Beach photography advice


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Jun 2, 2013
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I am trying to take a really good shot of the beach my wife grew up near. Unfortunately, I am struggling technically and artistically. So, can I get a few suggestions for an beginner/intermediate photographer.

My goal: a shot that comprises a couple hundred yards of sand beach, some wave action, people playing but not dominating the shot, and some sky/weather. The subject is the place not the people.

- should I use a polarizing filter? ND filter?
- 50mm lens is great quality but gets soooo much background. I also have the 5100 kit lens

- midday yuck, so morning or evening?
- Waves caught in action seems false, but don't want silky
- The line of surf ends up just being a straight line.

Any ideas would be helpful.

Here's a pic I shot and don't like at all. It is as shot but straightened.


  • $_DSC3185.jpg
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First thing, you are several stops underexposed... all I did was change brightness. The image also appears to be oversaturated (you may have VIVID maxed out in the camera?)

Original on top, edit on bottom


Exif shows that you used a 32mm lens to shoot this (probably the 18-55 kit lens?)

A 50mm would have a FOV of 75mm... this seems to be way too wide for that. A CPL (Circular Polarizer) can improve color, deepen the sky, always a good idea in shots like this. Time of day depends on what you are after....

PhotoME version: 0.79R17 (Build 856)

File type: JPEG
File size: 864.8 KB
Creation date: 5/26/2013 19:00
Last modification: 6/22/2013 16:19
Make: NIKON CORPORATION (Nikon | Home)
Camera: NIKON D5100
Software: Adobe Photoshop CS5 Windows
Dimension: 4846 x 2463 px (11.9 MP)
Focal length: 32 mm (equiv. 48 mm)
Aperture: F4.8
Exposure time: 1/1600"
ISO speed rating: 100/21°
Program: Manual
Metering Mode: Spot
White Balance: Auto
Flash: Flash did not fire
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My thoughts - take or leave as you wish:
Morning and evening light are always so much more pleasing than midday.
Filters as needed. If you are getting too much light, then use the ND, but since you want a fast shutter speed, it probably won't be needed. CPL if you want the darker blue sky and the sun angle works for it.
I'd be tempted to try the 18mm end of the kit lens, but then I like panoramas.
Try a panorama.
Maybe get lower so the waves look bigger.
Add something red.
You could also try shooting a sunrise or sunset. Those tend to be quite spectacular on beaches.

If your limited to midday shooting, I'd definitely consider getting a CPL. I used one on a recent trip to the beach. When used at the right angle it makes the sky a beautiful dark blue and reduces reflections on the water.

Also try stepping back, shoot wider and place something in the foreground. Landscape scenes with objects in the foreground are more interesting and give a sense of scale. Maybe try putting your wife in the photo?

Try browsing Flickr for "beach" photos for inspiration.
If you can get yourself up a little higher, or on another pier shooting towards the other, it may help. Here are a couple examples, not really dragging the shutter as to make it silky, but to still capeture some movement:




Either early morning, or later in the afternoon, you can shoot without a ND filter, still get great detail, and still have things in perspective. Your kit lens offers a pretty good range, but, in addition to shooting higher, try getting lower, even shooting on your belly up towards a point of focus on the horizon. This will also, if the shutter is dragged a little, make the surf line not be so uniform, give a decent DOF and give a larger sense of length down the beach. A tripod will help in either circumstance, but I do find getting lower will ad to the length and sense of distance to the shot, so long as there is something at the end of the shot to give scale/closure.

just my humble $.02.
Great suggestions everyone. The result today: HEAVY fog. Good thing I got up early. Sigh.

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