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Landscape Photography Tutorial – Seascape Shooting Tips to Die for

January 17, 2014 by Marc Schenker

One special take on landscape photography is seascape photography. The coast features a good deal of variety and is easily accessible, both of which are great bonuses. If you live along the coast and are into photography, then, by all means, you can’t let such a rich opportunity pass you by.

Seascape photography has unique elements that offer photographers a myriad of benefits they really can’t get with any other landscape scenario. The coast features a great mix of weather conditions that allows the chance to snap unforgettable shots. For instance, overcast and stormy conditions will turn out amazingly in monochrome, yet your postcard-perfect, white, puffy clouds appear nicely in color.

Seascape 1
photo by Prachanart Viriyaraks

In this tutorial, you’ll learn everything from how to set your camera at the coast to when the best times are to snap pictures.

How to Set the Camera

You’ll want to put your ISO to 100, as this guarantees the sharpest image quality around. It’s also imperative that you shoot in RAW as opposed to JPEG since this will permit you more room to fix any exposure problems in post-processing.

Think twice before you get too fond of using the auto white balance. Instead, depend on the daylight setting because it will only improve the warmer colors of either sunset or sunrise.

Never neglect shutter speed during these shoots since it has a huge influence on how shots with water turn out. If you use a faster shutter speed, you’ll present the water with no motion blur because you’ll be “freezing” the action. Try to go for a shutter speed of 1/20 second or quicker.

If you use slower shutter speeds, you can expect to blur the water to different degrees. Still, it all comes down to just how quickly the water is moving: Is the water by the beach moving aggressively, or is it a still, calm day? Shutter speeds of about ½ second will demonstrate motion blur while still showing some detail in the water.

Alternately, you can set the shutter speed to one second (or longer) and enjoy the whitish/foggy effect on waves that’s quite attractive in photos. Of course, this is all personal preference just the same, so it’s wisest to experiment with differing shutter speeds until you see water shown in a way that you find really attractive.

What Filters to Use

Two filters you can commonly use for seascape photography are neutral density (or ND filters) and graduated neutral density (or GND filters). Here’s the difference.

Seascape 2
photo by Kain Kalju

You use ND filters when you want to lessen the light that comes into contact with the sensor of your camera. You use GND filters when a scene’s dynamic range is excessive for the sensor of the camera.

ND filters come in handy if you seek to use a longer shutter speed than the available light would ordinarily permit. They come in various strengths, usually around 3-stops, yet they can go all the way to 10-stops.

GND filters are highly useful during either sunset or sunrise since the sky is a lot brighter as opposed to the foreground. They’re clear on one end and darker at the other. You should position the dark end over the scene’s brighter part (read: the sky), so that your exposure will be balanced with the brighter part (read: the foreground).

How to Approach Composition

Creating an interesting shot for a seascape photo revolves around creating a fair amount of foreground interest. At the beach, the simplest and most direct way of achieving this is by seeking out unique rocks or rock formations and then using them as foreground objects. Instead of just utilizing any old rock and then sticking it into your picture, attempt to locate either a pattern or a structure with which to lead the viewer into your shot.

Play around with various points of view by positioning the camera at different angles and heights. Then, go with what works best.

Ideas for Kinds of Shots

Things as deceptively simple as old tree roots are highly interesting. Get your camera down low as well as close to the foreground for shots like this. If you’ve got a wide-angle lens, use it to embellish the tree roots in the shot.

Using cliffs to your advantage works as well. If there are cliffs nearby, you can take gorgeous pictures from the cliffs above. Shooting down onto the beach from the cliffs while making sure to incorporate big rock formations can be really effective.

Another simple-yet-amazing seascape idea is wet sand. The thing about wet sand is that it provides you with spectacular reflections that you can play around with in your shots. Keep in mind that such an effect works the best with an outgoing tide since there are fewer footprints that can ruin the shot.

Times for Best Photo Opportunities

Seascape photography works the best when you shoot into the light within one hour of either sunrise or sunset. For the reason mentioned above, it’s also vital to consult your tide tables. After all, you want a wet beach rather than a dry one since its reflections provide more depth in your pictures.

You can get tide tables on the Internet, or you can obtain them through apps for your handheld device. Some apps are so precise that they offer you exact sunset and sunrise times for your specific area and show them in a well-organized manner with directional lines on the map.

Enjoy a Day at the Beach

The great thing about seascape photography is that you can enjoy a nice day out at the beach while you snap away. Few locations offer this perfect blend of challenge and fun. Just think: you can set up your tripod, set your shutter speed and experiment with some sunrise pictures all while you’re having breakfast right on the beach.

This subset of landscape photography is well worth your time, and who doesn’t want any excuse to head to the beach for the day? If you live near the coast and love photography, then what are you waiting for?

Ever tried your hand at seascape photography? If so, how did you manage with the challenges of ocean spray and the unevenness of the sandy terrain? Don’t be shy! Tell us all about your seascape experimentation in the comments section below.

Marc Schenker

About the author: Marc Schenker

Marc Schenker is a Vancouver freelance writer who is adept at providing engrossing copy and articles on various subjects. He believes that the written word is a highly effective means of communication and persuasion when done right. Find out more about him on his website at marcschenkerwriting.com or on Google+.

  • Anna Louise Stewart-Seymour

    I don’t live near the beach, so when I go there on vacation I love to take pics to bring home with me. Thanks for a great article on this subject! This information will help me get better photos.

    • http://marcschenkerwriting.com/ Marc Schenker

      Hey Anna Louise,

      I’m so glad that you got so much from this little old tutorial! Here’s to you and you taking better pictures when you hit the beach on your next vacation.