How To Shoot A Beach Wedding

How To Take Photos Of A Beach Wedding

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Shooting a beach wedding is nothing like shooting a normal church wedding many photographers think shooting a beach wedding will be easy but in fact it can be much harder then shooting a church wedding in many ways as I will get into.

First a little about me. Me Ed Morgan and my wife have been working on the beach shooting beach weddings and family beach portraits for over ten years, We have shot hundreds of beach weddings and hundreds of family portrait sessions. Over the years I have used owned and tested many different lighting flash setups and just about anything you can think of for shooting in bright sun light. We have shot natural light and with flash and the best is a mix of both as needed.

So for shooting weddings on the beach there is only a hand full of people around the world that have the experience I have shooting beach weddings for this long and this many of them. Many times the amount of beach weddings I would shoot in just in one week is more then most photographers ever shoot in a year or two or ever. So I know a lot about getting great beach wedding photos on good days, bad days, very cloudy days and outright terrible days.


How Shooting a beach wedding is different from shooting a church wedding.

First off you are not inside and you are not outside in a nice park with trees with shade. On the beach you have no shade, No walls, No trees no place to set your equipment down with out it getting sand all over it and no place to shoot using things you might be used to using like a bench or tree to lean on or walls to stand by or lean on so most of the normal poses a wedding photographer would do at a church wedding you can not do on the beach. Then you have to deal with bright harsh light from the sun for starters.

The lighting on the beach can be very harsh from one moment to the next as clouds pass by. Many times for a beach wedding the wedding service will be at a time of day that is very bright out you could easy be looking at F16 or F18 or higher so using a on camera flash in this bright of light can by useless as they do not have the light output to overpower with the sun.

You should have a strong off camera flash ready to use and know how and when to use it.


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Shooting the wedding On The Beach

For the wedding I shoot all natural light with no flash this lets me move around as needed and get the shots I need with out needing to worry and mess with flash settings. I shoot in P or A based on the lens I may be using and I use two cameras one with a wide zoom and one with a mid range zoom like a 70-200.

Bein gon the beach you can not set anything down so you need a good camera holster system i use the Spider camera system from here SpiderHolster I also on the other side of the belt i use a Think Tank Skin pop down camera lens holder this one from ThinkTank. The way I use this is i just stick the 70-200 lens into the bag with the camera body sticking out over the top so i can grab it and shoot fast swoping from camera to camera. I have no camera around my neck.

If I am shooting in (P) Program I use a lot of exposure compensation on the camera so I can dial in the right look for each shot as you are fighting with the sun. I never let the camera do all my settings for me or I would not get any of the quality image I want.

From each different shooting position I will need to change the amount of exposure compensation I need to use as the light will change.
With the sun being so bright many times the bride or the groom is in the bright side of the sun and the other is in the darker shadow side of the sun this makes for a lot of camera changes based on who and what you are shooting.

Blowing Out The Background

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Many times when shooting a beach wedding you will need to blow out the background just to be able to get a shot of the bride or groom or other party.

Do to the bright sunlight all things you never have to deal with at a church wedding will come alive and with out knowing how to deal with this you will not get good photos.

On the beach you will be using more camera exposure compensation then you would ever use at a church wedding or possibility anything you have ever shot before. If you do not use exposure compensation when needed your images will be very dark of your subject the wedding guests or bride or groom. I see many people try and use flash but you need to remember if can be F16 out or better that is very bright and a on camera speed light can not put out F16 of flash power at the distance you will be shooting at in fact it will make your camera produce even darker images.

Dangers Of The Beach To You And Your Camera Gear.

Shooting a beach wedding sounds fun yaa its the beach what can go wrong right! Well a lot can go wrong and go wrong fast. With over ten years of shooting on the beach I think I have seen it all - here is a list of a few things that may happen on the beach you are not expecting.

