Seascape photography tips – #1 Golden Hour

Spurn Point

Seascape Photography

From a very early age, the beach and sea have both fascinated and excited me. Thinking back I remember not being able to sleep for many hours before going on a family holiday or day out to the coast, I was far too excited. Then there is the first glimpse of the sea from the car window as you approach the coast, magic and very exciting, I am sure this will sound true with many reading this who live near enough to visit the coast. Luckily here in the UK 70 miles is the furthest point anyone has ever to travel to reach the coastline. I live quite central so the nearest point is 62 miles or 100 kilometres drive from my house, which is not bad but I wish I lived closer!

Rather than do one very large post I will beak tips on photographing seascapes up into separate posts so I can go into a little more detail in each.

Before I start, this series of posts is aimed at those with a basic to good knowledge of the workings of their camera and few basic pieces of kit, for example, a tripod.

Ok, let’s get into this…

Tip #1 – Sunrise & Sunset (golden hour)

As lovely as it is getting up late when the sun has some warmth and you’ve had a full quota of sleep, a late start is almost never conducive to good seascape photography and will almost never give your images the wow factor, fact. I know someone will prove me wrong on this point but you will be an exception to the rule. I have always found photographing at sunset and sunrise (golden hour) when the sun is low really highlights and dramatises weather, colours and mood. Also very important, you will have the beach mostly to yourself, just you, sand, sea, sky and nature, bliss! Being alone on the beach, hopefully with good light, gives you the best possible chance of coming away with some great data on your camera’s memory card, be that in JPG or preferably RAW, I will go into the difference and advantages of JPG & RAW files on a later post in this series.

Natural light has three basic qualities, which are, colour, quality and intensity. All three basic qualities are often, but of course not always at their optimum at sunrise and sunset, which gives you a far higher chance of taking an image that stands out in your collection rather than just another, meeah image (made up word). During golden hour the sun is low in the sky, producing a soft, diffused light which is much more flattering than the harsh midday sun that so many of us are used to photographing in.

What is golden hour?

Golden hour is simply a term used by photographers for the first and last hour of the day, but not necessarily lasting an hour, just after sunrise and the final hour of the day before sunset when the quality of natural light is optimum for photography.

When shooting at golden hour I would

  • Arrive at the location early and set up using a LED head torch to be fully ready for golden hour and as often is the case, take some nice pre golden hour shots during blue hour (before sunrise).
  • Use a tripod, when light is low, shutter speeds will be longer, hand holding the camera will result in spoiled blurred images.
  • Only experience will tell you this but sometimes a polariser, filters or a bracketed exposure may be used or needed to give you more data or less post-processing in software like Lightroom.
  • Take care! Use a head torch and think of your own safety rather than photography first! I wish I followed my own advice :-0

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Taken from one of my social media posts while on a family weekend break at the coast –

Alarm clock goes off, all is dark, I want to sleep, the bed is warm and comfortable, blurry thoughts.

Kettle on, a quick look out of the window into the dark but dry night, I can see stars, the sky is clear.

Driving down the cliff road towards Filey beach at first light, I see a faint glow over sea in the distance, it’s almost blue hour. Thoughts turn to photography.

Choice of parking spots above the beach, I can hear the sea and feel the cool breeze on my face, thoughts of bed and sleep are gone, I’m excited and hopeful.

I walk, I look for composition, the glow above the sea starts to light the clouds. Is my mind playing tricks or is the air starting to warm a little?

Backpack off, tripod set up, camera clipped on, choose lens, check focus. All set, look around, enjoy, wait ..

Sunrise lights the clouds, check focus, shutter speed, final look around the frame, click .. I have one in the bag, time to move on and take more…

It’s a great feeling to get your first seascape photograph of the day in the bag, the rest are a pure bonus after that and you don’t mind experiemnting a little more knowing you have a keeper.

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How do I know where the sun will be at golden hour?

Before shooting golden hour, usually the day before, I always have a look on this free website called suncalc.net which tells me exactly where the sun will rise and set on any given day, and also when golden hour, blue hour etc, is going to happen. Providing you remember to search for the correct date as well as location Suncalc will not let you down and has proved over time to be very accurate and helpful to me and many others.

Also remember to check local tide times before going, both for safety and so you know when the tide will be out if you want sky and sun reflections in wet sand, Google is your best friend for doing that.

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None of us wants to be out at these hours but nature really is at it’s best and most rewarding of your efforts. Some of my best images have been shot at the end of October around Halloween weekend here in England (UK), the sun is getting lower in the sky and sunrises & sunsets are at a far more sociable time.

Thank you for reading questions & comments always answered and appreciated…

Published by

Tim

I am a landscape/seascape photographer from All comments appreciated and answered.Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England.

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