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You’ve seen it before and probably done it yourself; I know I have. You put your family or loved one on the beach in front of a beautiful vista and took the shot. But when you look at it, your family is entirely dark, the background is almost white, or a combination of the two. This article discusses how you can take amazing family photos at the beach.
First, you need to understand a bit about what professional photographers call dynamic range. Dynamic range refers to the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of a scene. The problem is that the human eye sees a much broader dynamic range than the camera can.
Your eye can see the person as well as the ocean and the sky in the background. The camera can only capture a small bit of this range of light, so it does the best it can. Usually, a camera will attempt to protect the highlights, and so it throws your subject into shadow, so the sky isn’t too blown out. If you are closer to the person, it may expose appropriately for the person, leaving the sea and sky too bright.
Depending on your gear and experience, the easiest way to solve this is to shoot when the dynamic range is less. Depending on the position of the sun, this would be early in the morning or late in the afternoon — what photographers refer to as the golden hours. These are the best times to take pictures anyway, so you would also be taking advantage of better light. This trick obviously won’t work if the sun is in the image, such as a sunrise or sunset shot, so plan accordingly.
The idea is that the sky isn’t as bright, and neither is the light hitting the water and sand. The timing can be a little tricky. Remember that your eye is going to level out the light more than your camera, so you may need to take the shot earlier or later than you think to get the right balance. Fortunately, additional digital images don’t cost anything, so take several shots over the half-hour period before sunset or after sunrise.
The other way to solve the problem is to reduce the dynamic range by making the subject brighter. Professional photographers would have one or two portable strobes, a reflector, and a diffusor to solve the problem. Since you don’t have all the fancy equipment, you need to address it with what you have, your camera’s flash. Your camera won’t believe it needs the flash, so you are going to need to be able to override that and force the flash to fire anyway.
This technique may or may not give you great results. Depending on how close you are and how bright the flash, it can make the person look like you caught them in headlights, or it may still be too dark. To do a perfect job, you will need to have the ability and knowledge to set your camera and flash in manual mode.
Or at least be able to adjust the brightness of the flash.
Shooting in manual mode is a bit advanced, but here are simple steps to get you the fantastic image you want. You need to refer to your camera and flash manuals to learn how to use this trick. First, take a picture of the background without the person. This will give you a good exposure of the sea and sky. Look at the settings, the camera used, and note the aperture and shutter speed. Now, set your camera to manual mode and set the aperture and shutter speed to match the same settings. If you retake the same picture, it will look the same.
Next, attach or activate your flash and set it to manual mode at its lowest power. Now take the shot with your family in it. Check the results. If it is too dark, raise the power of the flash slightly and try again. Keep experimenting until you have a well-balanced image. You need less light than you probably think. If it looks like you used a flash, that’s too much.
The ideal image will have the background and your family well exposed, but no one looking at it will be able to tell you used a flash. The lighting on your family should look natural, with no bright highlights or deep shadows.
Coming back from a family vacation at the beach with great pictures isn’t as difficult as you think. With a little planning, knowledge, and practice, you can capture the images you want. Use these tips to take amazing family pictures at the beach.