speed freezes action and water droplets
Slow speed and tripod blurs the action-DPS
slow speed gives milky, silky water.-DPS
Tripod: To avoid camera shake in low light or when the shutter speed is slow you need a tripod and a remote shutter release or use the timer.
Look for a Focal Point. Pictures of the sea or an empty beach can be boring so look for a point of interest. It could be a fence, footpath, pattern in the sand, a set of footprints, waves crashing over a rock, a lifesaver’s tower, texture or a person. Look for things that will tell a story like shoes at the edge of the water, a sand castle, sunglasses, an umbrella and fishing tackle. Train your eye to see these things.
fence and path focal point
umbrellas focal point
fishing tackle focal point-DPS
Watch the Horizon. Wide-open spaces often give sloping horizons especially if you are concentrating on a point of interest. Use your grid to keep the horizon straight. Remember to put the horizon one third or two thirds up your photo and not in the middle unless you are trying to get a symmetrical shot.
horizon one third up.
horizon two thirds up
Foreground. Empty backgrounds need an interesting foreground. It is easy to forget when you are concentrating on the array of colours in the sky and the sea. Something in the foreground also gives depth to the photo. It is good if you can get a foreground, which will lead the eye into the shot.
rocks foreground-DPS
Driftwood foreground-DPS
Shell foreground-DPS
Perspective. As well as shooting from the chest, get down to water level or climb a cliff and look down. Turn the camera sideways and take portrait format. It is especially good for foregrounds and cliffs on the side of the image. It can create a dramatic shot with menacing skies.
get down to ground level
chest level - DPS
from above 
use portrait format
Focus on Detail. It is easy to look at the overall grandeur and forget to look at your feet and see seashells, footprints, crabs, wild flowers, driftwood, patterns and textures.
shell detail - DPS
plant texture
Look for Reflections. Reflections add depth and interest especially at sunrise and sunset. Reflection of the sun on the water makes a good shot. The colours in the sky reflecting on the wet sand are interesting. The reflections of people and birds also add interest.
reflections colour and bird.
sun reflections
Black & White.  Shooting in black and white can make beach scenes more interesting especially if it is a dull day. You can change to black and white in post processing but it is better to do it in camera.

Taken with Brownie Box camera in 1958
Colour. There are a myriad of colours to capture. Apart from the range of sunset and sunrise colours there are the vibrant blues and yellows of a bright sunlit day and the more subtle colours of a stormy day. Different filters, different time of the day, different seasons and different shutter speeds can create a variety of colours in coastal photography.
vibrant blues and yellows
sombre colours - DPS
dull day colours
People.  You don’t always have to wait for people to get out of the shot. People can give the image a point of interest.  Instead of waiting for them or telling them, “Get out of my shot!” try to think of a way of including them.
people as a point of interest
people bring a scene alive.
Look for features: Find something interesting along the coastline. Train your eyes to see possibilities. There are interesting rock formations, crashing waves, rugged cliff faces, moody skies, clouds, boats, old piers, lighthouses, life saver's observation towers, birds, animals, people, different types of beaches and surprises.
rugged cliffs
surf beach
bay beach
look for surprises
Look Behind.  Before you finish shooting for the day, don’t forget to look behind. Often the sunlight lights up things behind you like buildings, lighthouse, trees, grasses blowing in the wind, cliff faces, you never know what might be coming.
sun on the trees behind the sunset
You never know what might be behind you. - DPS

Now go and experiment.