Beach sunset portraits are quite possibly my favorite photos to take! It’s that last 15 minutes of light that change everything and creates a magical glow that shines through the sky and reflects off the water! It’s stunning, and it’s my favorite light to play with.
You never know what the sunset is going to give you, what colors you are going to capture, what the light is going to look like, but if you can work with it, you can capture some of the most beautiful portraits!
I only ever have a little less than 10 minutes to take pictures. I don’t want to spend the whole sunset behind the lens, but I want the practice and the actual photos themselves. When I am on the beach, I literally try to go out for every sunset. The more practice I get, the more I learn, the better my photos become, and the more I fall in love with this time of the day!
Make sure to check out my other posts for better beach sunset portraits:
Part 1: Capturing the photo. Composition tricks for better sunset portraits on the beach! (Right here!)
Part 2: Manual tricks for better beach sunset portraits. (For DSLR users)
Part 3: How to edit beach sunset portraits. (Coming soon!)
Tips for Better Beach Sunset Portraits:
1. Rule of thirds
If you’ve looked up any photography tips, or have even taken an intro to photography courses, then I’m sure you’ve already heard of the rule of thirds. It’s a basic concept and still ever important.
Visually divide your photo into thirds from top to bottom and from left to right, like the one below.
When a horizon line comes across your screen, place the line at the top or bottom third of the photo.
When you have a subject in your photo, don’t just put their head in the middle of the photograph. Instead, place it in the upper or lower third of the photo or one of the cross sections. This depends on how close your subject is and what it is you are trying to capture.
The cross sections are preferable when you look up tips, but I do love the centered in the upper or lower third look as well.
Here’s how I apply the rule of thirds on the beach:
It varies from photo to photo, and there are plenty of times when the horizon line goes straight through the center of my photographs, but one of my favorite compositions is when the horizon line goes through the upper third of the photo and the sand line is visible within the bottom third of the photo.
I have three ways I like to place subjects in my photos. The first, as you can see in the photo above, is right along one of those vertical lines dividing the photo. I made sure to place Anabelle’s head in the upper right corner where the two lines crossed.
The second way, which you can see right below, is placing subject in one of the bottom crosses. We are centered around the bottom left cross. My head does reach all the way up to the top left cross, and a couple steps back it wouldn’t have, but our bodies as a whole are centered around the lower left cross.
And the final way I like to use the rule of thirds on the beach is by actually centering my subject in the photo, like I did below, but instead of placing their head in the direct center of the photograph (this is always a no-no) I place it along the upper third. With a centered subject, this creates a nice balance within the photo.
2. Sun placement and camera angles.
When I first started trying to take photos of the beach sunsets, I was placing the sun in the center right behind the subject. This actually isn’t the best. Too much light floods around the subject, and it not only blinds you from actually seeing the subject, but the depth of color goes from pinks, golds, and all those warm hues to just bright white light.
Instead, put the sun in the upper third corner of the photo. (The best is when you can get it in one of those crosses we talked about with the rule of third… But I have found it depends on the sun that evening…) This floods the photo with that colorful light without blacking out the subject. Instead, the light is able to come around the subject and lights up their skin tone! (Sometimes… at least enough to give you something to work with in photoshop!)
Another angle that I love, but I don’t capture often, is actually facing away from the sun! I love the way the golden glow reflects off the subjects when you just cut the sun out. There is no filter when you are working with it on the beach… It’s just you, the sun, the water and the sand and that’s it. So using the reflection off the sand and water can create a one of a kind capture!
3. No awkward limbs cut off.
Last time I was in Florida, I was obsessed with trying to get the water line above my head. I thought it was a “thing” or a rule… Then my sister took the picture below. There is absolutely nothing I would change! So reflecting back and looking at our collection of beach sunset photos, I realize I was a little off the mark. The water line is best when it lies on the upper third of the photo, and sometimes it’s best in the middle like below when the subjects are following the rule of thirds.
What’s not ok, is if it’s cutting off a limb. Say someone had their hand in the air, and the water line was visually cutting the hand off. Or say the water line was running through the top of the head. The head should clearly be under or over the water line, not just barely missing the line. But it’s definitely ok if it goes through the subject, because as long as you are following these rules, the composition is beautiful.