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19 Beach Family Photography Tips That Will Actually Help You!

Published On:
June 23, 2022
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Are you getting ready to take on a beach family session? If so, you are in for a real treat!

Capturing beautiful beach family photos is one of the most rewarding things a family photographer can do. However, it's not as easy as pointing and shooting.

Pulling from our own experience, we're including 19 of the most important beach family photography tips we wish we had known prior to our first beach photo session!  This will include from how to communicate with your client to camera settings and recommended hardware to use.

By the end of this article, you'll know what you need to do (and what to avoid) to ensure you create the best family beach photos for your clients!

Without further ado, let's get started!

The Beach Is Such A Great Place For Family Photos!

We can't express this enough.

We know you're here to learn how to execute a session properly - but keep this in mind... Once you perfect your techniques and processes.. you'll be able to repeat them over and over again for countless other families.

Some of the great aspects of the beach include:

  • The weather is usually amazing (depending on location).
  • It's a great place for young children and the whole family (during and after the session)
  • Unique photos (compared to a traditional studio or outdoor photos)

While in San Diego, we had countless requests from clients for beach photo sessions. These were from locals and those on vacation.

Embrace and perfect your beach photo sessions (using the following tips), and before you know it, you'll have more clients than you can handle.

Plan Your Beach Family Photo Session In Advance

This may seem like a no-brainer... but you'd be surprised how many people 'just wing it'. Don't be the one that does this. A client can notice that you aren't prepared almost immediately.

This can lead to awkward pauses where you (the photographer) are thinking about the next shot, pose, angle, lighting... etc. This can then snowball into an off-putting session where you could very well not hear from the client again.

Why do I say this? Because I've been there. Nearly everything that I mentioned is what happened. From that day forward I told myself I would never let it happen again and that I would pass that along to those who would listen.

What you're going to want to do is plan the major aspects of the session - you can then fill in the smaller bits while at the session.

The major aspects include:

  • Parking (street or paid - make sure to let your client know this).
  • Great aspects of the location itself (drive to and walk the location if you need to).
  • The 'for sure' shots you're going to get.
  • The placement of the sun during the photo shoot.
  • Which areas of the beach to avoid (that's really crowded)

I promise you that you'll not only have a better session, but you'll be less anxious prior to it.

Communicate the important information with your client. It will make them feel important (and you seem very professional). This will ensure you've chosen that great beach and everyone will have the best time possible.

Be Very Mindful Of Your Surroundings

This is very obvious as well - but again, very much overlooked.

You'll find yourself at some point during your beach session, walking backward. While stepping backward, you may trip on something, destroy a sandcastle, or even step on someone sunbathing.

Again, I've done this (I didn't step on anyone though). I've tripped on rocks, uneven sand, and even the sandcastle bit. Yes, I was crushed just as much as the child that built it was.

just be very mindful of your surroundings, what's exactly around you, and how y ou intend to navigate it.

Protect Your Camera If You're Really Concerned

The idea of sand and water coming into contact with my camera is what kept me from doing beach photography sessions for the longest time.

It wasn't until I accepted the fact that I may need to bag my camera to alleviate that worry. A camera protector allows you to completely cover and protect your camera while still using it without limitations (for the most part).

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Peak Design makes one of the best camera covers that would last (most likely) a lifetime.

I no longer have to worry about overspray and sand getting into my lens or camera body. I also only use prime lenses... but, that's for a different topic.

Avoid Family Photo Sessions On The Beach At High Noon

High noon is not your friend here. The sun will be at its highest, which means the light will be very harsh, and there will be little-to-no shadows.

You may find that squinting becomes a thing (for both you and your clients).

You're almost guaranteed to get the dreaded 'raccoon eyes' where shadows are cast straight down from your client's brow to cheek. The color of the sun in the middle of the day is almost pure white - losing any color tone/mood-setting hues (like during golden hour).

Seeking shade would be something that I would suggest - but seeing that pretty much any beach lacks trees or shade... this isn't in the cards.

