Updated: Feb 13, 2021
I'm a self confessed ocean addict and as you know and I'm either shooting from the shoreline or the deep! I've decided to write this blog to offer some tips, techniques and advice around shooting from the shoreline. Seascape photography for me is one of the most mindful things I can do - I get totally lost in the moment. So if you are new to seascape photography or would just like to hear how I do it, then this blog is for you.
My initial advice when shooting from the shoreline is to play it safe; know the ocean and watch it for a few minutes to check its behavior - you don't want to be caught out by rogue waves! Plan ahead and check the tide times, is it on its way in or out? Pay attention to your surroundings at all times because it can be risky or slippery at rocky locations, no photo is worth your life. The ocean is a beautiful and powerful thing - please respect it and get to know it.
My first tip for you is to get yourself a sturdy tripod. A good tripod is essential for seascape photography. It needs to be sturdy enough to hold your camera stable when the waves hit it.
However I don't personally buy expensive tripods. The ocean environment tends to break things and the salt will corrode the connections and small parts of your tripod legs. It took me some time to find the right combination between cost and reliability so its worth the research. I settled on a Benro slim carbon fiber travel tripod and I have replaced this several times over the years. It generally lasts me around 3 years and I use it pretty much daily. There is no way to stop the corrosion fully (well, I haven't found one so let me know if you do!) but I suggest rinsing the tripod off with water when you get home.
Also, don't be afraid to get wet feet! You will be stood at the waters edge so be prepared by either popping on some welly's or waterproof shoes, or even just any shoes you don't mind getting wet. I much prefer the warmer weather as I can just take my shoes off and stand barefoot in the shallow!
Always have some microfiber cloths with you to wipe away sea spray too, as this in unavoidable!
So now you are prepared for the shoot and this is how I would approach capturing some great shots:
Firstly, I'd always shoot in Manual mode. The reason for this is I want to take full control of the camera to record the scene in front of me, I don't want the camera doing any guess work at all. All except for auto focus. I'm terrible with manual focus so I might as well let the camera do that bit!
So, you will want to maximise depth of field and for me I shoot around f11. I tend to focus either around a third of the way up the image or on the subject that you want to remain sharp. Next is the ISO, which I'll put as low as possible for the sharpest image possible, which for my camera is 80.
Then you will need to think about the shutter speed. Do you want to freeze the action on some big crashing waves or do you want to create some movement and trails from the water? Freezing the action will mean a quick shutter speed, probably 1/250th of a second or faster. Slowing it all down and half a second, or even 1 or 2 seconds are perfect for wave trails. Wait for the right time and hit the shutter as the wave is crashing in or retreating out. I find 10 seconds or more for a lovely long exposure creating some silky smooth water. However this is all a judgement call. The shutter time all depends on light and conditions and what you want to get out of the image. The best advice here is have a play! Its all creative experience as a seascape photographer - play around with different times to get different effects and see what you like the most!
Learning about the exposure triangle and by this, I mean the relationship between the Aperture, Shutter Speed and the ISO is very useful here. Once you understand how changing one affects the other, you will better understand your camera and how to achieve the results you want. This simple diagram should assist you...
Some things I enjoy to do is create an image using reflections whether that be from wet sand at low tide or puddles. I also enjoy an interesting foreground so rocks or wave trails to fill the lower part of the frame. The lens choice can add a different dynamic here as going from a wide angle to a zoom lens can completely change the perspective of the scene in front of you. For me, I like to be shooting on a wide angle so I can get right up in on the action!
The time of day is super important in seascape photography. I am a big lover of sunrise and sunset, as you will get the best light. Either side of those times you have the low light and colours of dawn and dusk or an hour of golden light either side. All add impact and the potential for a much better photograph in my opinion.
Something else that's important to me out at the coast is filters. These are important for a couple of reasons. One is having graduated filters to balance the land/sea and the sky. The sky is usually much brighter so being able to tone down the sky by a couple of stops is perfect and helps me get it right in camera in one shot and less processing of the image when I get home. Also having a neutral density filter or stopper means you can hold back the light completely by a few stops and trick the camera into thinking its darker than it actually is. This means that you can extend the shutter speed to play around with some creativity here.
So that's about it from me, just remember, the ocean is never constant, its always changing which means no shot will be the same. You can be creative and have lots of fun with it! I do offer seascape workshops so if you are keen to come out with me, see how I do it and go over some tips and techniques then please do get in touch.
As always, thanks for reading!