8 Tips for Making Awesome Beach Pictures of Kids

Bay Area Photographer, Jim Vetter (that’s me) loves to catch kids being themselves.  One of the best places for kids to be kids is the beach.  Think about it – they can be as loud as they want, they can run as fast as they want, they can fall on their face and not get hurt, they can play in the water, build sand castles… the beach is a kids paradise.

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Now, certainly one of the best times to photograph kids is when they are being themselves – and enjoying it.  So, if you want to get great photos of kids, get them down to the beach.  The weather does not matter unless its actually raining.  I made the shots below this past weekend and it was about 49 degrees and very windy – thus the heavy coat.

The challenges with shooting at the beach come from the very high contrast lighting situations.  The sun is obviously crazy bright, the sand and water reflect a lot of bright light and the overhead sun causes dark shadows on faces and causes people to squint.

So how do you get great photos on the beach?  Here are my 8 tips for making awesome pictures of kids (or anyone) at the beach.

1.  Let the kids be themselves.

Don’t tell them to smile or pose.  Just encourage them to enjoy the beach and do whatever they like (within safety boundaries, of course).  To get great shots you just need to put yourself in the right position relative to the light.

2.  Put the sun BEHIND your subject.  (this one tip is worth a thousand bucks – email me for my paypal ID 😉

Sun in anyone’s face makes them squint and look ridiculous.  It also puts very hard shadows on the face that are not at all flattering.  Put the sun behind your subject and you’ll get gorgeous rim light on their hair and shoulders.  This rim light separates them from the background and makes them pop right out of the photo.

3.  Use a fill flash to fill in shadows and add a catch light to the eyes.

Just because it is day time does NOT mean you shouldn’t use a flash.  This is especially true at sunset when you probably want to take photos of your child with the beautiful setting sun behind them.   Their body will be a black silhouette without the fill flash.

In the photo below, I used a fill flash which lit her face and allowed me to capture a nice saturated sky in the background – even though the sky was very bright.  The fill flash also gave me that little sparkle in the eyes that really brings the subject to life.

4.  Look at the entire frame before you press the button.

How you compose the photograph is more important than anything else you can do when making pictures.  Be careful not to have trees growing out of your subjects head or other people’s arms growing out of your subject’s body.  Look at the entire scene and frame the image so that your subject is balanced with everything else in the photo.

In the image below, your eye is drawn down the tire path in the sand to the little girl.  This leading line is a nice compositional element that enhances the image.  Also note that there are few distractions from the main subject.  The more you can isolate your subject, the more compelling your images can be.

5.  Watch for the quiet moments as well as the energetic ones.

Playing in the sand and watching the waves is a mesmerizing activity and what do we love more than a quiet, content child??  If you have kids you’ll agree that there are few things in life sweeter than seeing your child blissfully asleep.  So watch for the quiet moments on the beach and bring them home in your camera.

6.  LATE afternoon sun IS good on the face!

The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the softer and warmer the light.  Wait until your shadow is at least twice as long as your body before you photograph with the sun in the face of your subject.  This ensures that the light fills their eyes and warms their skin.  We call this the golden hour and you can’t really miss a good shot at this time.

7.  Don’t be afraid to EXPERIMENT!

Get your camera out of automatic and try very low and very hight aperture settings to very your depth of field.  Try slower shutter speeds and pan with your child as she runs down the beach and you could get a cool motion blur.  Jack up the ISO and shoot at your highest shutter speed to freeze the water droplets and grains of sand as the child runs by.

Finally, have fun yourself.  Let your kid take your picture being silly.  Go splash in the waves.  Kids know something about how to have fun.  Follow their lead.

12 thoughts on “8 Tips for Making Awesome Beach Pictures of Kids”

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post! I had fun writing it too :D.

      Come back soon for a post on how to shoot with an iPhone.

    1. How did you find me, Seth? Great to hear that the post was helpful! Let me know how you put the information to use. Cheers!

  1. Hi Jim:

    I found your pictures wonderful to look at and your tips extremely helpful and cannot wait to go to the beach with my grandchildren. The only other thing that would be of help, is if you could tell us the camera, lens and settings your’e using for each picture. I am fairly new to this and find that information important. Thank you, and I am looking forward to reading your blog consistently. Cheryl

  2. Cheryl I love it that you’ve picked up tips you can put to use at the beach with your grandkids! Come back to this post and tell us how it goes at the beach.

    As for camera settings, I’ll include more of that info on instructive posts. Many of my posts will be images from my professional shoots and for those, I will only tell the story of the shoot or the subjects since the purpose of those posts is to what I’m doing as opposed to how I’m doing it.

    Please expect a mix of both. Thanks for commenting!

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