Posted by: kerryl29 | April 22, 2019

Photography at the Seaside

Though I’ve lived in the American Midwest for 47 years, I spent my earliest formative time on the East Coast and, for a month for three consecutive summers, I spent time with my grandparents, who rented a place just steps from the beach in Rockaway, New York.  As a function, I’ve always had great affinity for the ocean.  As an adult, I’ve transferred that fondness to my photography.  Over the past 15 years I’ve photographed on the Atlantic coast in Maine, Maryland and Florida and on the Pacific coast in Washington, Oregon and California.  I’ve found these locations to have a number of similarities and at least as many differences and, over the years, have discovered a number of things about seaside photography that I’d like to share.

Photographing at the seaside can be among the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have, but it will help if you keep a few things in mind.

Monument Cove Evening, Acadia National Park, Maine

Physical Considerations

While different seaside locations contain many different elements, there are some universal aspects to any beach location–saltwater and sand are among them.  And, as luck would have it, photographic equipment–cameras, lenses and tripods, etc.–isn’t fond of either.  As a result, precautions should be taken.  When combined with wind–and seaside locales are frequently, breezy–sand (and salt) can get into everything.  Therefore, lens changing should be minimized and lens caps should be maximized.  And cameras, lenses–and tripods–should be wiped down at the end of every seaside photo session.  In fact, I bring a towel with me whenever I’m photographing near the ocean, and I also bring an ample amount of fresh water with me.  I carefully wipe down all of my gear with a soft cloth and I use the towel and fresh water to wipe down the tripod legs to get rid of all beach residue.

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also have a set of UV filters that I don’t ordinarily use…unless I’m at the seaside.  In fact, even astride the ocean, I don’t typically use the filters…unless there’s a lot of wind, as there was when I was on the southern Oregon coast a few years ago.  The stiff north wind was incessant and sprayed salt and sand all over the place and rather than go through the problem of trying to protect the front element of whatever lens I had mounted at any given time, the filters saved me a lot of trouble.

Wind & Surf black & white, Whaleshead Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve found it extremely helpful to have the appropriate footwear when photographing near the ocean.  It makes it much easier to saunter through the shallows and wet sand when your feet are appropriately covered.  I’ve hauled my rubber boots from coast to coast and have been relieved that I did.

Piping Plovers, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Second Beach Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

I’ve seen some crashing surf at the seaside on a number of occasions and have been privy firsthand to the potential danger of being unfamiliar with the daily tide tables and underestimating the impact of sneaker waves.  The photographer underestimates the ocean at his/her peril.

Aesthetic Considerations

One of the things that denotes the experience of photographing the ocean is that the scene is inherently dynamic.  Not only are the light and the sky and the tide always changing, the ocean itself is literally always moving.  It’s one of the most captivating things about being at the seaside.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The dynamism of the ocean makes it interesting to experiment with different shutter speeds.  As a result, it’s always a good idea to have a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter at your disposal when photographing seaside, as they’ll  maximize your ability to experiment with creative effects.

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop black & white, Oregon

Rocks & Surf Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Area, Oregon

In some respects, the same basic set of considerations for any landscape photography location applies to a beach setting.  Subject, light, composition…these are the things that make up photographic decisions for every scene.  But there are some specifics surrounding these elements that are worth noting for seaside photography.

Atlantic Afternoon, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Because most beach settings imply relative openness, the matter of “good light” is reminiscent of most open locales.  That is to say, usually–there are always exceptions–harsh light conditions at the seaside are typically very harsh and cloudy skies typically beg for a monochromatic treatment.  The color oceanscape loves the golden hour.

Ruby Beach Surf Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

China Creek Beach from North Island Viewpoint Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

At some seaside locations–this is true of most locations on the Pacific Coast of North America and some, mostly to the north, of the Atlantic Coast–the possibility of photographing from overlooks or from the beach itself–is present.  To the extent possible, I advocate doing both, but I’ve usually found that the lower perspective (i.e. beach level) offers more compositional choices.

