It’s the school summer holidays here in the UK which means many will be heading to the coast either on day-trips or for a longer holiday which gives us photographers the chance to capture a few coastal landscapes. If you do have coastal landscapes on your summer shoot agenda, here are a few tips to think about.
1. Time Of Day
You can capture coastal landscapes at any time of the day, however, most photographers favour the light during the ‘golden hours’. You get this light regardless of where you are, but it is where it falls that is important. On the east coast, the land gets warm light early in the day but not later when the sea gets the benefit. On the west coast, it is the other way round. But this is a massive generalisation because of the way the coastline is not made up of straight lines. Check an OS map to see the potential of the coastline you’re visiting and do your research online to ensure you don’t miss the best light.
It’s also worth noting that everything from blue skies dotted with white clouds to brewing storm clouds can work well at the coast, you just have to be out at the right time of day with the right gear which includes waterproofs and protection for your camera gear if you’re heading out when the heavens have opened.
2. Pack The Right Accessories
Wide-angle lenses will be what we tend to reach for first when landscapes are in-mind and a tripod is an essential piece of kit no landscape photographer should be without. As you could be working with lower light levels and slower shutter speeds you may want to consider taking a remote / cable release to reduce the risk of camera shake and make sure image stabilisation is switched off when supporting your kit on a tripod otherwise shake could be introduced. To balance the exposure, you may find an ND grad filter handy as the sky tends to be a lot brighter than other areas of your shot.
3. Foreground interest
There’s nothing wrong with a photo of an empty beach stretching out for what seems to be miles but by adding some foreground interest you’ll give your image more depth, help guide the eye through the shot and keep people interested in your photo for longer. A low angle and a wide-angle lens will help exaggerate the perspective of the shot and anything from rocks and wood that’s washed up after a storm to jetties, lobster pots and patterns in the sand can be used to add interest the foreground of your shot. Just remember you’ll need a smaller aperture to get everything from the front to the back of the shot in focus. This could increase the exposure time, particularly if you’re shooting during the ‘golden hours’, so make use of your tripod.
Reflections can be used as foreground interest to add more depth to a scene. They’ll also help brighten your foreground, making the overall shot more evenly lit. Look for puddles left by the receding tide or try using the water sat in rock pools to capture reflections of a cloud-dotted or sunset sky.
4. Long exposures
If you’re working when the light’s lower or just like the ‘misty’ water effect, you’re going to need to use slower shutter speeds. For this, you need a strong, sturdy tripod and you must make sure it’s not going to topple over if a wave circles it. Try pushing the legs into the sand slightly to anchor its position; just remember to wash the feet when you get home to get rid of the sand and salt. If it’s a particularly bright day you’ll need an ND filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor and remember to use low ISOs as well as a small aperture. If you don’t want to capture the ‘blurred’ water shot, you’ll need to use quicker shutter speeds, wider apertures and you may need to increase your ISO level. Alternatively, visit the location earlier / later (depending on the time of day) when there’s still plenty of light in the sky.
A blurry sky dotted with clouds will give you the chance to create patterns as the longer exposures cause the cloud’s movement to stretch across the sky and if you wait until the sun’s set you could capture the movement of the stars as trails above the ocean, but this is a wholly different technique in itself.
You don’t want it to look like the sea and sand’s about to slide out of shot so make sure the horizon’s straight and don’t put it in the centre of the frame. If the sky’s more interesting move the horizon down but if there’s more interest in the foreground lose some of the sky and move the horizon up. If you are going to deliberately slope the horizon make sure you make it obvious otherwise it’ll just look like you’ve not looked through the viewfinder to check if the horizon’s level or not.
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