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March 05, 2021

Cover photo by Christian Hoiberg.

Mountains tend to steal the show when it comes to winter photography but if you're looking for a moody winter shot, you can't beat a good winter seascape shot. If you're one of the many photographers close to the sea,  you're in luck. Grab your camera a hit the coast. Here are our best tips for winter seascape photography. 

1. Know the tides 

The ocean is a mighty and powerful subject to photograph and should be approached with caution and respect. Knowing and understanding the tides of the area you are shooting will help keep you safe. It’s easy to underestimate the power of the sea and to get carried away with getting the perfect shot so before you climb out to the edge of the cliff or inch a little bit closer to the waves, make sure you know when the tides are changing so you don’t get stuck without an exit route.

Understanding the tides isn’t important just for safety reasons; it’s also important to know the tides to understand how seascape will look. Some beaches and bays look completely different in low tide vs. high tide and know this will help you map out a better composition.

Photo by Christian Hoiberg.

2 Experiment with the settings

There is not a perfect set of settings for seascape photography because it truly will vary so much depending on the gear you have and the image you’re trying to create but there are a few guidelines to follow which will help steer you in the right direction.

You should set your aperture somewhere between f/8 and f/13. This will help keep all of the elements of the photo in focus without any diffraction (i.e. when a photo becomes less sharp at a smaller aperture like f/20).

Try to keep your ISO as low as possible without compromising on the right exposure for the image. We suggest starting with ISO 100 and bumping it up gradually if needed. A higher ISO will increase the noise in the image.

Finally, the shutter speed. Shutter speed is going to be an artistic choice when it comes to seascape photography and the right shutter speed will fully depend on the effects you want to see in the image.

If you’re trying to smooth out the water, you’ll want to have a longer shutter speed. You may need a tripod, a remote shutter and an ND filter if you are going to have an ultra-long shutter speed (30 seconds or longer). A long exposure will also capture the movement of clouds.

On the contrary, a super short shutter speed will help you freeze any motion so if you want to capture a crashing wave, aim to have a faster shutter speed (for example, a shutter speed of 1/200 second).

Experiment with the shutter speed and take note of how it affects your final image. The perfect balance for you might be somewhere in between an ultra-fast and ultra-slow shutter speed. Don’t forget that changing the shutter speed will also affect the overall exposure of the image (i.e. how bright the image is) so you may need to adjust your ISO or use a filter to get the perfect mix.

Photo by Christian Hoiberg.

3. Use filters to enhance your images

While you don’t absolutely need to have filters to shoot seascape photography, filters can greatly enhance the effects you’re aiming for in your final images. Filters are a great tool for every photography to keep in their kit and with seascape photography, they can help you achieve the desired effect without blowing out the exposure. Here’s what we would recommend having in your kit.

ND Filter
Natural Density (ND) filters are a densely coloured piece of glass that is neutral in colour. It works similarly to sunglasses by reducing the amount of light the can enter the camera. This means you’re able to have a wider aperture or a longer shutter speed without blowing out the exposure. The most common ND filters are 3,6 and 10 stops. A 3 stop ND filter is better for shorter shutter speeds and the 6 and 10 stop filters are better for longer shutter speeds up to a few minutes long.

Graduated ND filter
A graduated ND filter is half clear glass gradually fading into half darker glass. These filters are great for evening out the light in scenes where one part of the image is drastically brighter than another page of the image. A common use for these filters is to help shoot a scene with a very bright sky and a dark foreground. The dark part of the filter will help properly expose the lens to match the rest of the scene.

Polarising Filter
If you’re not able to use filters, you can generally recreate the effects of the ND and Graduated ND filter in post-production but polarizing filters are one thing that cannot really be mimicked in your editing process. Polarising filters are useful when you want to cut reflection. You can use them in a number of situations from cutting out the glare of a bright forest or reducing the reflections on windows. For seascape photos, they are great for helping cut the reflection on clear water so you can see what’s below the water.

Camera with filter for winter photography

4. Don’t forget your composition

One thing that is always constant whether we are talking about bird photography, landscape photography, portrait photography or seascape photography is that no matter what you’re shooting, you should always remember your basic principals of composition.

With seascape photography, you may have a number of ways to compose a photo. You may get a nice rocky foreground to help lead the eye. Perhaps you can use the difference in light and texture to help compose the photo. Maybe the waves themselves are the pillars of your composition.

No matter what you’re shooting, take time to think about your shot and how it will look once you’ve pressed the button. Identify elements in the scene that you want to draw attention to and analyze how you can best direct the viewer's eye to the points of interest. You can have all the gear in the world but nothing will give you a short cut to a good composition.

Photo by Mourad Saadi.

5. Bring good gear

The seaside has a reputation for having a slightly more mild climate than inland locations because the ocean is a natural temperature regulator but that doesn’t mean that the seaside doesn’t get freaking cold. Anyone who has spent time with seascape photography can tell you that the sea breeze is an ever-present element that never really goes away. In addition to a cool breeze, moisture is another element you’ll have to contend with.

To make sure you can devote the time needed to getting an epic shot, you’ll need to dress for the part. A good layering system consists of a synthetic or merino base layer, an insulating mid-layer (such as fleece or thicker wool), a puffy jacket and a waterproof jacket on top. You’ll also want to layer your legs with a warm base layer and a waterproof outer layer.

Depending on how close you get to the water, you’ll likely be getting wet during your photo session so having waterproof boots, rainbows, or even fishing waders can help keep you dry and warm. Don’t forget a warm hat and of course, warm photography gloves to help give you the dexterity you need without compromising on warmth.

Once you have your body rugged up, you can start to think about other gear that may be necessary for a successful shot. A story tripod that can hold its own during windy sea conditions is preferable. You’ll also want to have a handful of spare batteries as the cold weather and long exposures tend to deplete the battery’s energy quickly. Lastly, you’ll likely be dealing with some seamiest so make sure you have plenty of dry microfiber cloths that can help keep your lens clear of any water spots.

Once you’ve got your kit sorted, you’ll be ready to take on your fist seascape photography adventure. Let us know how you get on and tag us in your photos on Instagram!

Photo by Connor Dugan.

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