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

China Creek at Sunset, China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

The number and variety of elements at each seaside location will vary, of course, but can go a long way to give a specific sense of place.  Most of the Pacific beaches I’ve visited, for instance, are marked by offshore rocks, islands and/or seastacks.  The beaches on the Maine coast are noted for their own, distinct rocky edifices.  The Pacific beaches were more likely to be dotted with driftwood and tidepools.  Regardless of the specifics, I’ve found that intimate images can, in their own way, be every bit as representative as grand landscapes.

Driftwood & Beach Stones, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Beach Stones, Little Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine

Seashells, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Schoodic Peninsula Black & White, Acadia National Park, Maine

Sinewy Beach Stones, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Sea Star Pair, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

In Sum

The ever-changing seaside awaits, irrespective of the specific location.  Go forth and find some memorable images.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon


  1. Stunning pictures 😊

  2. Great tips for seaside photography, and beautiful images to entice us to visit some stunning locations.

  3. What a treat to see such wonderful photos

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Wow! Great images!

  5. Such a change from the mountain series and I see a great variety of viewpoints and wonderful light. thanks for the tips, I remember taking my new lens to a lake on a windy day…all sorts of spots on my lens from dust and sand. I knew people who did a shoot in the desert and they had to buy a new lens while they were on vacation.Your advice is well-founded, and a welcome reminder. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      No question, wind–in dusty/sandy (or saltwatery, if that’s a word) places–can really wreak havoc.

  6. My favorite subject! Beautiful images, as always!

    • Thanks, Gunta!

    • Amazing photos – each one carries a different light

  7. Lovely pics. I have been to Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach and the Second and Third Beach at Olympic National Park. It such a marvelous beauty.

    • Thanks. And I agree–the wild beaches at Olympic are phenomenal.

  8. Your seaside photos are stunning. Thanks for the tips.

  9. Excellent advice and commentary. I love shooting at the ocean but, as you said, it can be a handful if you’re not prepared (which I have often not been). It’s been a few months since I last shot anything on the coast, I think I might have to do something about that! Do you have a brand of filter you prefer?

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I tend to purchase B+W filters for my equipment, though there are plenty of other viable options, some of which I’ve used. Filters are a good example of a chain being no stronger than it’s weakest link. You can have a camera with a high-res sensor and expensive lenses with impeccable optical quality and completely blow it by screwing a cheap filter on to the end of that lens. If you’re going to use filters (and there are many instances when you should), don’t skimp on them.

  10. Thank you for the tips

  11. Very talented

  12. Great photos and very useful tips in this post. I grew up in a landlocked location but have spent a fair amount of time at the sea taking photos. As you say, the ever changing tides, waves, wind and clouds make seascape shooting fun and exciting. I should have read this before my last trip to the sea since I’ve been cleaning sand and salt off my gear for a while. Thanks for this great post.

    • Thanks very much for stopping by and taking time to leave a comment. I haven’t been based anywhere near the ocean in decades, but the seaside remains one of my favorite photographic venues.

  13. Wilson Beach; fine work. Stopped there on my way through to Seattle and then on to Fairbanks Alaska.

    • Thanks. That’s quite a road trip you took!

  14. Wonderful photos.

  15. Great tips

  16. Wow! I love the Oregon coast, so epic!

  17. Oh my goodness. Those are incredible photos…I truly have no words to describe them…GREAT JOB!

    • Thanks very much!

      • You’re welcome!

  18. Glorious. I also love the ocean, but any water will do. It’s peaceful, relaxing and calming.

    • Thanks very much!

  19. Wow stunning photography! Great post

  20. Amazing captures. Some truly interesting pictures.

  21. This is a beautiful series. I love the more minimalist ones, but I’m partial to this type of photography. The Atlantic Afternoon picture is perrrfect!!! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing Kerry!

    • Thanks very much!

  22. I really like the first photo; a great collection of colors, shapes and texture. Also visit our profile for some beautiful pictures here: Rabi S Saha & Rabi Shankar Saha Photography

    • Thanks very much!

  23. […] both.  Dealing with the potentially corrosive effects of salt water spray was a daily challenge.  Photographing at the seaside can be a wonderful experience, as I’ve noted in this space in the past, but it requires some […]

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