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How to Create Great Beach Shots

by | 2 years ago

A lot of people traveling this summer have probably encountered some amazing beaches. As a photographer, it’s not always easy to capture the perfect sunset shot at the beach, even more so when you have lots of people in the scene, no foreground element, and sand in your tripod! So here are my tips on how to make amazing photos at the beach.

Tip #1: To get an amazing photo at the beach, you have to compose your photo properly with a simple message, including a foreground, middle ground, and background element. My first tip is to get close to the water, but be careful not to get salt water on your lens. The idea here is to capture the waves as the foreground element.

Tip 2: My second tip is to put your camera on high burst mode to get 5–10 photos with each click.

Tip 3: Take photos as the waves are coming in, and don’t use auto focus. Try to use manual focus to get sharp photos, and focus on your middle ground element. For this photo, I was at 1/40s of a second, f/5.6, and ISO 100.

Tip 4: We’re trying to create a beautiful composition with a simple message and a nice foreground element, so we’re trying to avoid framing images like the ones shown here. Even if there’s a nice sunset, having random people in your frame will be distracting and not as aesthetic. And the same goes for seaweed; it’s not pleasing to the eyes, and doesn’t enhance the beauty of the beach at sunset, which is what we’re trying to communicate here.

Tip 5: Having small waves captured from above as in the example shown at left isn’t as appealing as getting lower and closer to the water with a bigger wave. Here’s why: When you see those small waves, you’ll notice some texture (I call it “high-frequency texture”) on top of the water, almost like sandpaper, which isn’t great to look at. One thing I’ve learned through the years is that having high-frequency texture as a foreground element distracts from the overall aesthetic.

Time to Develop the Images

From the tips above, I hope you get the concept of having the perfect composition. Now we’re going to develop the images.

Step One: I like to start the retouch with a preset to set the mood of my photo, and then retouch it. For these images, I’ll be using one of my Signature presets that you can download by clicking here or visiting kelbyone.com/magazine . I use these presets in my everyday workflow and to do my fine-art books.

To install the presets in Lightroom, go to the Develop module, click the + (plus sign) at the right end of the Presets panel header, and choose Import Presets. Navigate to where you saved the presets, click on the first one, Shift-click on the last one to select all of them, and then click Import. You should now see them in the Presets panel.

For this photo, we’ll use the preset called GOLDEN HOUR Linear Circle as a starting point.

Step Two: Now, let’s go over the basic retouch. I moved the black point (Blacks) to –58 and the white point (Whites) to +9. I also added some contrast (+46).

Step Three: For the local adjustments, the preset already has a couple of Graduated Filters that you can use. For the one on the top of the photo covering the sky, I set the Temp to –23 and the Tint to 12 to add magenta to the sky and make it more dynamic.

Step Four: I usually like to make the lower Graduated Filter in the preset darker to close up the photo, but here I wanted to add some Exposure (0.52) to brighten the water. I also moved the Temp to –16 to make the water bluer; otherwise, it can look muddy.

Step Five: To make the overall photo even more dynamic, you can use the Adjustment Brush (K) to paint over parts of the photo, such as the waves and the water, to make them stand out. In this example, I added some Exposure (0.64) and Temp (–11) to add some blue.

Step Six: To finish the photo, you can add some pop by boosting the Contrast (+51 here) and the Vibrance (+24). The setting depends on how saturated you want your photo.

Step Seven: Once you’re happy with your retouch, you can synchronize the settings with other photos from the same series. With the image selected in the Filmstrip, select all the other images in the Filmstrip to which you want to apply the same settings: Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) to select individual images, or Shift-click to select contiguous images. Once your images are selected, click the Sync button at the lower right. In the Synchronize Settings dialog, check everything except Brush under Local Adjustments. Click Synchronize, and all your settings are copied to the selected images.

Step Eight: Now you only need to tweak each photo to make sure it looks the way you want! For this image, I set the Contrast to +51 and the Whites to +11.

Step Nine: You can also move around the Graduated Filters, or simply get rid of them. On this photo, the sunset was so spectacular that I deleted the radial circle. To delete a Graduated Filter, you can either Right-click on its pin and choose Delete, or click on it to make it active, and press the Delete (PC: Backspace) key.

Step 10: Finally, use the same Adjustment Brush that we used earlier to add some light and color to the water.

Just by doing this over and over again on all the photos from the series, this is a great way to set a similar mood and retouch. In this article, I really wanted to show you that composition is the key to communicating a simple message, and the retouch can be very quick if you capture the right frame. Hope you have fun shooting at the beach, and that you can reap the benefits from these tips.

ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI