10 British Seaside Photography Tips
The scorching heatwave might have simmered down a bit (for now) but summer isn’t over yet! There’s still plenty of time to head to the beaches before Autumn creeps in, and and appreciate the fantastic seasides we have right here in the UK. If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll no doubt want to bring your camera, so we’ve compiled our list of seaside photography tips and ideas to help get you inspired. Whether you’re lucky enough to live by the sea or you’re looking for a weekend away, there’s so many opportunities to capture great images all along Britain’s sandy coastline.
Seaside Photography Tips
1. Look for Colour
Seaside holidays conjure up images with bright pastel hues; ice cream, lines of painted beach huts, brightly coloured seafront arcades and sticks of rock. Colour is one of the most effective ways of summing up the quintessential British seaside holiday. You might find a whole rainbow, such as the Mersea beach huts in Essex, or a cheerful pop of colour from a painted seaside house along a cliff face. So keep an eye out and a camera ready, because these little bursts of colour make very pretty photos.
2. Go with the Tide
The first thing you’ll probably want to photograph is the sea, and no doubt you’ll have plenty of opportunity to capture lovely photographs of deep blue water meeting the horizon. But take some time to take into account the high and low tides. High tide can be a dramatic addition to your seaside photography, especially if the town you’re visiting has instilled a lot of man-made structures to protect the seafront, with waves crashing over walls and barriers. Don’t underestimate low tide either; you can capture serene shots of the vast sand stretching forward, or the interesting textures of muddy sand with the flotsam and jetsam left behind. British photographer Michael Martin made excellent use of this in his series Sea Change. Take inspiration from his work and try capturing a shot of the same location when the tide is at its highest and lowest, to really show the contrast of the landscape at different times of day. Steps and ramps down to the beach are great for this; covered in tourists with buckets and spades in the middle of the day, then submerged under charging waves just a few hours later. Display the two pieces together to create a striking piece of wall art, or position them opposite each other across a double page in your next photo book for maximum effect.
3. Ride Out the Weather
We all complain about how unpredictable the British weather is, but any passionate photographer sees this as an opportunity! With the hot summer we’ve all been enjoying finally breaking, there’s lots of opportunity for thunder storms, high winds and tempestuous seas. Bring your waterproof camera cover, because now is the perfect time to grab some really dramatic photos of crashing waves and choppy water. But always exercise caution; people do sometimes get swept into the sea from cliffs and seafront footpaths by unexpectedly large waves. If in doubt, stand well back and use a zoom lens to capture closer shots from a safe vantage point.
4. Breaks the Rules of Food Photography
What’s a day at the beach without traditional seaside food? If you’re a fan of food photography, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the art of capturing elegant steam curls as they swirl up from a beautifully lit coffee cup. But the appeal of seaside food is its informality, giving you the opportunity to throw all those food photography rules out the window. Fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, tea in a paper cup with sugar from a packet, hot donuts in a paper bag and drippy ice creams running down your hand. It’s food photography that doesn’t need to look beautiful, it doesn’t even need to look appetising! It’s more about conveying the moment than it is about careful arrangements and placing the cutlery just-so.
5. Mix it up with Abstracts
Step away from deckchairs and beach huts for a while and use some abstract shots to capture the salt-tinged feel of the beach. The way light plays on of water, the textures of driftwood and eroded rocks, and the patterns the sea leaves in sand all make interesting seaside photography subjects you won’t find anywhere else. This is a great opportunity to bring out your macro lens and get up close with all the interesting colours and textures. These images are a great way to break up your holiday photo book, adding some interesting variation to your series of photographs.
6. Get Close to the Wildlife
If you’re a dab hand at wildlife photography, you’ll no doubt be itching to get some snaps of the seaside fauna. Local knowledge is indispensable here. Drop in at the tourist information centre, or even have a chat with the staff at your hotel, to ascertain the best place to get close to the wildlife. Many beaches also host boat services for that very purpose; you can board short whale and dolphin spotting cruises all across the country from Newquay to Skye, and seals are pretty much guaranteed.
You can capture the wildlife with your feet firmly on the shore, too. What says “British seaside” more than seagulls? Whether you’re by the busy bright lights of Blackpool, or the quiet unspoiled coast of the Outer Hebrides, you can bet there’ll be gulls. This is another opportunity to get experimental with your photography style. You could capture a seagull in a quiet moment, looking calmly out over the sea… or you could follow around a couple of birds until you catch them making a nuisance of themselves! Seagulls squawking at holiday-goers, or stealing a bag of crisps make a fun addition to your seaside photography that’s full of personality.
7. Get that Landscape Shot
Make the most of that endless horizon and add a landscape shot to your seaside photography to-do list! Timing is of the upmost importance, with early in the morning and late in the evening usually being the best times to head to the beach and avoid your shot being infiltrated with pedestrians, which is also convenient for capturing that inviting golden hour glow. Sunset and sunrise are beautiful at the beach, with a long horizon to play with and the sky colours reflected across the water. The same rules apply to usual landscape photography; bring out your best wide angle lens, set up your shot with some foreground interest to add depth, and find a striking focal point.
8. Photograph British Seaside Culture
If you’ve been to see the National Maritime Museum’s current exhibition, The Great British Seaside (which will continue to run until September 30, 2018) you’ll no doubt have been struck by the honesty of the images on display. The exhibition is a slice of British culture captured on film, and it oozes with authenticity. According to Martin Parr, whose photography features in the exhibition, “the seaside has to be one of the most fascinating places for people-watching. It is a place where we relax and lose our inhibitions, and that’s when true personalities come on display.”
Take a leaf out of Parr’s book, and try to capture the reality of the moments. Beautifully composed, well-lit images can be stunning, but there’s plenty of value in taking a candid, deliberately messy shot, too. Resist the temptation to crop out a stray beach towel, or Photoshop out a rogue paper bag in the sand. It can transport your viewer to the location in a way that feels authentic and genuine.
9. Go Architectural
The seaside is a great place to photograph architecture. Most beach holiday destinations can boast their own unique buildings that anyone with an eye for photography can enjoy. Look out for bandstands adorned with intricate ironwork, the smooth lines of Modernist pavilions, or dizzying spirals of lighthouse stairs. Try walking under the pier when the tide’s out to grab some great shots of its underbelly. There’s an eerie feel to the underneath of a pier, especially on grey days, so it’s a great opportunity to add some unexpected shots to your seaside photography portfolio.
10. Revel in the Faded Seaside Glamour
One of the most interesting things about the British seaside is how wildly it varies; we boast beautiful, unspoiled beaches and arcade-strewn holiday destinations. Many of the latter enjoyed their heyday many years ago; they have spent the past couple of decades struggling to compete with cheap package holidays to Benidorm, and are now falling into disrepair as public interest wanes. But there’s something especially charming about this aesthetic, with the patina-speckled gates, seawater-rusted ironwork and fairground rides with rubbed paint from decades of sticky-fingered riders. These are all details you can look out for, and an interesting twist to the usual seaside photography subjects.
We hope our tips have inspired you to grab your camera and visit the seaside yourself soon. Seaside photography also makes a great subject for travel guides and holiday photo books. If you make a seaside photo book of your own, we’d love to see it! You can share your projects in our CEWE Community pool, and view other people’s CEWE PHOTOBOOKS for inspiration. Plus, each month we pick a photo book we love, and reward its creator with a £50 CEWE voucher. So start creating something special today!