Seascape photography was always a very mysterious and impressive landscape photography style to me until I started investing time doing it. Don't get me wrong, it is still impressive, but much less mysterious than it used to be. The pictures that usually come out of it are some of the most dynamic and inspiring photographs I have seen in landscape photography. But, until you, as a landscape photographer, manage to produce wonderful images, lots of time and practice will be necessary.
If long exposures, filters, shutter speed are barbarian terms for you, then you are at the right place. I am sharing here some great practical tips I gathered over the years. By following and applying the right rules and advices, you will save hours, and will be in able to produce wonderful pictures in no time.
If you've been looking to get better at seascape, I am intending to give you here all the necessary tips to not only bring your seascape photography to the next level, but also provide you with practical tips to make your photography experience even more enjoyable.
In case, you prefer some more interactive learning, you can also take a look at my YouTube video about Long Exposure in the Lofoten Islands.
Let's not waste more time and dive into the topic.
1- Wear appropriate clothing and be waterproof
This might actually not be the first thing one think about when looking for photography tips. But, shooting close to the water can bring its amount of discomfort. From getting freezing to getting your trousers and feet wet, the last thing you want is to have this experience. This obviously applies more to colder regions where the sea is rather cold such Northern Europe. First, consider using waterproof clothes up to your waist. The best outfit would certianly be the fisherman bootfoot fishing waders. It will keep you really dry and allow to get deeper in the water, but this is bulky, not really aesthetic and I doubt that you really need to go that deep into the sea.
But let's talk about what I am using on the go. First, I put on wool socks. In case they get wet, they don't really loose their thermal property, which guarantees to stay warm. Then, I am using a pair of rubber boots. I am using some winter Dunlop with insude fur as they proved to be doing the job well. Finally, I put a waterproof trouser above the boots. In case a wave is slightly higher, then it will keep my trouser dry and also will avoid any splashes from waves to enter from the top of the boots.
Don't skip this part, really. I saw many people struggling or staying on the shore missing the fun, while I had my feet in the water enjoying photographing great sceneries.
Rubber Boots: https://amzn.to/3zGwC98
Waterproof trousers: https://amzn.to/3nZQiCk
Wool socks: https://amzn.to/43lvq8P
2- The use of crampons might save your life (and your gear too)
This one is also equally important. It might also depend on where you are located in the world. But, in many cases, when tides are low, rocks appearing that are covered by the water at high tides will tend to be covered with a small layer of seaweed which is extremely slippery and dangerous no matter which boots or shoes you are using. To avoid any risks of slipping, and potentially breaking any parts of your body or your gear, you better start wearing winter crampons. I am talking about the small crampons or spikes that you put on and off your shoes quickly and easily. Since then, I am perfectly stable feel confident walking on rocks with much less risks.
Alright, now that we are gonna be comfortabe close to the water, let's take a look at shooting tips.
3- Photograph on days with rougher sea
I personnally find that long exposure seascape photography is more interesting when there's a feeling of motion and dynamism. My advice to get these feelings is to go on a day when the waves are interesting to capture and therefore when the sea is more agitated. That being said, going on a stormy day is unlikely to be a good decision either as it might be dangerous as waves and crashes will actually be too big to shoot comfortably. Not only it'll splash all over you and your gear, but it might just be harmful to your life.
However, do not avoid calm sea. It can actually also be an opportunity to photograph more of a minimalist type of pictures by actually shooting longer exposures of few seconds to several minutes.
4- Your tripod will be your best ally
This recommendation should barely come as a surprise, but in case you're a beginner, it will be helpful. A tripod is the most useful piece of gear you'll have in your backpack as a landscape photographer, and especially while doing long exposures. It will avoid all kinds of motions in your pictures while taking your photographs and ensure sharp images. My recommendation here is to get a good tripod from the beginning of your landscape photography journey, so that you can start enjoying photographing from your first shot. I personally use a Leofoto Ranger 365, but there are plenty of good brands to choose from. In case you're tight on budget, 2nd hand market is always a good option, especially as a good tripod is made to last.
5- The use of ND filters will enhance your pictures
Neutral density (ND) filters are usually the best allies to photograph long exposures. They will reduce the light captured by the sensor and therefore, all other parameters remaining equal, will require to reduce the shutter speed to realize the desired long exposure. ND filters are classified by their stop reduction strength: 1 stop (ND 2), 2 stops (ND 4), up until 10 stops (ND 1000) for the most common. 1 stop corresponds to each time you divide your shutter speed by 2 when shooting below 1 second. and each time you multiply your shutter speed by two above 1 second (e.g. If shooting with an initial shutter speed of 1/640 seconds and using a 3 stops filter, your equivalent exposure will be 1/320 sec for 1 stop, 1/160 sec for 2 stops and 1/80 stops for 3 stops.). Consequently, the higher your shutter speed, the more stops you'll need to reach the desired speed for longer exposure.
