4 Tips to Get Beautiful Beach Pictures

Just in time for vacation!  These tips  will have you completely in control of capturing beautiful images of your time with your family.


Start With One of These Basic Lighting Set Ups


Pick One of These Backdrops to Tell Your Story


Look for These Classic Moments to Capture


Avoid These Common Beach Picture Mistakes

1.  Start with a Basic Lighting Set Up

Hands down, the two easiest lighting set ups for beautiful beach pictures with minimal effort art these:

Sun Behind or Beside Subject

Position your subject with their back to the sun or with the sun at 90 degrees, and use your flash for fill light to fill in shadows on faces.  Most cameras will allow you to turn down the flash output if your subject looks too “flashy.”  If not, just step back and put a little more distance between you and the subject to “turn down” your flash.  Sun directly behind will give you that flare/hazy effect, while sun at 90 degrees to the camera and subject will give you more vivid colors.

Silhouettes or Partial Silhouettes:

Silhouettes are easy and look great!  Look for compelling shapes, like a child running or jumping, any subject in profile, or a couple facing each other (foreheads together will give you that popular look with a heart shape created in the opening between their upper bodies and faces).  Place your subject directly between you and the sun, make sure your flash is off, and shoot away!

2.  Decide What Story You’re Telling

The beach gives lots of backdrop options; the scale or serenity of the ocean, the energy of beach-goers, or the calm of beach dunes as the backdrop will give very different feels to your images.  Pick what fits your image best and position yourself accordingly to get the backdrop you want.  Having a cluttered or split background can give your image a visually distracting look at best, and a careless, snapshot feel at worst.

Boy running away through standing water on Hilton Head Island Beach
Boy running away through standing water on Hilton Head Island Beach

3.  Look for These Moments to Capture

It’s great to get some posed portraits for framing, but also keep an eye out for these activities that lend themselves to great photographs:

Looking out at the ocean

There’s something so perfect and pensive about a person looking out at the massive scale of the ocean, whether they are two feet or six feet tall.

Running in the waves

It’s a classic, and it is always new again when it is your child with the face-splitting grin and water droplets flying around their feet.

Girl running in the waves for article on getting great beach pictures

Playing in the sand

Catching either the focus or the joy that kids find playing in the sand will let you enjoy the memory over and over again.

Reflection in shallow water

A portrait with the subject’s reflection in the wet sand is a great way to capitalize on symmetry.

4.  Avoid These Common Mistakes

Here are a few common errors to avoid if you want to get the most beautiful beach pictures you can.

Crooked or Sloping Horizons

Did someone tilt the world on it’s access?  Nope, it’s just another sloping horizon picture.  Unless it’s on purpose and contributes to your image, sloping horizons are generally displeasing to our natural sense of balance.  Aim to keep the horizon straight across your image.

Horizons that break up your image

Horizons that cut through your subjects’ heads or go straight through the middle of the image.  The horizon creates a visual break in the photo, and putting this break in the middle of the subjects head or in the dead middle of your image tends to feel awkward and distracting from the subject.  Aim to place it above the subjects head or below their shoulders for portraits, and around the 1/3 point (top or bottom) for landscapes.  This will give you a much more pleasing composition.

Facing your subject directly into the sun

This is a recipe for undesirable outcomes: squinting expressions, harsh shadows, and most importantly… subjects that don’t want to have their picture taken anymore!  Keep the sun behind or to the side to keep your models happier for longer.  Especially helpful when shooting young children!

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