How to Take the Best Pictures of Your Kids on the Beach

As schools let out and summer holiday sets in, most Hong Kong Moms will be (hopefully) hitting the beach at some point. And no doubt, will be scrambling to capture the moment our beloved babies frolic in the sand and sea. But alas, our pictures never quite look as good as we’d hoped. So, we’ve asked Hong Kong’s esteemed family photographer Ian Taylor, to share his secrets for the taking the best photos on the beach.

“Photography can be counterintuitive, and beaches are the perfect example — it can be easier to shoot in the rain than on a sunny day,” says Taylor.  “There are a few things to think about that are useful for any shoreline, be it Maine, the Med or Ma Wan.”



Ian’s Top Tips:

Manage the Light:  Overcast days are by far the best for beach photos. The sky becomes a huge soft-box casting soft diffused light in every direction. Colors ‘pop’ in subdued lighting, so some bold wardrobe options can help contrast with the darker skies.



Sunny Day Solutions: On a sunny day the light is usually too harsh to make flattering photos. Instead aim for early morning or late afternoon to take advantage of the ‘Magic Hour’ — the warm soft light at either end of the day. If you must shoot midday under high-noon sun, use your flash to fill in the shadows on the face. Or better yet find some trees just off the beach and put the kids in the shade. The strong ambient light can be amazing in the little pools of shade along the beach. Look for rocks at the end of the beach to hide behind as well.



When it Rains: Even on rainy or foggy days beaches can be ideal. Have the kids face the ocean so you get maximum light on their faces.  If it’s sprinkling you can still get nice results. As you move under trees overhanging the shore, the light becomes more concentrated and flattering.



Sunset Sublime: If you’re lucky enough to get the classic ‘Sailors Delight’ red sunset, turn off the flash and play with silhouettes. Take care to focus on the subject and not the sky behind. Ideally you will need to underexpose a bit to really bring out the colors.



Set camera to Portrait and not Landscape. Also pay attention to your ISO (light sensitivity) setting. In the space of an hour you can go from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 on a beach as the light dies off.

All About the Aperture: For technique, ‘open up’ your lens by selecting a lower aperture or f-stop. An easy explanation is to make the aperture a smaller number, for example f4 instead of f16. This will blur out the background, which is useful on a beach to reduce stray elements and ‘camera shake’.



Go Big: The beach is the place for those big zoom lenses typically used for kids’ sports. Use the ‘Sports’ or ‘Action’ setting on your camera to focus and track moving subjects. Get the kids to run at the camera right along the edge of the water to get the occasional splash.



Perfect Perspective: When composing shots, ‘zoom with your feet’ — i.e. get further away with a wider lens and use the entire location in your images. Mix up your distance from the kids. Close-ups of hands are a bit cliché, but they still work. And get down to the kid’s level or lower to mix up the perspective.



Learn the Lingo:  To make better photos you should know how to control these basic camera functions:  Shutter Speed, Aperture (f-stop) and ISO. Go on YouTube and watch a 10-minute intro to your camera, usually that’s enough to get rolling.

Back in HK:  All of these tips can be put to use back in Hong Kong with its diverse coastline. Weekday mornings are ideal as most beaches are empty except for octogenarian swimmers. But it’s possible to make great photos on busy Southside Hong Kong beaches using these techniques.

Relax!:  In my experience the best photos don’t come from telling kids to “Smile!”. The best photos are made when kids are relaxed and just being themselves. Of all the locations I use for kids photography, anything to do with water is the place where they immerse into total fun and completely ignore the camera. So step back and be an observer instead of a director. That’s my top tip.



Ask Ian: I am happy to take questions about shooting on beaches or anything else. Send me your photos, ones you like, or ones you don’t and want to know what went wrong.

Ian Taylor is a natural light, candid kids’ photographer. You can see his work on his website and Facebook page

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