Sunrise Session with Louise M at Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

It was her first sunrise AND beach session. Here are some tips to make your beach session more successful.

God, I love this time of year, photographically. It’s magical. The air is thick with potential. Well, that and the humidity but mostly potential.

Now, I’ve gone on record in the past and said that I hate the beach. Hate. Given a choice of laying on hot sand for a few hours or do anything else, I will chose anything else every time. However, for photo shoots, there’s no other place I’d rather be. Add sunrise or sunset to the mix and I’m absolutely euphoric.

And then there’s the opportunity to work with people like Louise. She’s smart, funny, and an absolute rock star in front of my camera. She didn’t even blink at getting up at an ungodly hour, getting prepared, and then making the long drive to the oceanfront for a 5am start time. 12/10. Cannot recommend highly enough.

Now, the beach is an amazing place to shoot but there are distinct hazards that you need to be aware of if you want to shoot there. Allow me to drop some information on you so you have a great session there, too.

  • Do your homework first. There’s a few things I check days before a session right up until go time. How warm is it going to be on the beach? Wind strength and direction? Water temperature? Cloudy, no clouds, partly cloudy? Tides? Keep in mind, when you look at the weather forecast for a location like Virginia Beach, you are seeing the conditions at the airport four miles inland from the beach, not the actual beach. Temps are usually 5-7 degrees cooler on the beach than inland. Wind is stronger on the beach. In fact, let me just say that it’s always windy on the beach. You sure you want to put that 48 inch octa-box up in 20 mph wind? I wouldn’t. Is the wind blowing in off the water? Then I promise you, your lens will have a fine coating of salt in no time causing soft, blurry images. Be ready to properly clean the front lens element often. Is the tide coming in or out? If it’s coming in, then you’ll want to stage somewhere above the surfline or else your gear could be swamped ort even swept away if you’re not paying attention. BTDT. I actually pay attention to the local surfing forecast more than anything else.
  • Get there early to stake your claim, set up the staging area, put together the gear, get some lighting test shots in, go over the game plan with the client, test shoot the outfits and such. For sunrise sessions, I like to meet up a good 45-60 minutes before sunrise to get up and running. That way we are ready and firing on all eight cylinders when the magic happens. If you start the shoot at sunrise, you will miss the best light of the day by the time you’re ready to go. For sunset I like getting there a good 90 minutes prior to the sun setting.
  • Outfits aren’t important. What order you shoot them in is paramount. Typically beach sessions are more reveling that a general session with swimsuits, backless summer dresses and such. Tight, constrictive, clothing is the enemy here. Tight clothes leave lines and patterns on the skin that take a good 35-45 minutes to fade away. I could end up spending the same amount of time trying to remove them in post. What I try to do, with client’s consent beforehand of course, is have them arrive to the session not wearing anything that would leave a mark. The obvious items would be bras, tight pants, and belts. Not so obvious but just as bothersome, are socks and shoes. During the session, we start with more more reveling shots first like swimsuits, backless dresses and such and then, at the end, wrap it up with the tight shorts, shirts, et cetera. If we start with tight stuff, we can put something loose on with nothing underneath and shoot that until the lines fade. Either way works far better than trying to edit it out after the fact. Work this out with your client before the session.
  • Watch out for rogue waves when you are near/in the water. They will knock you, the client, your gear, or all three over without warning. Had that happen with this session, actually. Rogue wave came in and knocked the light stand, that was three feet above the waterline at that point, over into the water. Luckily, the front of the soft box was the only thing that got wet and not the actual light. My heart started to beat again after a few moments.
  • Leave all electronics and valuables at the staging area. Empty your pockets. Wallets, cell phones, batteries, car keys, et cetera, all get left at the staging area. I empty mine before the start of every session.
  • Jellyfish aren’t usually a problem at the oceanfront as it’s too rough for most of them. Jellyfish are a HUGE problem if you’re shooting on/in the York River.
  • Wear something on your feet while on the beach. Lots of sharp stuff out there. Broken glass, busted shells, fishing lures and such. And then there’s the stuff in the water.
  • Bring towels to lay stuff down on and to dry yourself off with after the session. Bring water/sports drinks to drink as the beach will dry you out fast. Bring fruit or granola bars with you to snack on. Bring enough for the whole team.
  • Sand and salt gets into everything. Salt and sand are the two worst enemies of photo gear. Keep all gear in protective bags and the bags closed while on the beach. Keep a hand towel on you to keep your hands dry and sand-free. When it’s all said and done, and I’m home, I tear everything apart and clean it. Salt and sand will destroy equipment if left unattended. Everything gets stripped down and given a once over paying particular attention to any contacts or interfaces. Then I empty the camera bag out and vacuum the inside of that.

Probably the most important thing I can tell you is to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch the weather. Unpredicted, last minute, violent storms are not uncommon. Rogue waves have swept people off their feet and pulled them into deeper water. I’ve seen a wave pull a person under when they were wearing a wet wedding dress or other heavy outfit and it becomes a battle for life. Rip currents are a very real thing. There are things in the water that can cause real pain. Electronics don’t play well with water. Onlookers and passer-byes can take advantage of a distracted photographer and take things.

Models/Clients – If you’re looking for tips on what to wear and how to prepare for a beach session, I offer up the following link.

None of the above is said to scare you. I just want your eyes open to possibilities – good and bad. It’s not a place to let your guard down. Be smart and be safe. Most of all, have fun.

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