It's a good idea to completely avoid beach family photos in the middle of the day.

Use Manual Mode For Your Beach Family Photography Sessions

If you're using automatic or a priority mode - stop. Right now.

Switch your camera into manual mode today and learn everything you need to shoot effectively in manual. It will give you so much more freedom in terms of creativity and effectiveness during your session.

The only setting that I have in auto is White Balance. The only reason for that is because I shoot in RAW, exclusively. You have the power to completely change the white balance (while not losing image quality) when editing a RAW file. If you aren't shooting in RAW, I highly recommend that as well.

If you need help or a refresher on the exposure triangle or how to shoot in manual - feel free to read:

They could be just the article you need to take the plunge into manual mode (trust me, it's not hard at all).

Always Use Your Lens Hood

I can not stress this enough.

There is nothing worse than being at a great place and having a good time. You're taking amazing photos (at least you think you are) - the session ends and you feel great about the entire session.

You then get home to find that more than half of your shots are completely covered in lens flares. You decided you didn't need your lens hood. Not a good choice, obviously.

Again, we know this because we've done it. During that particular session, we made do with what we had (when it came to editing) - but we were so upset with ourselves for not using it.

The other huge benefit to a lens hood is the protection. Let]'s assume that you drop your camera - generally speaking, your camera will fall towards the ground with the heaviest part of it hitting first... this would most likely be your lens. If the impact doesn't break the camera mount... then something on your lens will have probably broken.

It's much better if your lens hood were to break than your lens element. Trust me.

Put your lens hood on... there are too many benefits to using it than not. You can thank me later when it saves you during a session.

Use A UV Filter (at a minimum)

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In my opinion, UV filters are completely useless for their 'intended' purpose. They were very important in years past with film. UV filters would filter UV light so it wouldn't damage or alter the film itself.

Seeing as everything is digital these days... you don't have to worry about filtering UV light. What they do great these days is protect your lens element. This is great on the beach. You won't have to worry about salt water or sand hitting your lens element.

I recommend a UV filter over a clear filter because most UV filters are better quality than clear filters.

UV filters will protect your lens when you need them to - and they (for the most part) won't alter your final image in any way.

Consider A Polarizer Filter

A polarizer will be a bit more useful than a UV filter however, it will be a bit more of an investment.

A polarizer cuts down on reflections and increases saturation throughout your image. Mid to high-end polarizers allow you to adjust the amount of polarization by spinning the outer ring of the polarizer itself.

This will greatly improve your images during a beach photo session. You'll be able to cut down on the glare/reflections off the water and sand. You'll also add a bit of saturation to the sky... While polarizers aren't needed for beach photography sessions I believe they're one of the better investments. You'll immediately see the benefits of it.

Did I mention that it also protects your lens element? Yeah, it does that as well. Just be mindful of sun flares. Light passing directly from the sun through the filter will create them... try your best to keep the sun out of frame.

Use an ND Filter (Neutral Density Filter)

This is the second most beneficial filter (polarizer being the most) to add to your beach photography arsenal.

A neutral density filter is no different than sunglasses for your lens. You don't have to make it any more complicated than that.

What it allows you to do (other than darkening the scene) is use slower shutter speeds. This can add movement to your images (if that is what you're going for). You'll also need an ND filter if you want to take long exposures of family members on the beach.

If you decide to - be sure to tell the family to stay as still as they can during the shot... I won't ramble on about long-exposure portraits (because I love them) - that will be for any other article.

There are a couple of types of ND filters. There are static filters (that aren't adjustable) - and there are VND's or variable neutral density filters. These work much like a circular polarizer... you can darken or brighten your scene by spinning the outer ring on the filter itself.

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If you would like to learn more about VND's - be sure to read our Best Variable ND Filters article... we go very in-depth and teach you everything you need to know about them (including the different strengths).

Consider A Prime Lens

This is only a suggestion - you should use whatever lens works best for you.

But if you're on the fence about whether or not you should use a prime lens or not - you may want to give the prime lens a serious consideration.