First water. People do no think about this but many days on the beach the surf is splashing up a mist of salt water that will get all over your equipment in no time, Some days it can be very bad to the point that you need to clean your front lens glass every few shots. All this  can damage cameras that are not weather sealed. I have seem many peoples lower quality cameras quit working on the beach after getting to much sea mist on them.

Next we have sand yes it is down on the ground but not all of it. On the beach most of the time there is a nice breeze blowing off the ocean that can get very strong at times and it blows the sand up into your face and all over you camera and lighting equipment so you now have a wet camera with sand on it.

The Weather

Bad weather that comes out of no ware fast. One moment it is a great sunny day and then 10 minuets later the sand stars blowing and then rain moves in and you are standing in a sand storm with rain blowing side ways at you.

I have been in this more times then I want to remember. I remember the worst was a great clear blue sky day and right in the middle of the wedding the sand started blowing then it got stronger as very dark clouds moved in very fast and then the minister had to speed up the wedding and then it started to rain sideways as everyone had to rush off the beach and the sand and rain hurt as it hit you .

It turns out it was 70 mile an hour winds blowing the sand and rain. It blew the beach wedding setup apart blowing chairs and flowers down the beach and into the ocean water. We ran to our car and then waited and it was all over in less then ten minuets and passed and it was back to a sunny day but everything was destroyed. Lucky the minister did speed up wedding and did finish the I Dos as it was just starting to slam all of us.

Next is Thunder and lightning that kills people. Every year people on the beach get killed when struck by lightning and when you are shooting a wedding on the beach and you hear thunder then lightning is just behind it and you and everyone at the wedding is at great risk.

I have had to leave the beach many times do to thunder and lightning and rain. The bride may get a little mad but you life is more important then anything and if it is starting to rain the bride and groom may be ok with staying on the beach in the rain but I am not going to stand in the rain with 10k of equipment and risk it getting damaged or broke. So we included a weather clause in our contract.

Now Back To Shooting A Wedding On The Beach


After the wedding it is time for family photos. If it is a sunset wedding around this time the sun should be starting to set and now is the time to start using the powerfull off camera flash to light up the family group shots. I will get the flash set and do a few test shots and then I am all good to start shooting. This will be with the camera in all manual and the flash in manual using TTL for this never works well just learn how to use off camera flash in manual and you will be much better off for all of your photography. We get all the family members together and start shooting the different group shots as needed or requested all with flash.

After the family and friends shots we end with shooting the bride and groom in front of the wedding setup doing both standing and on the ground poses.

Bride And Groom Photos Part One

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Next we take the bride and groom down to the waters edge for the romantic walk on the beach. We have the bride and groom walk down the beach away from us a good ways and then shoot them with natural light as they walk back to us. For this we will be using the zoom lens camera and more exposure compensation to get the site exposed right. As they walk and have fun I have them stop a few times and kiss and maybe the groom picks up the bride for some fun shots and we help them with ideas on what to do as well as we want good photos.

We also many times based on how the sun is walk the bride and groom the other direction into the sun shooting some silhouette photos with the sun back lighting them and other fun shots.

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Bride And Groom Photos Part Two

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Next after all the walking and fun shots we do more just bride and groom shots now down in the sand sitting and we go back to using the flash we also do some of the bride by her self. At this point the bride or groom most of the time will ask for other photos of them and some close friends we will do and this can turn into some fun shots.

Other shots we may do based on the sun light is a large group shots all walking on the beach all having fun and maybe even jumping we are all about giving our customers what they want so they get the photos they want and will enjoy for years to come.

If it ended up being a nice day and everything went well we part our ways and head for home to start loading in the photos to edit.

More About Shooting Photos On The Beach

So shooting a wedding on the beach can be a lot more work and you can encounter more problems then you may think.

A few things we see shooting on the beach at weddings and family beach portraits that are a dead give away of a un-experienced beach photographer are. Most of the time they are from out of state and got hired to shoot someones beach wedding or portraits.

