6 Tips For Killer Seascape Photography

Greeting my excellent friends. It’s Josh Cripps here. I spent some of my most formative years as a photographer here, shooting along the coast, striving to capture it in photos and dodging many a row wave. Now, during those years, I learned many important lessons about what makes for powerful seascape photos. And in this video, I’m going to share with you six techniques that you can use to shoot killer coastal photographs. Let’s go.

A good seascape, starts with some essential gear and a solid tripod comes in right at the top of the list. All of the reasons you should be using a tripod for your landscape photography go doubly. When you’re shooting at the coast, not only does the tripod give you a stable base to photograph from, to achieve those tax sharp details. It also allows you to use a longer shutter speed. Some of the best seascape images are taken with shutter speeds between a quarter second and 30 seconds or more. And if you’re trying to pull off handheld shots at those long exposures, your photos are going to be blurry disappointments. So slap your camera on a tripod and you’ll see an instant improvement in your images. And here’s a pro tip for you. Push your tripod legs deep into the wet sand at the ocean’s edge. And if a wave wraps around the legs, push them deeper.

Still the wet sand will help cement around the tripod legs and give you an awesomely stable base to shoot from. Even if waves are rushing around you and always, always, always make sure that your tripod is level. The last thing you want is for your camera to take a dip in the ocean because your tripod was off balance and fell over a tripod will get you 90% of the way to having sharper photos, but to bring out the best in your shots, you should also use a remote cable release as well. The remote release lets you pop off shots without actually touching your camera. So it removes the shake that comes from pushing the shutter button. And if you’re wondering why you can’t just use the two second timer when you’re shooting at the coast, it’s because you often want to time your shots very specifically and hit the shutter at the exact moment that you need to. And trying to time that two seconds in advance, it’s an exercise in futility.

Graduated neutral density filters are a must have accessory. That’ll help bring your seascape photography up a few notches. In many photography situations you can avoid using G and D filters by bracketing exposures and then combining them later in Photoshop. But that practice will get you into hot water here at the coast. And the reason for that is really simple. The ocean is moving and if you’re bracketing exposures here, when you’re shooting the water, the waves, they’re going to look different in every single shot. And when you go to blend those exposures in post, it stands a really good chance of coming out funky. So using a graduated neutral density filter ensures that you can capture the whole dynamic range of the scene in a single shot, but be aware that G and D filters are like magnets for salt spray, which is one of those unique annoyances that comes with photographing the coast.

Every time these waves out here crash, they send these little droplets of sea spray into the air, which lands on these builders. And if it’s windy, this salt spray is a photographer’s nightmare. It’s this ever present mist that blows into your face and onto your lenses and your filters. It is the worst feeling to think that you’ve absolutely nailed a shot only to get home and find out that you had little droplets all over the front of your camera the whole time. So to combat that problem, you always got to keep some lens wipes handy and be vigilant about wiping down the front of your filters and your lens. And for me personally, I prefer using these paper wipes as opposed to the microfiber wipes, because they do a great job of pulling off that salt spray, that sea air without causing smearing like a microfiber cloth often.

In my mind the number one thing that you can do to improve the impact of your seascape photography is simple. Just get closer to the ocean. Don’t be afraid to get into the surf zone and get a little wet by getting closer. You’re going to be in a better position to show off the ocean dynamics like wave action in crashes and splashes and mushes and cascades though. These photos right here, they show the exact same scene. And yet one is way more interesting than the other, right? This photo was taken 20 feet above the surf zone and this photo was taken in the surf. So consequently it’s much more dynamic, engaging and impactful. The simple act of walking 20 feet, closer to the ocean, improved this photo immeasurably. Now here’s a little safety tip. Always keep one eye on the ocean and be aware that rogue waves can occur at any time, and can be much larger than other waves. So you always want to have an escape plan. You always want to be aware of your surroundings when you’re in the surf zone and it’s best. If you can keep all of your gear on you, don’t put your camera over there and your bag over there because you might need to gather everything up and skedaddle in a moment’s. Now, if you do get hit by a wave, don’t try to run because it’s most likely that you’re just going to get knocked over instead, turn sideways to the ocean. It gives you a stronger base against the force of the water and it reduces your profile.

