Ah summer, the time for sun, sand, and harshly lit photos of the family grimacing into the sun.
Shooting in the shade can help avoid harsh light on the beach.
Photographer Joey Wright, who spends most of his working days photographing things like surfside weddings, kiteboarders and bikini models, turns out images with nary a squint, grimace, or gnarly shadow. Here are his tips for seaside shooting.
1) Work dawn or dusk. The obvious way to avoid harsh light is to shoot when the light is low—the golden hours just after dawn and before sunset. “You get a softer light,” said Mr. Wright. “The light on your subjects won’t come from straight above, so you don’t get that jack-o lantern look with shadows under the eyes and nose.” The general rule is that the best time to shoot is when your shadow is twice as tall as you are.
2) Use sunscreen. Cloudy days may not be your favorite time to be on the beach, but clouds provide diffused light for photography. Even scattered clouds are useful if you are patient. “We had some clouds moving across and waited for the cloud to block the sun.” said Mr. Wright.
3) Power up. “You can always overpower the sun with a flash,” said Mr. Wright. By that, he means that you use a flash to fill in the shadows the midday sun casts. Some cameras, even point-and-shoots, have a “fill flash” setting. Check your manual.
4) Use sunscreen (for real). Light from a flash helps with shadows, but the result isn’t always flattering. “With a flash you often get that flat lighting look,” said Mr. Wright. Oily sunscreen can add a reflective highlights, “That helps bring out those specular highlights that give you more definition,” He said. “Or get in the water, wet skin will give you more of that look.”
5) Reflect on your shot. There is an even better way to avoid that flat flash-lit look. “What I would do, ideally, is use a reflector,” said Mr. Wright. Reflectors are typically collapsible fabric panels that require a stand or an assistant to hold them. But you also have a natural reflector at hand. “Sand, which is a reflective surface, bounces up a lot of light,” said Mr. Wright. “The color of the light that is bouncing off it is warm and looks great on your skin.” Get your subject to sit or lay in the sand. A cliché pose is laying on the stomach, elbows on the sand, chin supported by the hands.
6) Get it made in the shade. Mr. Wright has posed models in a shady niche of rock and under piers to escape direct mid-day light. “If there is a pier nearby they make an amazing place to shoot,” he said. “Under the pier you get no direct light. What I want ultimately is light coming in from the side, or hitting them straight on, not above, not below.”
7) Fade the background. You can always just let the background be overexposed into a mass of white, then the image will showcase your subject. Make sure your camera is set for spot metering. That way instead of averaging all of the light in the frame, you can tell the camera to set the exposure to be right for a very small area. “Use it to pinpoint the skin,” he said. “Base the exposure on the face.”
Finally take extra care with your equipment on the sand. If you go from an air-conditioned room to the beach, the internal elements of your lenses can stay fogged for up to an hour. “Your lens is going to fog up beyond the point where you can just wipe it off and go,” Mr. Wright said. An hour before shooting get your camera outside in its bag (so it doesn’t warm too quickly). And of course, beware of salt and sand. “Any time you use your equipment at the beach keep it in a case, and when you get it home give it a good wipe down with a soft cloth.” Said Mr. Wright. “When I do a shoot at the beach, I charge more because my equipment is going to go through hell.”