10 Tips for Shooting the Pacific Coast

by | Jul 26, 2014 | Tips & Tricks | 2 comments

Just pulled together a few new desktop wallpapers from the California Loop with a theme of The Pacific Coast. I’ve also jotted down 10 helpful things I learned while shooting along the coast.

  • Arrive early. I can’t emphasize this enough! I’ve arrived 30min before the actual sun sets way too many times. I find myself rushing around trying to find a good foreground and most often have to settle for second-best compositions. Sunsets are awesome, but pictures of sunsets by themselves are rarely awesome.
  • Look behind you during the golden hour. I almost enjoy shooting the golden hour more than I do the sunset itself when I’m on the coast. It’s so rocky, there are so many beautiful shots you can make of the golden light on the cliffs, rocks, driftwood, anything!
  • Don’t pack up after the sun sets. Without the direct light of the sun, I can use long shutterspeeds to capture movement in the water. The sky usually stays colorful for a while. Just be aware not to include too much featureless sky, even if there are hints of color in it.

Ocean Dusk
Bonny Doon Beach, Coast Dairies State Park, California
Download as Desktop Wallpaper

3215_JAS_Santa Cruz-California-L

  • Be aware of banks of clouds along the horizon at sunset. As you can see in Ocean Dusk banks of clouds on the distant western horizon cause the sunlight to disappear sooner than you might expect.
  • In summer, it’s almost always cloudy along the coast in the morning. It usually takes all morning for the sun to burn off the mist that blankets the ocean in the mornings. Sometimes it never does. It can be as sunny a day as ever a mile out from the coast, but as soon as you arrive at the water’s edge, you’ll be in the middle of unending fog.
  • Fill the foreground with flowing water. I could write a whole blog post about this. When you’re down at the water’s level, it’s all too common to stand far up on the beach to stay high and dry. While still keeping your camera dry, I get down into the surf so the incoming waves fill up most of the foreground. Unless you have something specifically in the sand you are taking a picture of, I try to include as little sand as possible. Also, shooting the wave as it’s moving in always produces better results for me than if it’s moving out. Guess it depends on the effect you’re going for.

Descent Into the Sea
Razor Point, Torry Pines State Natural Reserve, California
Download as Desktop Wallpaper

3540_JAS_San Diego-California-USA L

  • Meter on the sky. The color is in the sky. If you meter on it, you reduce the risk of having blown out highlights. It’s easier to brighten the dark areas of the foreground than it is to darken bright areas in post. For ultra-high contrast images, I take 3 different exposures and blend them in Photoshop later.
  • Let the color of sunset complement your composition instead of being the main subject. Many sunsets are not necessarily spectacular. Don’t be disappointed, just utilize the colorful light on foreground subjects, crop out blank skies, or zoom in on the color on the horizon.
  • Rinse your tripod in fresh water after using it in salt water. My tripod is dripping wet almost every time I walk away from the beach. If you don’t rinse off the salt, the tripod will start to rust or corrode.
  • Pray and ask the Lord for a beautiful sunset. It seems to me when I ask God for a beautiful sunset before I arrive at the beach, then I am much more grateful when there is one. I think God likes the extra glory too.

Bonny Doon Beach, Coast Dairies State Park, California
Download as Desktop Wallpaper

3190_JAS_Santa Cruz-California-USA L

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  1. Hannah

    Those are beautiful shots James – and fantastic advice! I’m looking forward to putting it into practice the next time I venture to the beach! Thanks for all the great educational tips!

  2. Abbie Camuso

    Awesome tips and BEAUTIFUL pictures!!


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