How to take better beach portraits

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Taking pictures on the beach is a great way to extend the pleasure of a vacation. Long after the waves have receded into the ocean and your week in the sun is a distant memory, photos and videos from your lazy days on the beach can cast a warm afterglow on the experience.

But it’s also a pain having anything electronic on the beach because of all the things that make a beach, well, a beach: salty air, salt water, intense heat, sand, sand, and more sand.

fuerte1I can’t do much about the sand except to recommend keeping your gear (which includes your phone) in a ziplock bag before stuffing it into the sandy catch-all beach bag, but here are a few recommendations for making the experience less technically frustrating and for maximizing the images you take home along with the seashells you gather up from the shore:

1) Shoot early or late: depending on where you are in the world, there are optimal times to go to the beach, and unsurprisingly, these also present the best lighting opportunities for photos. Everyone has probably heard the term “the golden hour” that photographers love to gush on about. It’s actually a bit of a misnomer as it pertains to two distinct periods during the day – shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, and may not even last a full hour, but the idea is simply that these times are when the sun’s light is warmer, characterized by a golden, reddish tone which bathes people in a very flattering light. If you’re looking to get a great family portrait on the beach, grab a few glasses for the bubbly, gather up the kids and get to the beach about an hour before the sunset. Then position yourselves facing the sun, so the light is on your faces, and fire away (you’ll need a tripod-see #2)

Getting ready to surf at the "golden hour"

Getting ready to surf at the “golden hour”

2) Bring a tripod: there are myriad tripods on the market and I’m not going to recommend any specific brand, though I think the GorillaPod style (the original is by JOBY but there are now lots of copycat brands) is best suited for a beach as you can use the flexible grips to wrap around a piece of driftwood, or balance on your bag or even a bottle of water. The only disadvantage is height as the pod legs aren’t extendible nor very long. For that you can go for any number of travel tripods that are lightweight (no heavy SLRs here) but ideal for packing, carrying and using a lightweight camera or your phone beachside.

3) Watch out for overexposure: beaches are some of the brightest light saturated environments your camera will ever deal with. There is light bearing down on you from above, bouncing off the sands below and refracting off the water before you. Be careful when you set up your shot to expose for the faces in your image, and not have them turn into blackened silhouettes by letting the camera choose randomly.

beachportrait1.jpg4. Use a flash: given the excess of light on a beach you may wonder why I’d recommend using flash. If you want really great shots of people standing in front of a gorgeous sunset, a flash is the only way you can get it right. If you don’t either you’ll expose for the sunset behind them and their faces will be too dark, or you’ll expose for the faces and the sunset will disappear.  Use a flash to highlight everyone in the shot and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

With these few tips you’re guaranteed to take better pictures on the beach, and come away with more than just tan lines.

Happy travels!

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