Tips for Seascape Photography

Seascape Photography can be incredibly rewarding but at the same time equally dangerous for both you and your camera. There are many elements to take into consideration and the last thing we want is for you or your equipment to be taken by the waves.

Photographing seascapes involves many more elements than photographing still landscapes; dealing with these factors can often be challenging and in worst case not being able to capture the image you aimed for.

1. Know the tides

Most photographers, myself included, will do almost anything to get a great image. Unfortunately, this sometimes involves a certain amount of risk. We climb onto the end of cliffs and we take one step closer to the waves than we probably should. However, we don’t do this without being aware of the dangers.

One of the biggest challenges when photographing seascapes is the constantly changing tide level. Some places are only reachable during low tide and if you don’t pay attention, or haven’t researched the tide tables, you might find yourself stuck or even taken by the ocean. When planning to photograph seascapes it’s crucial that you know when the tide is high and low.

Seascape photography
Barrika Beach during low tide

Knowing the tides isn’t only a security measure, though. In fact, many locations can appear completely different during high tide than at low tide. An example of this is Playa de Barrika in northern Spain. During high tide it is nothing special, barely much of a beach at all and not worth visiting. When the tide is low, however, it’s one of the most spectacular beaches in northern Spain.

2. Get close to the action

Getting close to your subject can greatly benefit your image when photographing moving elements such as water. Having a wave splash in the foreground or streak towards you will in most cases help lead the viewer’s eye towards the main subject and enhance the depth.

When being close the water, pay extra attention to the waves. The last thing you want is for the wave to take your camera.

3. Bring waders

This might not be relevant for you if you’re photographing somewhere tropical; keep on enjoying that warm water!

Waders for landscape photography
Using waders was crucial when photographing on Iceland

While waders normally aren’t the most fashionable type of clothing they’re definitely a lifesaver when photographing in cold water, be it rivers or oceans. Getting close to the waves will, as I mentioned above, often improve the depth of an image. Since this often involves standing waist deep in water, you want to wear waders to avoid getting wet or even sick.

4. Use a tripod

I consider a solid tripod to be among the most essential equipment for landscape photography. While there are certain scenarios in traditional landscape photography you can manage without using a tripod, it’s a must-have for photographing seascapes.

Capturing good seascape images often involves experimenting with the shutter speed. When shooting close to the waves, I prefer using a shutter speed of between 0.5-1 second to keep the water’s texture but still capture the motion. Unless you’re superhuman, taking a 1-second hand held image which still is sharp is merely impossible.

7 Tips for Seascape Photography
To capture the motion in the waves you need to use a tripod

Another benefit of using a tripod is that you can place the tripod in the water while you’re standing on the rock right next to it, without getting wet! This is made even easier by using a remote shutter release.

5. Use Filters

Experimenting with the shutter speed can have a huge impact on your image. A shutter speed of 0.5 seconds will capture the motion but also keep the textures while a 30 second shutter speed will blur the water and give a silk-like effect.

7 Tips for Seascape Photography
By using a ND filter I could achieve a longer exposure

While an exposure of up to 1 second can be possible to achieve by using a low ISO and narrow aperture during sunset, anything longer will require the use of ND Filters.These filters are dark glasses that you place in front of your lens to reduce the amount of light getting in, ultimately allowing you to use a longer shutter speed.

Recommended Reading: Why Neutral Density Filters Will Improve Your Photography

6. Bring Microfibercloths

If there’s one thing you will learn from photographing close to the waves, it’s that your lens will get drops of water on the front element. You will avoid damaging the lens by being careful but keeping it dry is not easy. I always bring a couple of microfiber cloths and normally I have at least one in my pocket when photographing seascapes.

7 Tips for Seascape Photography
Be prepared to get wet!

Time is often limited and everything happens fast when photographing waves and seascapes. Having a microfiber cloth easy accessible will make it easy to quickly clean your lens between shots. You won’t need to do a thorough cleaning; the point is just to wipe of the drops.

7. Clean your lens with Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes

After a session by the coast it’s not only your skin that feels sticky from the salt. Your lens is also most likely covered in a thin layer of salt, which over time can become annoyingly visible on your images. Instead of waiting until the lens is visible dirty, I recommend to always clean your lens with a pre-moistened lens cleaning wipe when you’re done photographing.

Unlike much other photography equipment, pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes are very inexpensive. I use the Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Wipes which cost as little as $20 for 400 wipes.

What’s your best tips for seascape photography? Let me know in the comments!

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