What time of day are you going
The time of day to photograph people on the beach is very important just like when you go out to photograph the streets. Are you going early morning? Sunrise? Where the light is fairly faint and their aren’t a lot of beach goers…depending on your location you may see a lot of early morning runners and surfers.
Are you going at noon? Where the sun is may be a bit harsh and it’ll be hot as heck! At this hour, I find that the beaches are most crowded. It can be difficult to last a few hours due to the heat, walking in sand, and carrying a bag full of items. I suggest dressing comfortably, wearing slippers or sandals, and carry a point and shoot or keep your dslr/mirrorless camera as light as possible.
Also at this time of the day, there should be a variety of people at the beach. Families. Seniors. Tanners. Surfers. Homeless. Tourist. Locals. Go before lunch and shoot for a couple hours, maybe from 11am to 1pm.
If you’re worried about the sun causing you any stress then go before sunset. The late afternoon 3pm-4pm and shoot until the sun sets. You’ll find the best lighting at this hour, a very soft and subtle light just arraying the shores. The key here though is to find where that light is exactly hitting. Of course the area where the light is hitting will change as the sun sets but once you find it, don’t lose it. Follow the light and let your subjects walk into it. There may be opportunities to create dark shadows or silhouettes as well. Also at this hour, the beach isn’t as overly crowded (which can be overwhelming at times just like shooting a busy intersection). Most people are getting ready for dinner or just waiting to enjoy the sunset but majority are doing that away from the sands.
If you look the part, you’ll get the part. Same applies when you’re photographing on the beach. If you look like a tourist like everyone else on the beach with beach shorts, often taking selfie shots of yourself, others around may not even notice you or seem to care. But if you’re on the beach with jeans , a pair of shoes, and a long telephoto lens then obviously you’ll be standing out from the crowd…and for the wrong reasons.
Now I’m not saying to go shopping for an entirely new attire just for the beach setting. Dress comfortably. Have respect of what you photograph and who you photograph. Same principles applies as when you’re roaming the sidewalks.
My other advice when blending in is to take your time. Scan the beach. I love shooting the beach because there are many activities happening, lot of different people of all size, shapes, and background in a more contain environment. And also everything is slowed down, unlike the streets where it can be very busy and overwhelming at times.
Have the Fisherman mentality
Take your time. Be patience. Scan those in the water. Observe those lying in the sand absorbing the sun. Eventually you will come across something that just instinctively connects with you. Maybe it’s an overly tanned person. Over sized man in speedos. A juxtaposition of a swimmer and their inflatable’s.
People are exposed on the beach. Their guards are down. For crying out loud, they’re barely clothed. So worse case scenario a photograph of themselves should be the least of their concerns. I believe if you were to shoot at the beach from sunrise to sunset, be patient with the situation, you would walk away with more amazing photos shooting the beach than if you were to spend an entire day on the streets. That’s just my opinion.
What to Look For
Well what do you look for when you’re shooting the streets? Gesture? Color? Wardrobe? Interesting face? Patterns? Juxtaposition? Humor? Same can be applied when photographing the beach. However, I feel it’s even more out there and you don’t have to really look or even stress overthinking or even trying. Just take a nice walk down shore, take your time, enjoy the ocean and view, and I guarantee you will come across something you’d like to make a photograph of. Comparing to shooting the streets, it’s easy to get caught up with the fast pace environment and just to blaze your way through street after street. Your photo walk just ends up being more of an exercise than a creative experiment. The beach has a calming effect, I think that mostly has to do with the people on the beach having that calm and relaxation feeling and it rubs off on you. If you go and blaze through the people in the water or on the sand and be very aggressive with your approach you will only be calling negative attention to yourself from other beach goers.
There’s a lot to see on the beach. Different activities happening, perhaps a volleyball game, kids building a sand castle or burying their siblings alive into the sand. People running in and out of the water. Lying down getting fried by the sun. Or perhaps the possibilities of creating interesting juxtaposition with those reading a book on the beach.
Narrow Your Focus
Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of people? Not seeing anything that sticks out to you? When I feel in this rut, I usually go to my fallback. I think we all have fallbacks in what we look for or what stands out interesting whether we’re conscious of it or not. For me if nothing stands out then I narrow my focus on gesture or bright colors.
Same can be applied photographing the beach, perhaps you narrow your focus to body shapes that you find interesting. Or overly tanned aka burnt people at the beach. Simple things like that, that may not make great photos but at least it’ll make you start clicking that shutter button.
Respect Your Subjects
Have some ethics and respect when shooting the beach just like when you photograph the streets. It’s one thing to have balls and courage but it’s another thing to be disrespectful of another person’s space. If your gut tells you it’s not a good idea to photograph that situation or person then move on. The very least you can perhaps ask for permission but that ruins the candid shot and I personally think it’s a bad habit to do…to seek permission in order to make a photograph. if you’re new to street photography then you get a pass but for those that are more seasoned it’s frowned down upon. Also consider asking yourself, is this photograph really worth taking… is it that good of a shot? Sometimes you really don’t know until you are post processing the image but most of the times for myself, I know in my gut that I got a good photo at that very moment.
You can catch me photographing the beach on my youtube channel here
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