For those who don't know what a prime lens is - in a nutshell, it's a lens with a fixed focal length. It doesn't zoom in or out. Think of the nifty-fifty (50mm lens). It doesn't zoom in or out. It's fixed at 50mm.

Now, there are pros and cons to using a prime lens.

Aside from the fact that you'll achieve a lower aperture and sharper images with a prime vs a zoom - the biggest advantage is that there are fewer moving parts.

My biggest fear when doing beach portraits is sand. If I'm using a zoom lens and sand/grit gets into the barrel... well, that's not good at all. Depending on the severity (like dropping the whole camera into a sand castle or a small soft dune), you may have to retire or send the lens off to get professionally cleaned.

This is what's great about a prime. You don't have to worry about anything other than the lens element. You can also bag your camera and never have to worry about zooming. The bag is set and you're good to go.

The negatives are pretty obvious - the main reason being the fact that you can't zoom. You need to physically move closer or further away from your subject to achieve the same effect.

Think about it though and figure out if a prime lens is best for you and your needs and whether you don't mind the risk of using a zoom lens around fine grains of sand. Read our related article, Best Lens For Beach Photography, to get more of an in-depth guide on which lens would be best for you!

Consider Using A Camera Flash For Your Family Beach Photo Sessions

If you're feeling really ambitious - consider a flash for your beach sessions.

Here are a few pointers you should consider taking the dive (if you aren't already doing it already).

  • If you're shooting a full family (4 or more subjects), use an off-camera flash (or 2)
  • Single Subject/up-close portraits can get away with on-camera flash. You will lose a lot of the background/scene if you go this route though.
  • Use flash exclusively as fill flash if your subject is too dark compared to the background

The main benefit of flash during beach sessions is how unique the photos become. I would say less than 40% of all photographers use flash - with that, less than 15% use flash on the beach (if not less).

If you can perfect this - you could have some of the most unique family portraits in your area. This can lead to a lot of growth for you and your business.

The major downsides are obvious. You'll have to carry/roll all of the lighting equipment down the beach. You'll also have to be mindful that the equipment stays dry and sand-free. You'll also want to sandbag your light stands... the wind can be a major issue on the beach.

Godox makes the most dependable and affordable on and off-camera flash while Selen and Glow EZ are great quality and very affordable soft boxes. Neewer makes very dependable light stands for the investment too.

The Best Time For Family Beach Photography

This is a pretty subjective answer and is my own opinion. But, it's widely accepted by the majority of professional photographers.

We have already said you want to avoid high noon or middle of the day photo sessions on the beach. So what time is the best to take photos on the beach?

It's pretty easy, either early morning or the late evening.

The time of day is important because of the placement of the sun. You want the sun to have a significant angle for good light direction and shadows. You also want that angle to place your subjects in front of it (we will discuss this more in-depth later in the article).

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when making your decision for either morning or evening. Ask your client what would work best for them - if they don't care what time... make the time that works best for you.

Be mindful of the arc of the sun and what your images will look like when you put your subjects in front of it. Where will you need to stand - how will the background look (if it isn't just water), how many people will be there that may interfere?

These are all the questions you should ask yourself before making that decision.

Personally, 90% of our family beach sessions were in the evening (magic hour/golden hour). The time worked great with the majority of the beaches we used and made it very easy for clients to attend (either after work or after their kids have gone to the park or want to play on the beach).

Create Depth With Aperture

Generally speaking, we shoot the majority of our portrait sessions (family, couples, single subject) - with a 135mm f/1.8.

The significance of this statement is the aperture.

If you need a refresher on aperture - be sure to read our deep dive aperture post.

What I love about this lens is the soft bokeh you can achieve when using an aperture at or lower than f/2.8. This isn't even dabbling into other aspects such as compression, sharpness, and overall amazing images the lens makes.

Lower aperture values will create soft bokeh and separate your subject from their background. In the case of beach photography, it'll create really soft beautiful waves in the background. Our clients love it.

