Ocean Photography For Beginners

When photographing different natural subjects and landscapes, it is always important to consider the different aspects that will affect your shoot in the terrain you are shooting in. 

This could be a certain way to prepare, or a certain method of shooting you should try to take full advantage of your setting.

Ocean Photography For Beginners

Some photographers assume that once you know the basics of photographing landscapes, that you are ready to go, and while this is true to a certain degree, this is not always the case. 

When it comes to shooting certain subjects, a common example being the ocean, there is a whole other range of considerations that need to be made.

We have all seen some amazing photos of the ocean, and we have all seen some not so great photos of the ocean. 

We can guarantee that the amazing photos of the ocean are taken by photographers who understand at least some of the rules we are going over here, while we can be just as sure that the bad photos were taken when ignoring some of this advice.

So, if you are planning to take some photos of the ocean, but you are unsure what you need to do to get the best results, keep reading to get our advice! 

Protect Your Gear

One of the most important pieces of preliminary advice we can give is making sure that you protect your gear when you are shooting near the ocean. 

When we are so caught up in the actual photography, it is easy to overlook the potential risks to both yourself and your gear.

When photographing the ocean, there is going to be salt water, sand, and usually wind, all in the vicinity, and all of these can cause damage to your gear, which is nearly always expensive. 

This is why you want to plan before you go out to ensure that you have procedures and plans in place to ensure that none of your gear will succumb to the conditions. 

Some methods you can try for protecting your gear are a rain cover, or weather sealed gear, both of which are good for protecting from mist and water.

You also want to ensure that your camera bag is waterproof, and to keep it tightly secured when it is not in use!

Keep The Camera Dry

This is partially related to the previous point, but you want to ensure that you are keeping your camera as dry as possible.

When photographing the ocean, nothing can be easily predicted. Because of this, you want to make sure that you are prepared for any out of the ordinary. 

Even if the spot you have been in has been dry the whole day, a stray wave could drench you and your gear.

Make sure that you are planned ahead for this happening, and to make sure you have all the gear you will need to keep your camera dry.

Clean At The End Of The Day

Another important piece of advice to keep in mind for after you have finished photographing the ocean is to make sure that you clean your gear.

You want to make sure especially that there is no sand on any of your gear to keep it in the best condition. 

We recommend using a rocket blower and a clean rag for the most efficient method of removing sand and then taking the lens off.

It is also easy to forget that you should check if there is any sand in your camera bag as well, this can get everything dirty again if you put fresh equipment into a dirty camera bag, so avoid doing this! 

Also, if you were using a tripod, make sure that if it is dirty and sandy, that you have taken it apart and rinsed it with fresh water. Make sure it is completely dry before you reassemble.

Avoid Underexposing

It is normal for most photographers to rely on the meter of the camera to make sure our images are properly exposed. However, a lot of camera meters are not actually as smart as we think they are. 

The meter is not aware of what exposure you want, and it will instead try to get a medium exposure most of the time, even if you are using a more advanced metering mode like evaluate.

When photographing the ocean, most people want a white sand and a recognizably blue water, however, these are sometimes brighter than middle gray, and there is a chance that your camera will end up underexposing the scene. 

This is also a common problem when you are shooting in snow (see also “How To Photograph Snow“), so keep this in mind then as well. This is why, in most circumstances, you will want to expose your scene to be brighter than the camera meter usually expects. 

You can check the exposure using your histogram. If you end up with underexposed footage, there is a chance that your final result will not capture everything you hoped it would.

Make sure that you do not go too far and overexpose your image, try and keep in the middle of the balancing act.

Shutter Speed

One thing which is sometimes easy to overlook, especially when you are photographing something like the ocean for the first time, is to not consider the shutter speed.

This is actually a pretty important decision, so to overlook it would be a mistake. 

You might want to use a slower shutter speed so you can capture the movement of the waves, or you might want your shutter speed to be a bit faster so you instead get the waves frozen in place in a more distinct position. 

If you end up choosing to go with a slower shutter speed, you want to make sure that you mess around with different shutter speeds and experiment to see what effects you get on the waves when using a different shutter speed. Start at one second, then adjust it from there. 

However, if you want to get the movement of the waves completely frozen, then use a shutter speed at 1/200 of a second and then adjust rom there.

However, we try to avoid using a shutter speed that is anywhere between half a second and 1/100 of a second as in this range the waves will just end up looking more blurry.

Proper Tripod Use

One of the most important pieces of equipment to have when you are doing ocean photography is a good trustworthy tripod.

You are quite likely to experience high winds depending on the ocean you are photographing. 

Because of this, you want to make sure that you can trust your tripod to not move because of this.

If you are instead photographing actually in the water, then you want to ensure that your tripod can not be knocked out of place by a wave. 

As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure that if you have used a tripod in these kind of situations, that you clean it properly when you are done.

Leaving a tripod in these kinds of conditions for too long can drastically decrease the lifespan of your tripod and can leave it pretty damaged.

Telephoto Lens

When you are photographing the ocean, a tool which we would recommend trying is a telephoto lens. 

This is because when you are shooting, there is a good chance that you could notice some life in the sea in the distance. Because of this, you might want to focus on this subject so you get a good look at it. 

This is where you will want to use a telephoto lens. This is a great way to get a good shot of life in the ocean which is usually tricky to capture.

Cleaning Your Lens

One way to ensure that you do not damage any of your equipment too badly, the lens specifically, is to bring a microfiber cloth with you! It is very likely that water from waves can easily touch and stick to your lens. 

This is why you want a safe and gentle way to keep your lens clean. This will ensure that you are still getting great quality photos, while also not damaging your lens over time. 

If salt water stays on your lens for too long, it can create a residue which is not easy to remove, because of this, you want to ensure that it gets off the lens as quickly as possible as this can drastically impact the quality of your final results!


Hopefully this advice has given you some good starting points for ocean photography.

This is one of the most rewarding subjects to take advantage of, so make sure you know what you are doing so you can capture it in the best way possible. 

We can not emphasize enough how important it is to protect and then clean your gear before and after shooting the ocean.

The conditions when shooting this subject can easily damage your gear, so make sure you are aware of this before you make an expensive mistake!

Laura McNeill
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