Ocean Photography Tips

by Stephen Harker
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santorini ocean photograph ryan spencer feature image 1

The ocean is an enticing place for photographers. So many subjects to photograph, so many styles of photography to try out. 

There are also some common problems that photographers run into when attempting to capture great images on or near the ocean. Many of the issues may affect your final image, some could actually damage your equipment.

We also have some great tips for ocean photography that will help you get better images of the fascinating subject matter involved in ocean photography.

Tip 1 – Protect Your Gear!

The environment at the ocean can be harsh on photographic gear, electronic gear of any type actually. Between the corrosive salt air and the bowing sand, photographic equipment is at danger of being severely damaged  by the elements.

One of the things that can be protected easily is the lens. Using a protective UV is a choice many photographers make. There are two schools of thought concerning protective filters.

One thought is that instead of risking the surface of the front element being etched by blowing sand, risk the lower cost of a replaceable filter. The other thought is that putting a cheaper piece of glass in front of your amazingly high quality optics could adversely affect the quality of the final image.

Since there are very high quality optical filters available, then the image quality of your final files won’t suffer and your precious lens elements can be protected.

A rain guard to keep the moist salt air off of the surfaces, and maybe the interior, of your camera and lens is also a great idea. On a budget, make your own out of plastic bags and rubber bands!

Tip 2 – Use a Polarizer Filter

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Water is a primary source of glare in water subject pictures. A polarizer filter, used correctly, is the best way to control glare from water. 

A polarizer removes another form of glare that some photographers overlook, haze. Haze causes colors to lack vibrancy. A polarizer removes a lot of the image degrading haze from the photos. As an example, the blue sky you see with your naked eye will actually look deep blue if you use a polarizer, making the clouds pop out of the sky.

Polarizers will even remove the glare from the surface of the water that prevents you from seeing anything in the water. So, you can photograph ocean life and other things below the surface. It may take some adjusting of the filter and your camera position, but the results can be outstanding.

Tip 3 – Get Off of Automatic

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While that green dot fully automatic sure makes taking pictures easier, the challenging lighting conditions at the beach, lake, or on the water makes it a good idea to override your camera’s automation.

The lighting conditions that play havoc with exposure metering are conditions that lie outside of the average scene. Even evaluative metering has a hard time making the correct exposure settings.

This is usually because of the bright sand or water fooling the meter into thinking the scene needs less exposure. So your bright white sand ends up looking like a grey patch of something. This is because photographic are designed to accept the world as being 18 percent grey. You can find some good examples of that in our old vacation snapshots.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use any automation, simply that you will have to exert some form of control over the exposure settings. The green dot auto setting on most entry level controls every setting, including focus. 

If you simply move off of that full auto setting, even to the program automatic setting, you can then use the exposure compensation feature of your camera to adjust for the special exposure needs of ocean photography. A setting of plus one (+1) or plus two (+2) is probably correct. Check your exposure on the viewscreen to see it your compensation idea is correct.

Tip 4 – Get Close

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The wide expanse of many ocean views may lead us to think that we should be using a wide angle lens for all of our images. The wide angle lens choice will work for a lot of our images, don’t get me wrong. But some subjects are better imaged up close.

A telephoto lens will isolate a subject and also gives you the opportunity to employ selective focus techniques. That subject isolation often makes a superb photograph, much different than the typical snapshots we see so often.

A macro lens is one of the most valuable lenses when in natural settings. A macro lens at the beach or at the lake will allow us to take pictures of so many interesting things in the area. From sand dollars and sea shells to delicate flowers, macro lenses will deliver very interesting photos.

Tip 5 – Use Golden Hour and Blue Hour Light

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Golden hour is the hour just before sunset or right after sunrise. The color and quality of light during golden hour creates a warm, romantic feel to our ocean or lake photographs. Especially so if we are taking portraits or pictures of architectural features. 

Blue hour is the short time between when the sun goes down and yet there is still sunlight. Basically twilight time is the blue hour for photography. Either morning twilight or evening twilight.The colors are fantastic during blue hour, but the exposure values will be changing rapidly.

Tip 6 – Use Drones and Underwater Cameras

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Drone photography and action cams are some of the best items to come out in the digital age of photography. They both give us unique perspectives and points of view. 

An overhead view from a drone can show us a view that would escape us otherwise. Even one of the entry level drones will also enable us to take video footage which can be posted online for our friends to see.

Using a waterproof action cam while snorkeling gives another unique point of view either for still photos or for video. Many of these small cameras are rated for 10 to 30 feet depth, so there is a lot that we can get images of.

Tip 7 – Keep that Camera Out of the Bag

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The worst picture to take is the one we don’t get to take because our camera is not in our hand but in our bag. Engaging in ocean photography may take a little more effort than we have used in previous vacation photo outings, but the results are definitely worth it.

Get out to the ocean and keep your camera out of the bag. Using some of these tips will let you enjoy the photographic excursion while taking pictures, plus you get to enjoy the images and videos long after you’ve gotten back home.


Featured image: https://unsplash.com/photos/XGKaRnWjv1c

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