If you'd like to know more about this lens and other lenses for beach photography, be sure to read our detailed article Best Lens For Beach Photography.

Get Low To The Ground To Create Unique Beach Photos

Most beginner photographers don't understand that some of the most unique photos are taken from different perspectives. These perspectives are achieved by putting the camera in other places than just standing upright.

90% of the images we take are low to the ground. We put enough distance between us and the subject to 'ground' our clients (literally having the ground in the image) - and take the photos this way.

This creates incredible depth.

Assuming your subjects are in the middle of the image... your foreground (the ground in front of you) and the background (behind your subject) will be out of focus. Your subject (and anything along the same plane) will be the only things in focus.

This makes for some of the most beautiful and unique images you can take on the beach. You can also include anything you want in the foreground such as rocks, sand castles, anything!

This technique works for nearly any session (not just family beach photography).

Use Reflections To Your Advantage

Building off of the last section (getting low to the ground)... reflections on the beach is a great way to add interest and uniqueness to your images.

You would approach this style of shot the exact same way as mentioned in the last section. Make sure your subject is on sand that is wet or has pooled water. Obviously, water is needed for a reflection. This will avoid all of the bleached white sand too.

First thing, create enough distance between you and your subject and get low to the sand.

Now, the important thing is you may need to get closer or further away. When you look through the lens you'll be able to see their reflection. Determine how much of their reflection you want to have. Adjust your distance accordingly.

These photos will not take you long to 'master'. Play around with different angles and heights. You will then have all the freedom of editing them as you see fit in either photoshop or lightroom (or both).

Angle Yourself To The Water/Waves

While 'front-on' photos of families and single subjects are pretty much required (at least most families want at least one)... You don't want many of them at the beach.

What you want is to capture beautiful photos of the family and their surroundings! They want to see and experience the beach all over again when they look at them and share them on social media!

To do this, you need to angle yourself to your subject.

What we do is pretty simple. If you're following or your subject is walking toward you down the beach... We step to the right or left (whichever direction will allow me to capture the water) until we're angled about 45 degrees. We then take the photos from that perspective.

Not only does this capture more of the surroundings... it can also create leading lines with the sand and water (and sometimes the sunlight).

You can then throw in some 'straight-on' shots in here and there... but for real interest and 'wow factor', angled photos are much more pleasing.

This can take some time getting used to and perfecting (maybe 5 sessions) - but once you do, you'll continue to perfect it and make your own style (more or less of an angle, more of the sky, etc.)

The Most Important Beach Family Photography Tip

Hands down, the most important beach family photography tip is to have the best time at a great place.

There's nothing more important than giving your clients a great session and a great time. Even if your photos aren't 'the best', they will remember you made their family feel special. You were prepared and walked them through the entire process. You should be easygoing and understanding... these things lead to a great beach photo session.

I'll put it this way. Have you ever wondered why you can get on Instagram, look up a hashtag and find images of local photographers that produce average to below-average photos and have tons of followers, likes, and comments?

Nine times out of ten it's because they're better business owners and they're better with families. Amazing photos are great... but if you aren't great with people and make them feel special and/or happy... you won't get much business.

I've experienced this first hand - believe me. If you're having a hard time getting new clients or having any of them return... you need to go back and reassess the way you're conducting your actual sessions.

Make the session happy and memorable and I guarantee they will love you for it - and return in the coming months.

You Now Have Great Beach Photography Tips!

We really hope you have gotten something out of this article. We put a lot of time and effect into helping those who're willing to listen.

You now have beach family photography tips ranging from pre-session planning, camera settings, gear suggestions, and unique photo techniques! There are also a few of our experiences thrown in there too!

If you'd like to read more of our work and experiences... be sure to read 25 Photography Exercises For Beginners, Is Getting Into Photography Worth It, Sony A7iii vs Canon EoS R.

If you have any questions for us be sure to reach out through either our contact page or email us directly at [email protected]

Remember, have fun and continue creating. See you next time!

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