Capturing The Majesty Of The Ocean

It’s not only in terms of safety that the ocean must be respected, if you want to produce truly astounding photographs of the vast and open seas, you’ll also need to put in the work to really do it justice. 

We all understand that the ocean is one of the most majestic and downright stunning sights that we are blessed with on the home that we call Earth.

Capturing The Majesty Of The Ocean

But for some reason a standard photo snap just never really does it the justice that it deserves. 

And this can be quite a dilemma for photographers who are trying to capture its beauty (see also “Techniques For Capturing The Beauty Of Cities“).

Thankfully, there are tons of tips and tricks that you can follow that ensure that you get the most unique, awe-inspiring photographs of the deep and extensive bodies of water across the globe. And today, we’re spilling all the best secrets. 

So, what are you waiting for? Learn the most essential ocean photography techniques today. 

A Word On Safety

Before we get into all the tips and tricks of mastering the best ocean photography techniques, we wanted to take a moment to remind you of just how dangerous this environment can be.

It is imperative that you respect the sea and ensure your safety at all times. So remember to follow these simple rules. 

  • Use A Headlamp – If you’re venturing out during the early or later hours of the day that you have the necessary equipment to still be able to see. 
  • Keep An Eye On The Tide – Tides can change quickly and unexpectedly, you should always be aware of the tides when taking to the water or the consequences can be fatal. 
  • Keep An Eye On The Waves – Waves can vary in size and power so you always need to be cautious. A large wave easily has the potential to ruin your equiptment or worse, wash you away. Avoid rip currents and the like at all costs. 
  • Never Touch Animals – You never know how deadly the most unassuming creatures can be. Touching the wrong animal can have disastrous consequences. 

Now that we’ve got the ocean safety basics down, let’s take a look at how you can improve your snapshots of it. 

Long Exposure

Long exposure can improve most pictures, but it works absolute wonders for ocean and seascape photography in particular.

This technique can smooth out not only the sky but the water to provide the best, most clear, and visually appealing images.

Ultra-long exposure also works amazingly depending on the activity of the sea. This technique will enhance the image and give it a fog or mirror-like appearance.   

A word to the wise, though, for the best long-exposure photographs you’ll want to use an ND filter to combat the exposure values. 

Receding Waves

Pretty much all techniques in seascape photography are connected to shutter speed in some way or another, however, the approach will be vastly different.

But this technique is one of the most popular approaches for getting those amazing snapshots of the ocean. 

The result is a stunning photograph that has a modern twist on a classic snap of the water with white water trails going from the edges toward the sea. 

Now, make sure that you’re dressed appropriately because you’ll need to wade into the water for this one. You should also use a shutter speed of around 0.5-2.0 seconds. 

For best results, dip your tripod into the sand to ensure that the ocean waves don’t shake the camera and cause the image to blur.

We also recommend taking several series of shots rather than single ones since the wave patterns are always changing. 

Incoming Waves

Many of the same rules above apply to incoming waves too, however, there is one major difference to be aware of. Incoming waves move much quicker than receding ones. Around 2 to 3 times quicker to be exact.

So, you’ll need to consider this when you select your shutter speed. Ideally, you’re looking for a 0.2-1 second shutter speed at the most. 

The beauty of incoming wave photography, though, is that there are so many more opportunities for amazing compositions. Just be sure to stay really sturdy when taking these shots.

It can also require a bit of bravery since you’ll need to try not to run away when you see those larger waves coming toward you. 

Pool Reflections

These photographs are definitely a labor of love. Getting them exactly right can be pretty difficult since the ocean is very rarely serene and calm.

But just because they are difficult does not mean that they are impossible to achieve. 

For best results, you’ll want to find a rock pool and shoot above it. You’ll want to get as low above the surface as is physically possible so that you can capture as many reflections as you can. 

Alternatively, you can look for puddles in the rocks after heavy rainfall.

These can sometimes be rather large and thus can be easily incorporated into your composition next to leading lines produced by the rocks around them. 

Sand Reflections

Sand Reflections

This is a less common kind of ocean photography that is highly overlooked considering how stunning the photographs are.

The only issue with these photographs is that you need very specific weather conditions that you can’t always guarantee.

It is imperative that you wait until there is a low tide so that the water recedes leaving a flatter part of the beach visible. 

However, you don’t want to follow the above advice in terms of a lower vantage point as it can really ruin the linear perspective of the image.

You need to try and find the perfect balance between reflections and perspectives. 

Abstract Seascapes

These images really highlight the majesty of the sea in a unique and visually stimulating way. For these types of images, you’ll need a longer shutter speed. You’ll also want to zoom in and get a clear focus on the waves. 

The beauty of these photos is that there is so much room for experimentation in terms of composition. Be sure to try and take photos using a variety of different vantage points, for example.

Then you can opt for the photograph that looks the best in post-edit. 

Also try to keep in mind that with these photos, the sky really isn’t all that important. Try to focus more on the lines and shapes of the water to avoid moving into more landscape-based images. 

Telephoto Seascapes

Some of the very best ocean pictures out there use a telephoto lens. Using this lens allows you to balance out your composition without magnifying any of the details in the foreground.

For example, you can use the lens to focus on specific features, clouds, or aquatic life. 

Sunburst Technique

If you want to take advantage of the sunburst technique then you won’t find a better destination than the ocean. You’ll never be short of rocks or cliffs to enhance the image either. 

It’s really important, though, that you know exactly where the sun is going to rise or set before you even think about beginning to create the shot.

Remember that the sun moves quickly and waits for no one, so it’s likely you’ll only have a few mere minutes to capture the shot you are wishing to achieve. 

You also need to ensure that you slightly obscure the sun for the photograph using a rock, cliff, cloud, or whatever other natural means you have. Then you need to think about the lens that you’re opting for.

Some don’t deal with direct sunlight as effectively as others so ensure that the lens you use will be effective for the photograph you’re trying to capture. 

Ocean Wave Photography

The first piece of advice that we can give you, is that if you are taking ocean wave photographs from the beach you invest in a great telephoto lens.

Ideally, a longer one is possible. If you are shooting from closer up, then you’ll only need a standard zoom or wide-angle lens. 

Next, you’ll want to select the correct shutter speed. The general rule of thumb here is that the more you intend to zoom in, the faster you’ll need your shutter speed to be.

The absolute minimum shutter speed you can use is 1/250 seconds but 1/800 or even more can create more impressive images. 

These types of pictures also look much better when the sun is either behind or above them. Without light, the pictures can become quite dull and dark. 

Final Thoughts 

The ocean is a majestic and beautiful thing, so it comes as no surprise that we humans are so captivated by it.

But if you want a picture that will do the vast open waters justice, you need to ensure that you know exactly how to snap the perfect picture. 

Hopefully, from reading this article, you have a much better understanding of exactly how to go about photographing the ocean in a variety of ways that create the most stunning visuals. 

So, be safe, be creative, and get those award-winning photographs you’ve always dreamed of.

Laura McNeill
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