When you live in a place like Korea, you are surrounded by beautiful coastlines. Where I live, I can almost see the ocean from my apartment. So, shooting seascapes is something that is quite easy to do. However, it is not as simple as heading out and pressing a button. Here is how I shoot my seascapes.
Planning and Prep
Before I head out for any photo shoot I always have some sort of a plan of what I want to shoot. It is a little more involved than “shooting a pretty sunrise” or something like that. The first step is to check on the weather.
This is one of the more important factors here as the weather will dictate what kind of image you are going to get and especially with seascapes. Keep in mind, that you don’t have to have perfect weather for a good seascape shot. Clear skies also don’t make for a very interesting seascape either.
Once you check the location, use an app like Photopills or the Photographer’s Ephemeris to find the location of the sun in accordance to your intended location. This will allow you to pre-plan where you should go. For shots like the ones I have done recently, knowing the location of the sun in advance helps a great deal.
Location and Safety
One of the biggest challenges with seascape photography is the fact that if you are not careful you can get into some pretty serious danger. The reason being is that at times the ocean can be unpredictable and either you or your gear can get swept away if you are not paying attention.
First and foremost, don’t risk your life for a shot. I highly doubt anyone reading this blog is going to be taking a shot that is so valuable or amazing that they would risk their lives for. Simply put, it is not worth it.
An example of this is the other morning. I went out to shoot some interesting rock formations about 45 minutes away from my place in Ulsan. When I got there, there was a photographer on the rocks already. Of course, he was in a great spot but it was also a dangerous one in my opinion.
It was also off limits because it was dangerous and the fact that just getting down to that location in the dark would have been crazy. At any rate, I just decided to shoot from the path above as the sun was coming up as I got there anyway.
Locations should always be planned with a shot in mind unless you are scouting. That means that when you get to the location at whatever time that you’ve decided to shoot, you should always have a shot in mind. You can get creative and work the location to make the shot happen, but you should always have something in mind. It may not be 100% in the planning stage but it should be solid by the time that you get set up.
Sunrises and Sunsets
When most people think of seascapes, the think of a beautiful sunrise or sunset with a sandy beach and whatnot. Who doesn’t? It is beautiful to the point of being a bit cliche. However, don’t let that stop you. Just find a way to put your own stamp on it.
The first tips that I have here is to start shooting during the end of blue hour and the start of the golden hour. This is before the sunrise and after the sunset. The reason here is that you can put on a 10-stop filter and really smooth out the water. If the sun is in the shot you may turn it into some sort of oblong shape.
Also, the colours are amazing during those times. Especially, in the early mornings if you are lucky, the colour will explode just before the sun comes up.
I talked about mid-day photography before but this is really useful for nice days at the beach. While you may think that it is all about sunrises and sunset, puffy clouds and blue skies are great from seascapes. Again, it goes back to what you want to express. Sometimes, those mid-day shots really resonate with people. It reminds them of their days at the beach with family. Few people hit the seaside at 5 am.
So, don’t shy away from these kinds of shots. If you slept in but the day looks great. Grab your gear and go. This could be a great exercise in storytelling. Also, bring your polarizer to get those skies nice and blue.
This is where you can start to tell your story. It is not just about the sunrise or sunset. It is also not just about the ocean and the horizon, either. I have seen too many photographs, including my own, with the horizon centred and not much of anything going on.
So here is where you can follow the basic rules of composition and see what works. However, I would start by keeping things simple. If the foreground is interesting, then tilt the camera down and focus on that. If they sky has some amazing clouds or colour, drop that horizon and get more of the sky in.
Another thing to try is to get down low and see how that goes. Get as close as you safely can to the water and try some images there. The trick here is to experiment and improve on the story that you want to tell. Don’t just walk up with your camera and pop off a few shots thinking that because you have a new camera that it will magically make a great image for you.
Once you get back, grab some coffee or take a nap while you upload your photos. Then get cracking on the edits. Again, this all goes back to your story and what you want to show. Photoshop or lightroom can’t fix a crappy photo. However, these day Luminar 4 probably can make a massive improvement…
The trick here is to bring out what you want in an image. For really colourful sunsets, I shoot bracketed images and use Aurora HDR 2019 to bring everything together. I then tweak the image in lightroom. I should point out that many of the programs that I use are plugins inside of lightroom. The reason being is that I like the organization and once you are finished editing in say Luminar 4, it will go back into the lightroom catalog.
The big thing that you really have to watchout for is the horizon. Is it straights and level? The process that I use is fairly straightforward and goes like this:
LENS CORRECTIONS > ENABLE PROFILE CORRECTIONS (check remove chromatic aberration too) > TRANSFORM > UPRIGHT > AUTO
The reason that I work this way is that the profile correction will remove and distortion from the image and then the auto upright typically will do a good job of straightening the horizon too. You can also hit R and use the auto in the crop section as well. Not to mention you can click on the level tool and draw a line across the horizon if the auto feature doesn’t work.
The bottom line here is that seascapes are a great and accessible way to get some great landscape shots. It is a rewarding exercise if you are looking to test out that 10-stop filter too.
People are always enamoured by the sheer vastness of the sea and it’s beauty. As a photographer, it is your job to show this in your images. How you do that is up to you but I hope that this post can give you some ideas.