How to Photograph Seascapes.

Water is one of my favourite things to photograph and these are a few tips on how to photograph seascapes. Here, I will cover things like camera settings for ocean photography and photographing waves with long exposure to, in particular, produce that blurred effect.  To see more about how to blur water in detail, see these Water Photography Tips.

How to Photograph Seascapes

Shutter Speed is Everything.

You may be wondering how to photograph crashing waves? Well, in particular, there are two basic approaches as seen in the photos below. One is to set slow shutter speed to blur the water and one is a fast shutter speed to freeze the water. Click here for more info from a great article on shutter speeds for beginners.

How to Photograph Seascapes
How to Photograph Seascapes
Aperture F29 Shutter 1/8th Second ISO 100
Aperture F1.7 Shutter 1/3500 Second

Both add a certain something to the picture, the blurring of the spray gives the picture a sense of motion, while the other looks like a moment frozen in time. As you can see the by the shutter speed settings one was extremely fast while the other was so slow it needed a tripod.

I usually leave my camera on aperture priority and just adjust the aperture until I get the right shutter speed I want. If you need to, using a polarising filter or neutral density on the camera to fool the camera into thinking it needs more light thus increasing the exposure time. To blur the water a good starting point is around 1/8th of a second, then increase or decrease the shutter speed as required.

How to Photograph Seascapes

Aperture F22 1/6th Second ISO 100 – How to Photograph Seascapes

In the above example, for instance, taking a longer exposure gives the water a soft, smooth finish with the waves foam a whitish colour.

Camera settings for Ocean

Of course, for a slow shutter speed to blur water, a tripod or rest is essential. How to Photograph Seascapes

Wide Angle or Close up?

Camera settings for Ocean

How to Photograph Seascapes

Sweeping vistas look majestic but it is worth keeping an eye out for detail too. The above shot was taken on my phone using the panoramic mode.

The pictures below are of the same subject, the seagull sitting on the rocks. The pictures were taken at sunrise, surprisingly only about 3 minutes apart. The wide-angle was first then the close-up.

Camera settings for Ocean

Aperture F22 30 seconds ISO 100 – How to Photograph Seascapes


how to photograph crashing waves

Aperture F22 15 Seconds ISO 100 – How to Photograph Seascapes

Time of Day

What a difference three minutes can make! As can be seen below, the same rocks taken at midday, which leads us nicely into the time of day section of How to photograph seascapes.

how to photograph crashing waves

Aperture F8 1/80th Sec ISO 100 – How to Photograph Seascapes

Time of day makes a huge difference to your photos. For a full explanation check out Light and Time of Day.

For instance, the two photos below are of the same rocks but at wildly different times of the day. Around noon the light, for example, will be harsh with hard shadows. In the late afternoon, the light will take on a soft golden quality. And in this case of the photo below, the very early mornings are blue with only a hint of colour. 

A point worth noting, light changes so quickly at sunrise and sunset that it is hard to predict the colours. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, the photos of the seagull on the rock were only three minutes apart! I set my camera to aperture priority.  This is because I will want my depth of field to remain the same. With aperture priority, however, the camera can set its own shutter speed to keep up with the light conditions.

how to photograph crashing waves
photographing waves long exposure
Taken at 15:00
Taken at 06:30

Time of day, as we saw, will affect each subject differently. Notably, these are the same rocks just viewed from the other side. In the night with a slow shutter speed to turn the water misty, bringing the rocks to life! It looks like a sea monster rising from the depths!

photographing waves long exposure

Aperture F5 at 13 seconds – How to Photograph Seascapes

How to Photograph Seascapes – Conclusions

A Bears Eye View

  • Put the camera on Aperture Priority
  • Use a polariser or neutral density filter if you need to reduce shutter speed
  • To blur, start at 1/8th second
  • A tripod is essential for slow shutter speed
  • Increase shutter speed to freeze water movement
  • Time of day gives very different results
  • Always clean your equipment after taking it to the beach!

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How to Photograph Seascapes

How to Photograph Seascapes

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