Summer, sun, beach and sea – we love it! Anyone who has looked around here on our blog will have already noticed that we are huge beach fans and cannot get enough of white dream beaches and turquoise blue water. What looks and feels so great in real life, unfortunately, often looks rather unspectacular and sometimes even really boring in photos. To be honest, taking beautiful photos on the beach is not an easy task, because there is not much variation. Water, sand and strangers constantly running into the picture – these are the ingredients for a typical beach photo that nobody wants to look at after their vacation. With a lot of luck, the photo may even be deserted, but unfortunately a picture like this, usually shot head-on towards the sea, is still not particularly exciting. And somehow every beach photo looks so identical that it is hard to remember at home which beach it was taken from. Does that sound familiar to you? Touché. Until not so long ago we also took a lot of photos of wonderful beaches, which all looked pretty much like this:

Spiagge Bianche in Vada, Italy

Super nice, but … ..Gäääähn. Know one, know all. That is why in this article we show you 9 tips & tricks on how you can immediately take better and more exciting photos on the beach without having to invest huge amounts of money in new equipment. Grab your smartphone or camera and get started right away!

Pay attention to the horizon line

Right at the beginning we would like to mention two points that we have already discussed in our tips for better travel photos . We have a photo for you of a really great beach that just doesn’t look good despite the wonderful colors and the brilliant white sand. Right?

Travel photo tip horizon straight
Boring beach photo with a crooked horizon

Something seems totally wrong … but what … do you think of it? Right, the horizon is completely crooked. It’s just a small thing, but a straight horizon gives rise to the effect of a photo. If the horizon is only slightly crooked, it can easily be straightened in post-processing. With really very crooked photos like this one, however, you would have to cut too much away during editing and the photo would be unusable. Therefore: Just make sure to keep the horizon straight when taking pictures and you will immediately have a photo that looks a lot better. If you can’t do it well on your own, then every camera and smartphone has the option of showing grid lines in the display, which you can use for orientation. It definitely works.

Image composition and the rule of thirds

Travel Photography Rule of Thirds
Rule of thirds represented by fictitious lines. The house is placed on the intersection of the lines at the bottom right.

The rule of thirds

If you have already faded in the grid lines, we will tell you what it is all about. The grid lines are actually there to better implement another rule in photography: the rule of thirds. The picture is fictitiously divided into nine boxes. The rule of thirds says that our eyes perceive a picture as particularly harmonious if it can be divided horizontally or vertically into three equal parts. The horizon is placed either on the lower or the upper horizontal line, depending on which area of ​​the photo is to be emphasized more. In the case of an endless white beach, for example, the beach should be in focus and take up the lower 2/3 of the picture, but if you have a particularly blue sky with white fleecy clouds, then give the sky more space in the photo. This rule is practically the basic rule for every image composition.

The composition of the picture

In the next step you can now think about the composition of the picture. What else can you do so that your beach photos don’t look so boring? Our tip: bring objects and people into the game! Keep an eye out for interesting things – is there a tree somewhere? A lighthouse, a lifeguard station, a sand castle, a rock? Then use these things and place them left or right in the lower third of the picture.

Photo tip rule of thirds
Beach photo with the rule of thirds applied and a straight horizon. Better right?

Is there anything that could result in interesting color contrasts in the picture? Are there lines in the picture that can guide the viewer’s gaze? Are there things that are suitable as an exciting foreground or as a natural frame in the picture? Just try it out and take a lot of photos. Little by little you will get the glimpse of how you can pimp your beach photos in this very simple way.

Divi Divi Tree in Aruba
The tree protrudes into the picture from the lower left third and loosens up the otherwise boring scene
Cupecoy Beach St. Maarten
The rocky coast offers an exciting color contrast to the blue sea and leads the viewer’s gaze into the picture from the bottom right

Pay attention to clean equipment

Actually, of course. It’s hard to believe, but unfortunately the practice often looks different and you often take pictures with dirty equipment without being noticed. Especially on the beach it happened really fast and then you snap forever with a dirty lens (or worse: a dirty sensor!). Then at home the bad adult comes because all the photos are for the bin.

There are several dangers lurking on the beach: sand that scratches the lens and crawls into every crack in the lens, greasy sunscreen and salty water splash from the sea. If you are only traveling with your smartphone, then simply clean the lens every now and then with a clean cloth, that’s enough. It gets a little more complicated with a real camera: Try to avoid changing lenses on the beach. Especially with a system camera like our Sony Alpha 6000 *, this can turn out really bad, because once the sensor is exposed, a small scratch from a grain of sand is enough to ruin the whole camera. Otherwise, you should handle the camera with care.

Use a lens hood to protect the lens and put the camera in a sand-free storage area after use. In case you don’t believe us that this is important: We wrecked our beloved Samsung NX3000 on our last vacation in the Bahamas. For 2 years we carelessly tossed her around in the sand and in sandy beach bags and now she has made an exit. On her gravestone it says: SIG (sand in the gears). God bless them.

By the way, we simply use this cleaning set * for cleaning (the bellows is for cleaning the sensor; since we do not expose the sensor on the beach, it always stays at home). A simple paper handkerchief loses fibers when cleaning, which then adhere to the lens, so it is only suitable to a limited extent.

Work with the sun instead of against it

What’s the best thing about the beach? Exactly, the sun! What many people don’t know: Unfortunately, bright sun is not that great for taking photos. The light is very hard at lunchtime, it casts large shadows on people’s faces, as well as the reflection of the sand and water. Under these circumstances, it is hardly possible to produce usable beach photos. If you want to take pictures with the sun and use it to your advantage for beautiful beach photos, here’s what you can do:

The right time to take photos …

… is in the morning or in the evening. It doesn’t have to be sunrise at 5 a.m. or sunset at 10 p.m. (you are on vacation after all!), But avoid the times between around 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. At this time the sun is too high and casts strong shadows. Your best friend is the golden hour .

Taking photos with the light

Look for an image section where you don’t have to take photos against the sun, but where the light comes from behind. So turn away from the sun. But watch out for the shadows! Normally with this constellation you have at least your own shadow in the picture, which you now have to get out of the picture again. Or you just make a virtue out of necessity and play with it 😉

Shadow on the beach
Can’t avoid the shadow? Then make it a motive!

Take pictures against the light

In this situation, the following is likely to happen: Your camera will either focus on the light area in the picture (the sun) and the picture will be insanely dark, or it will focus on the dark area and the rest of the picture will be way too bright Use yourselves and either play with silhouettes on purpose or you try to brighten the too dark area in the picture with the flash. Huh? Flashing in broad daylight? Yes, you read that right. This works out. The bad news: Most cameras and smartphones have such a weak flash that you won’t get very far with this method. We therefore advise you: play with silhouettes. Beautiful photos can be created especially during sunset. Important: always position the object directly in front of the sun,

Silhouette sunrise Miami Beach
Silhouette at sunrise on Miami Beach

Change of perspective for exciting vacation photos

Try NOT to take photos at eye level. Hold the camera at stomach height, bend down on your knees or point it up. There are exciting things to discover, especially on the ground, which are ideal as a foreground in the photo – seashells, a few stones, a piece of driftwood, your own feet….

Waves, for example, look much more dramatic when they are recorded from further down.

Shells Beach Sanibel Island Florida
Seashells as the foreground in the picture. The photo was taken on Sanibel Island in Florida

Don’t forget the details

Keep your eyes peeled for the details. You will not only get beautiful vacation memory photos if you take a long shot of the beach in its simple beauty, but above all if you also include the details. On such a beach there are great things to discover that ultimately create the “beach feeling” and that are therefore worth not only in memory, but also photographically. Take a look around what there is to discover. Perhaps a crab is wandering across the sand somewhere, someone has forgotten their coconut, you have just bought a bright red melon that looks amazing against the blue sea or a fisherman is getting ready with his boat on the water. There are countless motifs, you just have to keep your eyes open a little.

Cancer in Aruba
Little cancer on the beach in Aruba
Nassau Cable Beach
A fisherman on the beach in the Bahamas. G. MAN!
Coconut in the sand
A coconut in the shade of a tree

If nothing really happens on the beach, there is one thing you can do that always works: Hold your drink in the camera! No fun, a delicious cocktail with the beach scenery in the background is a motif that is guaranteed to put you in a good mood and you will remember the moment for years to come.

In order to make the photo at least artistically valuable, pay attention to a nice depth of field. In our 10 tips for beginners for better travel photos  , we have already touched on what this so-called bokeh is all about and how you can achieve it . Basically, a bright lens is important (an aperture of 2.8 or less should be), but meanwhile some smartphones can conjure up this blurring effect , e.g. the iPhone 7 Plus or the two Huawei models P10 and Mate 9. You don’t have any of them , there are also apps that can create the effect in post-production, e.g. the app ‘Bokeh Lens’ (iPhone) or ‘After Focus’ (Android). The difference to a real bokeh is of course visible, but it is enough for a snapshot.

Bahama Mama on Stocking Island
Drink a Bahama Mama in the Bahamas: Check!

Use cool photography gadgets

This is for those of you who not only sizzle in the sun, but occasionally swing into the water. We use three gadgets for our recordings on the beach and in the water, which we think are very cool and do not want to be without.

An underwater camera : The classic is certainly a GoPro camera (we have a GoPro Hero 4 * ourselves), but we are of the opinion that there are also much cheaper alternatives for the beginning, such as this Action Cam *, which can also take useful underwater recordings conjure up. Try it out, go snorkeling with it, swim to secret caves and grottos and take photos there – and if it’s totally your thing, then invest in a GoPro.

Clip-on lenses for smartphones *: With these little miracles you can conjure up interesting and funny photo effects for extremely little money. The lenses are simply clamped in front of the smartphone’s camera and you already have a super wide-angle shot or a frog’s-eye view. Super wide angle in particular is really useful on the beach because you simply get a lot more of it on the picture. Cumbersome fiddling with the panorama function of your camera is a thing of the past.

A camera dome : Have you ever seen footage where half of the image is underwater and the other half in the air? We absolutely wanted to take pictures like this, but despite a lot of patience / skill we couldn’t manage it with our GoPro. Frustrating. As we have now found out, it can’t work at all, you need a special gadget called a camera dome. So we have now ordered this dome for the GoPro * and the first impression in the bathtub is great. We are really excited about his first mission!

Exuma highlights stingrays swimming
Stingrays in the Caribbean, recorded in video mode with the GoPro Hero 4

Try long exposures

There is no better motif than water to take your first steps with long exposure. You have probably already seen pictures of waterfalls or rivers where the water looks soft – sometimes really cotton wool – has it? That works with long exposure. We don’t like it in this form because it looks very unnatural, but if used discreetly you can achieve great results with long exposures. How is that going now? You have to set the shutter speed on your camera manually. The program for this is a semi-automatic program and is called aperture automatic or time priority , you can find it on the setting wheel of your camera under the letter S.(Eselsbrücke: S as in “Shutter speed”, ie shutter speed). There you will find values ​​such as 1/640, 1/60, 1/5, 0.4 ″, 1 ″, 5 ″, etc. These manual setting options are now also available on many smartphones.

In order to be able to work with long shutter speeds, you need a tripod . We use this inexpensive and lightweight travel tripod * or look for a natural tripod like a railing or a rock if we don’t have it with us. The main thing is that the camera is stable. You can use a flexible mini tripod * for your smartphone .

Caution: Long exposure makes your image significantly brighter, so it only works in the twilight in the morning or in the evening if you do not want to use additional equipment such as ND filters (these filters darken your lens so that you can work with long exposures even in daylight But this is for advanced photographers and not for the beginning).

To get started, start with a shutter speed of about 1/5 second, your camera adjusts the aperture accordingly. Take a look at the picture in the display: Does the exposure fit or is the picture much too bright or too dark? What happens if you choose a slower shutter speed, e.g. 0.5 seconds (the camera refers to this as 1/2 or 0.5 ″)? Is the picture way too bright? Then go for a test in the completely manual mode, in which you can also set the aperture manually (the camera has done that for you so far). The aperture are the numbers that the camera designates as f 5.6, f 11, f 18, etc. The higher the number, the more closed the aperture and the less light penetrates the lens .

If your picture is too bright due to a long shutter speed, you have to close the aperture. If you have now closed the aperture as much as possible, i.e. selected the largest possible number, and the image is still much too bright, you have to choose a shorter shutter speed. Just try a little around until it fits. Sometimes it doesn’t work – that’s because it’s too bright outside. Without an ND filter to darken, there is not much you can do at this point.

The two sample pictures were taken in very dim light in Lofoten . In the picture below you can see a normal shot of the beach in automatic mode, the picture above shows the same scene with a long exposure without additional filters (with a filter you could and would have had to expose much longer to get the water really smooth unfortunately it looks more blurred than “smooth”). Both images are completely unprocessed as they come out of the camera. Do you see the difference and the potential of a long exposure? So: try it out!

Long exposure on the beach in Lofoten. 0.5 sec. Shutter speed, f 25, 28mm, ISO 200
The same scene photographed in automatic mode. 1/160 sec. Shutter speed, f 4, 28mm, ISO 250

Get into the picture with you!

No bikini figure? Can’t be, you’re wearing a bikini (or swimming trunks, hopefully) and have a figure = bikini figure. It’s that simple. So off in front of the camera. There is nothing more stupid than vacations where you hardly end up with a photo in which you can be seen yourself. Beach photos in particular live from the people in the picture and you can do a lot with the magical backdrop. For every figure problem there is a good pose or a photography angle from which it just works, we promise! (Big bum: sit down and take pictures from behind / above, upper body pictures in the water; Big belly, but great legs: Instagram hot dog leg photos, photos from behind. Just to name a few examples)

Very important: Dare to do something! You don’t have to spend hours shooting with your Instagram husband, but a bit of poses and photo-effective accessories such as a large sun hat *, a stylish beach towel * or the like. make a lot. If that’s too stupid for you, then just ask your companion to snap photos every now and then throughout the day. Preferably unnoticed by you, because these are the most natural and beautiful shots 🙂

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