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Photo Scrapbook (10/05/2008)
By Tom Hirsch
Photos at the beach, Part 2

Last time you were given some precautionary measures to follow when taking a camera to the beach. This time we’ll cover a few pointers that are somewhat unique to beach photography.

Basically, a beach setting is composed of two colors: sky-blue and beach-brown. Borrrrring. A brightly colored beach umbrella would add a nice contrast, and it could also act as a strong focal point. Because of the vast amount of sky and sand, any brightly colored object will stand out.

Correct exposure of a beach scene can be a problem. Light colored sand, bright sky, and sunlight reflecting off water and sand can all fool the camera’s meter. Usually the result is underexposed pictures. The latitude of the film will help some, but in order to get good shadow detail, it’s better if exposure compensation is made before any pictures are taken.

To compensate for the brightness in a beach scene, you must increase exposure. This is easy. With a compact camera, use the backlight button on all your shots. If you have an SLR, open up one strop. With an SLR or digital camera that has exposure compensation capabilities, set the exposure compensation dial at +1, even +2 if the scene is extremely bright. With a digital camera, you’ll be able to review the shots after they’ve been taken so you can then determine the appropriate degree of compensation.

Unless there are lots of people sunbathing or otherwise enjoying themselves, beach scenes usually contain a great amount of empty space. Sand and water are monotonous, so try to fill the frame with things that interest you, such as friends or family members frolicking in the water or building sand castles, children playing along the shoreline, or colorful umbrellas dotting the beach. If you’re with a group of people, try setting up a few interesting scenes. Keep the shots informal. Let the people do what they want to do and what is natural for them. Remember, everyone is there to have fun.

Any time of day can be appropriate for beach photography, but the middle part of the day - from about 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. - can potentially pose some pictorial problems. Temperature wise, it may be the warmest part of the day, but color wise it’s the coolest because during this time the blue rays of light from the sun are the most prominent.

For warmer pictures, you could shoot within three hours of sunrise or sunset. During these hours when the sun is closer to the horizon, some blue light rays are filtered out, and the orange and red rays are more prominent. To warm up the scene, you could use a warming filter with a film SLR. With a digital camera, you could do the same with the daylight or tungsten light setting in the White-Balance option.

Besides warming the scene, shooting early or late in the day creates longer shadows, providing a stronger sense of depth perspective in photos. Also, the lower angle of the sun will bring out more texture in the sand.

Sky is another aid to increased depth perspective. When you want to emphasize beach or water activity, you don’t want to make the sky predominant, but you’ll want to include some sky for reference. On the other hand, when bright, billowy clouds cover the sky, you might want to reverse the balance, and include only a small amount of shoreline for reference purposes to emphasize the sky.

Any lens is appropriate in beach photography. A wide angle lens will emphasize the expanse of the beach, and a telephoto lens can be used to highlight various activities.

If you have an SLR, you might want to use a 1A or UV filter to give the lens some protection from dust, sand and moisture. The 1A filter will also add a little more warmth to the shots, especially if you’re shooting slide film.

Beach settings are usually quite contrasty, and the result can be reduced detail in the shadows. So when photographing people nearby, you might want to use fill-flash in order to get detail in their faces. If you have questions about this technique, consult the camera manual.

While at the beach, take precautions to protect the camera, use appropriate picture-taking techniques, take lots of pictures, have fun, and use plenty of sunscreen.



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