Bringing out two light stands with large flash heads and larger soft boxs and large battery packs. Nine times out of ten you can sit and watch as they try to set it all up as the wind blows it all down, Blows the large soft boxes apart, Knocks the flash heads down into the sand they then take most all of it back to the can and the try and shoot with just a on camera flash that dose not have the power to work in the bright sunlight.

People holding large reflectors. I have read over and over in so many how to shoot articles that you should use reflectors. But here is what happens on the beach most of the time. First the wind blows the reflector so much you can not hold it in place and second on a bright day the light you reflect is very blinding to the person you are reflecting it on. Just think if F16 or F18 light being shot right at your face you would not like it. So we see photographers try this over and over and then you see them toss the reflectors down on the ground all upset.

Then we see the on camera flash people that have no clue how their flash works. They are their to shoot a beach wedding and start blasting away with flash from 20 feet away and wonder why all the images look so dark. Its because when you use flash the camera assumes the flash is lighting up you subject and it will shut down the amount of light it lets into the camera and with the sun being so bright the camera thinks wow that much bright sun light and now on camera flash to I need to stop way down and the end result is dark images flat dull images and a lot of burned up battery's.

The other problem is if you read the manual on your flash it can only light up a subject at a distance based on the light that is out so if it is F16 out you flash may only be able to put out F16 of flash power at 3 to 4 feet in front of you so when you are shooting 10 to 20 feet away like for the wedding the flash is just wasted making you get a very bad exposures. You might be hitting your subject with F2.8 of flash but the sun is hitting your subject at F16 so your F2.8 of flash is doing nothing to help but your camera will react to the F16 of light and stop down giving you dark or just crummy looking images.

So if you are going to be shooting a wedding on the beach you should spend more time then you might think and learn how to shoot in bright sunlight and deal with shooting groups of people in the sun and have a good power full flash system.

Some Crazy Things On The Beach

A few crazy things we have seen on the beach when shooting a wedding on the beach or portrait session.

We had our off camera flash system catch on fire the head burst into flames after a power full blast of light and I had to take it and toss it in the ocean to put it out.

Have seem many brides arive very drunk and fall down walking on the beach or get sick on the way walking on the beach.

Had one bride after the wedding throw her hands up in the air and her new wedding ring flung off her finger and got lost in the sand. We all looked for almost a hour till I guy arrived that had a metal detector and he found it for her.

Have had a few times guests pass out from the heat at a beach. weddings in the summer months can be 104 on the beach in June, July and August.

Have had drunk people on the beach stand behind the wedding as it is going on mooning everyone.

People have bright wedding cakes out on the beach not thinking about the heat and the cakes just melt apart very fast.

Camera And Lighting Equipment I Use

Over the years I have shoot with many cameras going back to film cameras and then starting with some of the first 2MP digital cameras.

I shot with a lot of Canon digital cameras for many years till the Nikon D3 come out and I got it and it was such a better camera in every way much better then my $5000 plus canon Mark III I had just got. I sold all my Canon gear and went all Nikon. I then ended up selling the Nikon D3 and buying two Nikon D700 Body's that became the best cameras I have ever owned they have been total work horses never letting me down. Not one of them has ever had a problem even after over 200.000 shutter clicks, being dropped, rained on, beach sand blasting them over and over for years and so on. As of writing this I still have both of them and they both still work like the day I got them.

Now days i am shooting with the new Nikon D500 as my main camera and the Nikon D7200 as my zoom camera. I have switched from full frame cameras to cropped cameras they are lighter and the lens out now days give me all the same zoom ranges I had with the full frame cameras and the new D500 produces outstanding image quality in a high end professional body.

For flash over the years I have used a lot from low cost Vivitar flash's to high end Ranger systems to over power the sun that was like carrying a car battery with you everyplace. For many years after it come out I used a Ranger Quadra flash system that was around $1600 it was a very good flash system i used it on hundreds of weddings and family portrait sessions. Now days I am using a much lighter 360 bulb flash system and I use Nikon speed lights and some GoDox speed light flash's all with wireless flash triggers so everything is wireless.

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