Sandy, Sunny, Sensational! How to Take Great Beach Portraits

When will you be gong back to the beach to take more pictures?  It seems like a simple question, so why was my initial thought… “never”!? Beach portraits are beautiful when they are done well, but they are TOUGH to take!  Most people think sunny skies and water make for beautiful photographs.  In reality, they can make for squinty eyes, harsh shadows, and really bright pictures.  Last weekend, after a gallant but unsuccessful effort to turn down another beach session, I met this wonderful family at Atlantic Beach, NC… on a sunny, windy afternoon, and we achieved beautiful results.  I am glad this mom trusted me with the trip.  The family was a joy and the pictures were definitely worth the effort!  So,  how DO photographers get those beautiful family portraits we all want?  A few tips for taking great photos at the beach are listed below.    Become a fan of the KJ Bradley Photography facebook page to see more from this session.

family Beach Portraits

Tips for Taking Great Beach Photos:

  1. It’s all about the light!  Just as with any picture, light is the most important element.  Where and what is the source?  How bright?  At the beach, the key is often to soften the light.  Wait for the best light of the day or find indirect light.  Find a source of shade such as the dunes, a pier or best of all a cloud.  The “golden hour” is the hour before sunset.  If you can wait for it, you will get great golden skin tones and the light will be much softer.  Many of the pictures in this session were actually taken a little before the golden hour so we waited for cloud cover and found the shade of a pier.  Can you find the pictures taken in the golden hour?
  2. Shelter yourself.  Sometimes you can get breaks in the wind.  If not, find shelter in the dunes or wherever you can (legally).  Some of my best beach pictures were actually taken inside of Fort Macon, NC.  On that day, the wind was blowing like a hurricane so there was no hiding on the beach.  Sometimes you have to be ready to go with Plan B!
  3. Touch it up.  Be prepared for harsh conditions.  Take your hairbrush, powder, wet wipes, hairspray, lipstick, towel, etc.  It only takes a few minutes to sweat or for hair to blow out of place.  Be ready for touch ups on the spot.
  4. Take the classic picture.  Regardless of what you think you want, be sure to take the posed shot in front of the dunes with the seagrass in the background.  If you don’t have it, you will be trying to figure out what you are missing.
  5. Take the fun pictures.  Jump, run, wear the shades.  Do the unexpected and catch it through the lens, but don’t forget your light!  These pictures are a little harder, because spontaneous moments aren’t always under a cloud or pier.
  6. Add light.  I know that sounds weird.  I already said the bright sun makes conditions harsh.  However, if that is the situation you have you must be in control of the light.  Use the external flash to fill in shadows or use a reflector to balance the light.  If you don’t own a professional photography reflector you can use a silver car window sunshade.  Photos in the full sun will never be the best choice but if you have to take them (like when your friend gets married on the beach at noon), add light to control shadows.

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