The ocean is one of my favourite subjects to shoot. I live in Australia and I’m lucky enough to have access to some of the best and most scenic beaches and seascapes in the world.
The ocean offers spectacular and irresistible scenes for photographers. With such an unpredictable and powerful environment it can be really challenging for a photographer to get the right shot. Different light conditions at sunrise or sunset, on a stormy day with a big swell, the sea is an always changing photography subject.
I put together for you my 5 best tips to take amazing seascapes photos.
1. Scout The Area
I can’t stress this point enough. If you want to start crashing it, you have to make sure you explore the area you want to shoot in advance. As I’ve explained in my articles Best Sunrise Photography Tips and Long Exposure Photography Tips you have to explore the area where you want to shoot, if possible even the day before. and especially if it’s the first time you take photos in that location.
It’s fun and exciting when you go to a new place and start snapping away with your camera, but to take it to the next level, you need to study your composition. Knowing the area you can decide in advance where to position yourself, what lens to use and have at least a rough idea of what composition you want to get.
It’s also very important to prepare your photography equipment for the warmer months. To learn more how to do it read the article How to Get the Most Out of Your Spring Photography
2. Check The Weather Forecast
So often this is an overlooked step. In seascape photography the weather plays a fundamental role. If you don’t know how the sky is going to look (alright you’ll never know exactly) or if it’s going to rain or if you’re gonna face a big swell, chances are that you’re not going to be able to go home with a sensational shot.
In seascape photography the scenario can be so unpredictable that you have to prepare in advance. Use a weather app that not only tells you the weather forecast, but also wind, tides and swell. One of the best websites I use is Willy Weather.
3. Best Settings for Seascape Photography
Shoot in aperture priority (A or Av) and aim for a long exposure. By setting your camera to aperture priority you’ll leave it to your camera to decide the shutter speed. Here’s the settings I want you to experiment with:
ISO set it to the minimum to avoid grain in your final image (ISO 100 or 200)
Aperture this depends on the lighting conditions and distance from your subject, but for seascapes start with an aperture of f/8 and shoot different exposures by closing it down to f/22 to get the most lighting information as possible. Have you heard of a technique called exposure bracketing?
If you want to know more about the different camera settings and how to use theme I have something for you. Read my article The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Camera Settings
You can read my Best Tips for Long Exposure Photography
4. Use a Tripod
A tripod will be fundamental to take amazing seascape photos. The best light you can have is at sunrise or sunset (golden hour) and during that time of the day using a tripod will make sure you don’t get blurry images. Despite the lighting condition being ideal to get more contrast and beautiful golden colors in your images, reduced light and slower shutter speed will make your images blurry.
You can start with a small tripod, you can avoid this and have fun with your long exposure.
5. Best Filters for Seascape Photograpy
Filters are also very important since they help you balance the light intensity that enter the camera sensor. Let me tell you that nowadays some people don’t use filters at all since with modern cameras is so easy to take advantage of the exposure bracketing technique. Read my article about exposure bracketing if you want to know more about it.
Personally I don’t think that exposure bracketing will ever substitute filters in my workflow since by using filters I save a lot of time when it comes to edit my photos.
There are different type of filters for different needs. For seascape photography I recommend using a Neutral Density graduated filter (ND grad) combined with a Circular Polarizing Filter.
The ND filter comes in different transition and you’ll need to choose the proper one depending on the scene. For a flat horizon line a hard transition is what you need to use, or you can use either a soft or mid transition for an irregular horizon line.
Depending on the lens you use filters also come in different sizes. Make sure you get the proper size for your lens and that your filter holder has the proper adaptors for your lenses.
Choosing the proper filter can probably argument for another article. What do you think?
My filter system is the NiSi 100mm System V5-PRO and I think it’s one of the best on the market. I highly recommend it:
The starter kit by NiSi includes the filter holder with several adapters for all lenses, Circular Polarizer, NiSi Glass Soft Grad ND Filter, NiSi Glass ND 6 stop + 10 stop Buy it Now on Amazon
The ocean is a beautiful subject and it varies a lot depending on the weather conditions. Taking photos of the same spot in different days will give you always different results, which makes of this photography style one of my favorites. I hope you enjoyed reading this article about seascape photography, and as always ask me questions in the comments below if you need and I’m happy to help!