At sunset, in a storm, in autumn or in the morning stillness, the sea is a photographic subject that may give us countless satisfactions. Over many years spent together I have learned that even if every photographic trip always feels like the first time, there are some tricks that can make our life easier when we are in the field. Are you curious to know what they are? Let’s discover them together!
#1 Prepare with Digital Scouting
Thanks to the available technologies we are able to explore many places while staying comfortably seated on our chair.
One particularly good idea is to use Google Earth to explore the coasts of which we want to take photos. Thus, using satellite imagery, we will be easily able to inspect coves and rocks of particular interest, as well as beaches that would lend themselves to accommodating our wide-angle lenses.
Take also the advantage of 3D visualization: in this way, you will be able to realize the actual orography of the landscape and make use of it in your composition afterward.
#2 Check the Weather Forecast
In seascape photography, knowing weather conditions is really important. In fact, not only should we know if we’ll have clear skies or pelting rains ahead of us but it’s even more important that we know the conditions of the sea. This will allow us to make better choices regarding both the equipment that we should take with us and the shooting location; for example, with a stormy sea a telephoto lens might be preferred so we’ll be able to take shots of the waves breaking on a distant lighthouse or on the rocks, and we’ll avoid using wide-angle lenses in locations such as beaches.
Make use of the apps that are available for your smartphone and favour those that allow you to view satellite imagery: knowing exactly what we have above our head could be decisive in choosing the most suitable shooting location!
#3 Know the Tides
One of the most underestimated aspects of seascape photography is represented by tides.
If you, too, are accustomed to taking photos in the Mediterranean sea, you will be surprised to know that in other places the sea level can vary with up to 7 or 8 meters. As you may easily imagine, this leads to a number of consequences.
First of all, it is important to know tides for safety reasons: if you walk down a beach or you reach a small peninsula without knowing that at that moment the tide is already low and it will soon be high, you might soon find yourself seabound there with no way back.
And besides, photographically speaking, tides can completely change the scenery in front of you, since a wide bay which you wanted to capture may turn into a stretch of dry rocks.
While it’s possible, through various services, to know in advance what tide we will find, it is difficult to decide what is the best tide for us.
According to my personal experience, I can tell you that if you take shots from a raised position a high tide may be optimal. If you take shots from a beach, you will probably want to have a low tide, or anyway a falling tide, for safety reasons and also so as to reveal interesting rocks or leave puddles of which you can take advantage in your composition.
#4 Aperture & ISO for Seascape Photography
Taking a good seascape shot does not require specific settings on your camera. The only recommendations, apart from shooting RAW obviously, concern ISO and aperture.
With regard to ISO, always start by using the native ISO of your camera. On my D850 it is ISO64, on many others it’s ISO100… Actually, it doesn’t matter what number it is, it matters that you use the native one, at least at the beginning. This guarantees the sensor an optimal signal to noise ratio since in this way the information of light that reaches the sensor is not subjected to any attenuation or amplification.
As regards aperture, try to stay around f/11 to maximize the depth of field while avoiding getting affected by the phenomenon of diffraction. If your foreground isn’t too close, you can even get to f/8, which the sharpness will benefit from.
#5 Shutter Speeds for Seascape Photography
Choosing the correct shutter speed is absolutely crucial to obtaining a good shot. Depending on the effect you want to obtain and on weather conditions, different shutter speeds will enable us to obtain different effects.
If we are on a cliff and we want to render the sea particularly silky, we should take shots with shutter speeds that are at least equal to 2 minutes. However, shutter speeds should also take into account the speed of the clouds, because if they’re moving too fast, with a two-minute exposure we risk making the sky too flat and losing definition in the clouds.
In such cases, it may be more appropriate to reduce the shutter speed to one minute. In case we are at a beach and we want to catch the movement of the waves and obtain the streaks of the waves on the beach, we should then take shots with shutter speeds around half a second. Notice: in order to maximize the streak effect, start shooting when the wave begins to draw back, not when it’s drawing in!
In case of a heavy sea with waves breaking on the rocks, if we want to freeze the wave we will have to use particularly high shutter speeds.
In order to go beyond the limits of our camera and select the shutter speed that we really want, the use of filters (ND Filters in particular) becomes essential.
#6 Use Filters to Enhance Your Images
The use of photographic filters can certainly help you to both create your shots and enhance their value in a natural way, without having to resort to a complex post-production afterward.
Among all the filters available on the market, those which I recommend that you use are surely three:
The first are GND filters, or Graduated Neutral Density filters, and they will allow you to compensate for the limited dynamic range of the sensor of your camera thus enabling you to capture images even when light conditions are difficult, like for example at sunset with frontal light.
The second family is that of ND (Neutral Density) filters, with which you will be able to manage shutter speeds in the best possible way.
Lastly, a filter that should always be in your backpack is a Polarizer, thanks to which you will be able to literally control the reflections on the surface of the sea.
#7 Composition is Key
As happens in any genre of photography, also in seascape photography a good composition is really important to obtain an impressive image.
Try to always get in the field a bit earlier than the time planned for the shots as you will need some time to study the composition. After choosing the proportion between sky and sea in your image, try to finalize the composition by taking advantage of the natural elements that surround you.
Make use of the guidelines given by the landscape, such as the lines of the coast or of the beach and do not underestimate the foreground especially if you are using a wide-angle lens: what is close to you, in the image that you will take will seem even closer!
#8 Don’t Forget to Experiment
One of the most beautiful aspects related to landscape photography (and of the seascape kind in particular) is that you will never find two situations that are exactly like each other, even if we visit the same location dozens and dozens of times.
Tides, wave motion, light and weather shall dance before our eyes in a different way every time. This is why the only actual rule is that there are no rules! Just try something new every time, trying to obtain different results from every photographic trip.
And always remember: the true conquest is not the photo you will take home with you but the emotion that you will live when you are out there to capture that photo!
More Tips & Tricks on Seascape Photography
Do you want to learn more about seascape photography? Then be sure to check out the following articles and resources: