Photographing the Ocean


Staff member
Tips on photographing at the Ocean.



1. Get to know your location. Find out what tide level best suites that location. If it has rocks or tide pools, there will definitely be an optimum tide level. If it's a flat beach, it probably doesn't matter much, though depending on how steep the beach is different tide levels can let you get nice reflections for example of a pier in the wet sand in between waves.

2. The time you shoot doesn't matter so much, though obviously early morning or late evening (Sunrise and Sunset) will provide with softer light and of course can provide some color in the clouds.

3. If you are shooting during the day and it's sunny out, you will be restricted to faster shutter speeds. So if you were after silky spray type shots, know that middle of the day is not the time for them unless you are going to use an ND filter to cut the light.



1. Like most water shots, using a polarizer is essential. Most often you will adjust it to block the reflections and thus give the water a deeper richer look. It can also be adjusted to cut the glare and reflection off of the water so for instance at tide pools you could shoot through the water and capture all sorts of marine life.

2. But often when the sun is setting or rising and the there are clouds being lit with color, you want to back off on the Polarizer adjustment so that it doesn't cut the glare or reflection, because in this case you do want the water to be reflecting that awesome color in the clouds, or simply allow the low angled golden sun to now reflect gold onto the water.

2A. When adjusting your Polarizer, be aware that adjusting it too strong will produce whats called a Polarizer Blob in the sky. That's an area that gets unnaturally dark compared to the rest of the sky. Get used to looking for that, and be sure to back off on the Polarizer to avoid it, or minimize it.

3. There will be two different types of "looks" of the water you will be going after. It's going to be your personal choice as to which looks best, but I will switch between the two looks myself since they do provide different looks.

3A. A capture every droplet of spray, or capture the in rush of a wave in sharp clear focus. This will require a fast shutter speed. Usually in the range of 1/200th to 1/400th. You will be shooting with an aperture between f8 to f13 typically. The reason being you want enough Depth of Field to keep all elements of your image in focus.

3B. Long stringy spray, which will happen as the incoming wave splashes against rocks in the foreground. Usually 1/5th of a second Shutter Speed will produce nice stringy spray. But it's good to also vary your Shutter speed from 1 sec up to 1/10th of a second, as it's often hard in the field while looking at a small 3" screen to decides which shutter speed produces the best look for you.



1. Watch for sneaker waves, they can be deadly.

2. Watch the waves for a short bit before venturing out so that you can see how far the biggest waves splash.

3. Use a Rain jacket for your camera and lens to protect it from salt spray. Even if you camera is sealed, its a good idea to help protect it. Op/Tech makes a great one, you can get a package of 2 of their Rainsleeves for $6.95 at BH Photo. I use one over my camera all the time when I am at the beach, you just never know when water may nail you.

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