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5 tips: how to take great beach photos | Marcy Browe Photography

Summer is almost here – and that means spending time at the beach. Or as they say where I grew up in New Jersey, “let’s go down the shore”.

In Southern California we are so lucky because we can be at the beach any day of the year. You want to surf on Christmas Day? Why not!

For those of us who love to take photos, we know that the beach can be a challenging place to take great photographs of people. The sun, the sand, the wind… these can all get in the way of taking great portraits at the beach.

Whether you are using your smart phone, or the latest and greatest photo gear, here are some tricks that can help you get a great beach portrait.

1) Timing is important

To avoid unflattering harsh sun and shadows on the face, the best time to photograph people the beach is during “golden hour”. It’s that window of time – usually 60-90 minutes – before the sun sets. The sun is low enough on the horizon that the angle of light isn’t harsh.

If you do shoot during the middle of the day, refer to tip #2 …

family beach portrait

2) On bright sunny days, seek open shade

If the sun is directly overhead, it might be too bright to get a great photo. So in this case, put your subject in the shade – such as under a Pier, in the shadow of a lifeguard stand, or even use a beach umbrella to create shade.

family portrait Pacific Beach

3) Shoot during low tide

I love shooting during low tide. The sand is smooth, easy to walk on, and free of a day’s worth of other people’s footprints. The wet sand creates a natural reflector that can add a kick of light into your subject’s face.

Oceanside Family photo shoot

Since many of Oceanside’s beaches are narrow, low tide is especially important to ensure that there is actually a beach to stand on during your photo shoot. Nothing worse than getting to the location and seeing the water splashing up against the rocks with no sand in sight.

I always check the tide before scheduling a photoshoot at the beach. A low tide during “golden hour”? Perfect photo taking conditions!!

You can check the tide using this website.

4) Use your camera’s flash

A great way to add light to your subject’s face is to use your camera’s flash, to balance out the light from the sky.

There are a lot of technical ways to get this right, and I won’t go super camera nerdy on you, but I suggest exposing your photo so the sky looks good (that sunset sky or those clouds are perfectly exposed) and then add flash. Or you can always put your camera in automatic mode and let it do the thinking for you. If the subjects are too bright (over-exposed) simply step back and zoom in, this will reduce the amount of flash on your subject. Play around with this one, it’s fun to add flash, even on a sunny day!

family photo on the beach in Oceanside CA

4) Have Fun 

If you’re photographing kids, you probably already know that their attention span and tolerance for adult’s suggestion for where to stand and how to smile is fleeting. So get the posed shots first. Because, they will want to play in the water, they will get sand all over them, and they won’t want to stand still and smile for too long. No matter how much you bribe them with candy.

Get your posed photos, then, let ‘em loose! And keep your camera handy.

I love photographing kids running on the beach. I tell them to race eachother or to skip towards me, and this always leads to fun candid shots.


5) Wear the right clothes for the beach  

Choosing the right clothes for your beach photos is key.

The first thing I always tell families before I photograph them on the beach is choose an outfit that you can wear without shoes. Because, let me be brutally honest with you, you don’t want to be the one person on the beach wearing shoes. Don’t dot it. (In New Jersey, the term for that person is a “shoebie”) Embrace the barefoot!

Pick colors that pop off the sand (so, skip the “everyone in khaki pants and a white shirt” style because <a> that’s so 90s and <b> khaki pants are the exact same color as sand!) Colors that work well on the beach are white, any shade of blue, green, bright yellow and coral. I always send this Pinterest board to my family photo clients to help them figure out what to wear.

And keep in mind, if you’re shooting at “golden hour” before the sun sets, it will probably be chilly and windy so bring layers!!

and an extra tip for Oceanside visitors… schedule some post-beach fun at my favorite spots:

If you’re at the beach in Oceanside, schedule some time after your photoshoot to visit some of my personal favorite spots in town:

  • If you’re with kids, walk to the end of the Oceanside pier and get a milkshake at Ruby’s Diner
  • Bring the whole family (dogs are welcome too!) to Stone Brewing’s Tasting Room. There’s always a great selection of beers on tap. And they let you bring in food from a neighboring restaurant if you’re feeling hungry.   
  • Enjoy a coffee at the Succulent Cafe. They close at 4:30 most days, so stop by early to enjoy this hidden treasure.
  • Grab a pizza at my favorite pizza place in town – Privateer Coal Fired Pizza. Gourmet pizza with local ingredients plus a fun and family friendly environment.
  • Tap Something Local at the Local Tap House (LTH). Organic ingredients, full bar and hip and friendly atmosphere.
  • Watch the sunset over the pier from the roof-top of Hello Betty.

Enjoy your time “down the shore” and happy photo taking!!

family photo on the Oceanside CA

photo beach oceanside family

Scripps Pier family portrait session

Oceanside beach photos

Kaiden family on the beach

family photographer San Diego

beach photo, San Diego

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About Marcy

Hello, I'm Marcy Browe! I specialize in personal branding photos for business owners in Southern California. I'd love to know more about you.. let's connect and create some magic together!


  1. Rick Worthington on June 1, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Super helpful!!!

    • on June 1, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      glad you think so Rick 🙂 now let’s go take some more photos on the beach!!

  2. Lucy Kelleher on June 1, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Great tips Marcy! I have tried taking pictures at the beach in the past with mixed results – now I have some “work-arounds”. Love the tips on local places for food too 🙂

    • on June 1, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Glad you liked the tips Lucy!! And yeah, gotta try some of those local spot – my favorites!!

  3. Mckenzie Santimer on June 2, 2016 at 1:29 am

    Love these… so practical and you read my mind on a few scenarios…
    thanks a ton Marcy..

    • on June 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks for leaving a comment McKenzie – happy photo snapping!!

  4. Anonymous on June 2, 2016 at 2:27 am

    Awesome tips Marcy! I especially like the low tide one.

  5. Anuj on June 2, 2016 at 2:29 am

    Great tips! I especially liked the low tide one?

    • on June 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      glad you got some good info Anuj!! Thanks for the comment 🙂

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