One of the great joys of seascape photography is the ability to dramatically alter the look of your images simply by changing the shutter speed, playing with shutter speed, lets us shoot into the fourth dimension by capturing visuals that our eyes can’t see whenever there’s motion in a scene, you should be thinking about how to use your shutter speed to capture that motion. When you’re out at the coast, if you pick a fast shutter speed, like say a hundredth of a second, it’s going to freeze the crashing waves in midair, which is going to create tension and drama in your photos, but a longer shutter speed of around one second can be used to create silky streamers and soft curls in the waves. And very long shutter speeds like 30 seconds or a minute or more are fantastic for creating that completely smooth Misty look in the ocean, but what’s really fun about shooting the ocean is not just that it’s moving, but also that it’s constantly changing.

Unlike shooting say a waterfall where back-to-back exposures at the same shutter speed are probably going to look virtually identical back-to-back exposures at the coast can exhibit entirely different characters and moods depending on whether a wave is just beginning to crest or it’s rushing up the beach or flowing over some rocks or washing back out the seat. When you press the shutter button has a remarkable effect on the outcome of your image. So once you’ve found that shutter speed that you like try experimenting with timing your shots when the ocean is doing different things. And you’re surely going to notice some fantastic elements being added to your book.

Compositionally, one of the most powerful elements in landscape photography are leading lines. Those are those natural pathways that move your viewers eye through the image. And the ocean does a wonderful job of creating leading lines for us. If you know where to look, one of the most obvious lines that you can use in your seascape compositions is the line of foam that a wave creates as it comes up the beach, but perhaps even more interesting lines are created by the motion of the water itself. By stretching your shutter speed out to say one to two seconds, you can capture the movement of a wave as it moves up and down the beach. And when you do that, it creates beautiful running streamers of water that pull your viewers eye into the photo and to really nail those wavy streamers. Here’s what you do. You set shutter speed to one half to two seconds. Then you wait for a wave to crash, to rush up the beach and pause at the top just as the wave begins to flow back into the ocean. That’s when you trip the shutter that quarter second to two second exposure is going to capture the movement of the wave. 

Lots of photographers like to shoot in aperture priority mode because it’s easy. You pick an aperture to get the depth of field that you want. And the camera decides what the necessary shutter speed is to get the right exposure. But when you’re shooting seascapes, the camera can easily be fooled into shooting bad exposures. As waves are crashing and splashing through your scene. The camera is going to constantly be adjusting exposure to try to keep up with these changing conditions. And unfortunately, most of the time the camera is going to fail miserably and produce wildly varying results. These three photos, I took an aperture priority mode and despite them being taken back to back to back, the exposure change between them is as much as three stops. So by switching to full manual, you’re going to lock in an exposure which doesn’t change as waves crash over the rocks and recede, which means you’re going to get consistent and repeatable results for a similar reason.

I highly recommend that you use manual focus when shooting seascapes, because when you’re photographing a moving subject, like the ocean, your camera’s auto-focus could start hunting for every single shot. And the last thing that you need is to not be able to shoot because the camera’s trying to lock focus on a moving wave, using manual focus, completely avoids this issue. And a good trick is just to use focus initially to really lock in that perfect focus for your scene and then switch over to manual focus on your lens so that it can’t hunt that way. You’ll rest assured that all of your shots will be taxed sharp [inaudible] means to me, those are six techniques for next level seascapes. So get out there, use them and shoot and be sure to tag your photos on Instagram, hashtag Joshua Crips photography, because I want to see them. And if you haven’t already please consider subscribing to this channel for more tips like this, that’s going to do it for me until next time, have fun and happy shooting.

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