We spend two weeks every summer in the Hamptons, capturing all of our favorite families at their beach homes. This year we’ve visited Montauk, Amaganssett, Bridgehampton, Montauk, Sag Harbor, Southampton, East Hampton and Westhampton. So many fabulous properties and beaches to explore. The perfect backdrops for timeless baby and family portraits. It’s wonderful to capture children enjoying the sand and sunshine of their summer vacations. However, photographing at the beach always presents a range of unique challenges. We’ve enclosed some tips below for photographers who haven’t yet experienced a beach photoshoot.
Boardwalk to the Surf
If there’s a boardwalk, then you can start off with a few concepts that implement the railings or length of the boardwalk for walking shots and action poses. Ultimately, it’s the amount of potential crowds that will dictate the feasibility of shooting on the boardwalk.
Afterwards you can head down to the beach. Select an area that has the least amount of people present. Omitting distractions from the background is always a good first step in determining the best locations. Sometimes there are jetties or groyne (stone barriers perpendicular to the beach). You can use some of the rocks for seated poses, but otherwise try to avoid them as a background element.
Towards the end of the session, it’s always fun to capture portraits close to the surf. Ask the clients if they mind getting their pants a little wet. Depending on how they answer, I sometimes conclude the session with their feet in the light surf (the last few inches where the water breaks). This really puts them “in the water” and integrates the beach environment more naturally.
Beware of Sand
The sand is everywhere!! While you may routinely put our camera down on the ground at times during park sessions, no such luxury exists at the beach. Keep your equipment out of the sand, especially the lens. If you end up with some sand on your lens, be sure to blow it away first. Wiping your lens with grains of sand on it can cause irreparable harm to your glass. Due to the sand and wind, avoid swapping your lens at all costs. My first choice of lens is the 85mm. I’d recommend using that lens throughout the shoot.
Beaches are windy. Unlike inland areas where we normally shoot, wind at the beach has no buildings or trees to filter it. Always expect winds, and be ready to work with them. We try to advise our clients to bring hair accessories to help manage their hair in the wind. You may find yourself in a situation where the wind is blowing from the same direction as the sun, which makes it challenging to pose the subject effectively. Ideally, you should pose the subjects (with long hair) into the wind to avoid hair being blown into their face.
On windy days, the surf can be a little rough. This translates to large waves breaking on the surf, and spewing lots of ocean mist into the air. Ultimately, this results in “salty fog” hanging over the beach, and much of that ends-up on your lens. On calm days, this isn’t an issue, but we recommend keeping a microfiber cloth in your pocket to wipe the lens periodically. When you’re not actively shooting, keep the camera pointed DOWN to minimize the accumulation of mist on your lens.
Lack of Shade
In short – there is none at the beach! If it turns out to be a cloudy evening, it’s going to make things easier for you. However, if the skies are clear, you’ll have a lot of sun to contend with. As always, position the back of the subject against the sun. Another important thing to note – keep the sky out of the frame. In parks and urban locations, you’ll always have the benefit of finding something to help filter the sun. A distant tree, building, etc. At the beach however, there is nothing. Keep the subjects facing away from the sun. Be sure to keep the sun out of the frame to avoid glare, which is going to be very pronounced. Once the sun is ten minutes from setting behind the horizon is the best time to include the sun in the frame.
You’ll also find that the intensity of the sun varies with cloud cover and atmospheric conditions. On humid days, the hazy layer will filter the sun quite a bit, making it more manageable. On dry days, the sun can be brutally strong up until the final minutes before sunset. You’ll have to do your best as a photographer to improvise with the conditions present.
Skies at the beach are no different than skies in Central Park. The difference is – we see a lot more of it. As such, you may get an overcast cloud cover, or a completely clear sky. This will significantly affect your exposure, so be sure to routinely check the back of your camera and exposure meter in the viewfinder. It may be challenging to balance the exposure at times. Try to expose for the middle, so that the sand/sky aren’t completely blown out. We have quite a bit of latitude in post processing to adjust the exposure, but once parts of the image are blown out, there’s no bringing them back.
We hope you find these recommendations helpful for your own beach shoots, and can’t wait to see the magic you create!!
NYC Fresh & Modern Family Photography Studio
Michael Kormos Photography is available to photograph maternity, newborn, children, and family sessions throughout NYC and the Hamptons. Our boutique photography studio is conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan. We love to offer on-location family photography for natural expressions and interactions. Our photo shoots are relaxed and enjoyable, so we can capture those perfect moments that you’ll treasure for years to come. Our clients love to display their custom art as wall art and keepsake albums to be passed down for generations. Please don’t hesitate to reach us at our Midtown Manhattan Studio: 212.544.0102 to schedule your own baby photography and family portraits. We look forward to hearing from you!