Knowing this small calculation will help you act quickly while onsite, and know exactly which filter to use in function of what you wish to achieve.
In general, I would recommend a 3, 6 and 10 stops for some flexibility. Using a variable ND filter, is also an option, but they tend to have an "X" effect when used at higher stops cut, and might ruin your pictures. Therefore, they need to be used cautiously.
One more advice here, whether you are using filter or not, do bring paper tissues to remove the droplets on your lens or filter and avoid ruining your shots. This is the best cleaning option I found to date. Other stuff like microfibers, glasses napkins, etc . will tend to leave some fat on the lens that will be difficult to remove without any cleaning product. Paper napkins will remove most of it and will help you stress less about the quality of your shots.
6- Shooting in burst mode will ensure you good pictures
This is probably one of the most valuable advices in this article in case you wish to create those beautiful and dynamic shots. Shooting in burst mode will allow you to capture a wave from start to finish and step by step as shown in the below GIF. Therefore, while reviewing your picture, you will certainly be likely to get one or more pictures that will look great in the sequence. You can either use a remote or just press the shutter on your camera for the whole sequence. I use the latter, because I find it more convenient to hold the tripod as well in case a wave is too strong and want to avoid my gear to end up in the sea. About camera shake, if your tripod is well set, you are unlikely to get some. Be aware that this tip does not apply to exposure above 1/2 second, as it would not have any purpose, and camera shake would definitely be visible.
7- The right shutter speed will create the magic
All the previous advices are actually made to prepare you to that very important tip. Using the right shutter speed to get those wonderful shots is key to get amazing motion in the water. A rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at about 1/2 second to 1/10 second, the sweet spot being at about 1/3 sec in my opinion. But sometimes, depending on lighting conditions, filter used, aperture choose you might need to balance between 1/2 sec to 1/10 sec. But don't worry, any of these speeds will give you amazing results. Practicing ad seeing which one you prefer will be on you. in order to get the right one, do not hesitate to increase your ISO, use your low ISO if needed and/or adjust your aperture, as long as your shot remains sharp.
8- Shoot preferably at sunrise or sunset, but not only
Like any other landscape photography style, light is one of the most important component of your final picture. Shooting at sunrise or sunset will enhance your photographs by ten folds. It will do wonders on your long exposure shots by coloring the stones, and the water flowing around, enhancing the motion effects created by the waves. However, do not exclude shooting on overcast days. They might sometimes lead you to amazing and dramatic shots. And if you're shooting a sea with clear blue water, it might even create amazing color contrasts.
9- Observe and compose cautiously
Obviously, I could not speak about seascape photography without mentioning composition. My advice here is observe, observe and observe before setting down your tripod. You need to observe how the water is flowing around the place you are photographing. Make sure to look for leading lines or other composition rules you wish to apply. Look for paterns created by the water after a wave crashes. Get closer to your foreground, but be careful that your gear does not end up in the water. And do not hesitate to zoom in if needed. Long exposure actually allow you to photograph with all kind of lenses. So, do not stick to your wide angle, do not hesitate to try other lenses, no mater what lens you are using.
In case you wish to know more about composition rules, take a look at the article I wrote...
10- Don't forget to clean your gear
All good, you went out, you compose and shot great photographs that you are really excited to process and share to the world. But, before that, there's one more step, and you should not neglect it, clean your gear. Shooting close to the sea will end up with splashes over your gear, possibly sand or both in case of your tripod. Clean well your lenses and body. Regarding your tripod, disassemble the parts that went into the water and wash them cautiously with clear water to remove any sand and salt that went in all mechanical parts and can ruin your gear in not time. After that, you're free to enjoy your pictures.
That's pretty much it about this serie of tips. In case you feel that someting is missing, feel free to let us know in the comment sections your tips too!
About the Author
I am Rémi Bergougnoux, a French travel and landscape photographer currently based in Zurich, Switzerland. My most influential destinations include Latin America, where I spent about a year, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten and certainly many others.
Aside from photography, hiking, cooking, enjoying good wines and socializing are my main hobbies.