The odds are you'll be headed to the beach sometime this year whether for Spring Break or Summer vacation. I want to help you take your beach photography to a new level with these simple tips to master the light.
understanding the light
Lighting is everything in photography. I've said it before and I'll say it again...bad light=bad picture. Beach photography can have nearly every type of light. In the course of a week you may see beautiful sunrises, play in harsh mid-day sun, run for the shade, have an overcast day and enjoy a golden sunset. Each type of light can be beautiful if you know what to do with it.
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1. harsh mid-day sun
If you are a born beach bum, you may spend the majority of your days at the beach in harsh sunlight. This can be beautiful light but it can also be unforgiving. The biggest problem with strong overhead light in a cloudless sky is the shadows that it creates on our subject's faces. Because the sun is so high in the sky, our subject's eyes become black holes from the shadow cast by their brow bones. This is not a great time to try to take a portrait.
What can you do in the mid-day sun?
Have your subjects run into the water or play a game. These types of shots are not dependent on looking directly into the camera.
This is a great time to capture the blue skies and the landscape (Remember to keep your horizons straight!)
Use the direct light to make cool or interesting shadows that tell a story of your trip.
overcast and cloudy days
Overcast and cloudy days at the beach may not do much for your suntan but it can add some real drama and visual interest to your beach photos. Capture some #cloudporn when the skies have puffy clouds. As you are running for shelter when a storm rolls in, don't forget to stop and grab a shot of sky.
the golden hour
The golden hour is an amazing time to capture images on the beach. It is usually 1 hour after sunrise and 1 hour before sunset. The sun is lower and warmer and creates beautiful light not only on the subject but in the skies. You can create portraits, backlit images, as well as silhouettes.
For years we've been taking beach pictures in Hilton Head. About an hour to an hour and a half before sunset is a great time for this. It depends on where you are and when the sun will go behind the horizon. If you vacation on the Florida panhandle it will be closer to sunset because the sun goes down across the ocean. In Hilton Head, it is earlier where we stay because the sun actually sets behind the tree line. A great app is called Sun Surveyor and will tell you exactly when the sun will set and pinpoint exactly where it will set wherever you are. It is pretty amazing!
Creating backlit images is one of my favorite ways to shoot. When you add an element like water it can really enhance an already beautiful light.
Silhouettes can be really cool at the beach, especially if you have a gorgeous sky. The key is to expose for the sky while allowing your subject to go dark. The main element here is to have good contrast between your subject and the background and a good shape. You don't want a black blob. To help you visualize how to do this, think of taking a picture with your iPhone. You tap where you want to expose. If you tap the sky, your subject is dark. If you tap the subject your sky is too bright. Shooting in manual is best for this because you can set your exposure for the sky and then move and focus on your subject. The lighting won't change.
Don't head in for dinner just yet! The beach can have some incredible sunsets. Pro tip: If you shoot in manual, under expose just a little bit to enhance the sky!
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Andrea Ferenchik, Founder
Andrea started The Big Girl School because she loves sharing her passion of photography with other women. As a former trainer at Microsoft and current professional photographer, she has the unique ability to break down technical jargon of the camera into easy to understand language. She loves nothing more than to see her students grow and thrive in their photographic journey.
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