Street Photography on the Beach
NOTE: This is a Guest Blog post written by Lorenzo Grifantini exclusively for www.streethunters.net.
Italian Summer – A Beach Street Photography Project
I took these pictures in different places around Italy—like the island of Salina in Sicily, Salento in Puglia, and Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany. I looked at people of all ages and social stations hoping to find that one common thread of surreal irony. In these difficult times for my country Italian summer is the season when Italians can express their lightness of being and their love for life. Also, as an Italian expat who has lived in London for more than ten years, I can finally see my cultural traits spread out on the beaches of Italy and that evokes strong childhood memories for me of the long happy summers I spent there.
Top Tips for Street Photography on the Beach
Beach photography can be considered a sub-genre of street photography. So most of the preparations, rules, precautions and best practices for street photography also apply to the beach. However, the beach presents another kind of “extreme environment” for street photography, and a different experience to photographing in ‘normal’ or bad weather. On the beach, there is heat, water, sand, animals, and kids to deal with, (to name but a few) so I’ve made a list of some specific rules and precautions you should take to get the most out of your street photography on the beach.
Acclimatise to the Beach
Before starting your photo hunts leave yourself a few days to acclimatize to the heat, to get a good tan and get rid of that fluorescent office light patina from your body(!). Once you’re more acclimatized you’ll blend in more, and won’t stand out like a sore thumb on the beach. You will be able to mix more easily with the locals and have more confidence to face whatever unpredictable situations beach street photography throws at you.
Study the Natural Light
Understand the light on the beach you want to shoot. Learning the path of the sun throughout the day will allow you to make the most of your beach photography. For instance, if the beach is facing east it will mean that in the afternoon it is quite likely you are not going to have much sun to work with, unless you’re lucky enough to be in a completely flat landscape. If the beach is facing west, then you’ll have plenty of light throughout the day, and during and beyond the golden hours!
Keep Your Camera Clean
Have a cloth ready to use in case waves splash all over you and your camera lens. It’s also useful if you need to wipe any residue of your camera, like sun cream or sweat – you might get quite hot! Ensure you keep yourself well hydrated too.
Wear Comfortable Footwear
Get a comfortable pair of sandals. In Italy for instance, beaches are often pebbly and rocky and you may be walking some distance.
Have a decent pair of Sunglasses. Beside protecting your eyes from the sun they will give you more confidence to shoot photos by providing a ‘shield’, allowing you to avoid eye contact with the people around you if necessary.
Use a Small Camera with Built-in Lens
Choosing the right camera for street photography is always important. I like to use a comfortable compact digital camera with an in-built lens for street photography on the beach. This allows you will look discreet and not like an invasive paparazzo. I’m using a Fuji X100S with an in-built 23mm lens (equivalent to 35mm). This focal length also forces me to get close to the scene and right up inside the action.
Use a DSLR with ‘Standard’ Zoom Lens
If you use a DSLR for street photography, you can use it for beach street photography too, especially a DSLR with a zoom lens. I know I have just said the opposite above about using a small camera, but on the beach many things are happening at the same time and not always close to where you are standing. A fast DSLR with a standard length zoom lens (I use a Canon 6D with 25-70mm lens) will give you flexibility and different focal lengths to play with when you need it.
Shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority
On a beach the sun luminosity is strong and constant from dawn until dusk, with few scenes in the shade. So you can comfortably use manual settings for street photography on the beach without making your life too difficult by having to change settings all the time. Aperture (AV) priority is a good option too; this will allow you to control the depth of field of a certain beach scene quickly while the shutter speed will be automatically fast enough to not allow too much light in and overexpose your shot.
Look Around You
Always turn around. A scene can look totally different and more (or less) interesting if seen from another side or angle with different lighting conditions. This is good general advice for any location where you practice street photography!
You can get exceptional silhouette beach street photos with sunlight on the back of your subjects (but please avoid the cliche of people walking alone at sunset!). You can also use reflections in the sea to convey drama and mood.
Explore – Go to Beach Bars & into the Sea
Don’t get stuck all day only walking up and down the beach with your camera. Sneak into a beach kiosk or bar where many things can happen – kids playing, people eating or playing cards etc.). You can even go into the sea with you camera (obviously be careful!). The sea provides so many opportunities for funny and dynamic beach street photos – people playing beach tennis, kids splashing around, brightly colored floating inflatables, etc.)
Bring Your Kids with You to the Beach
If you have kids, bringing them with you to the beach can be a good idea. You can frame them inside a scene you want to capture and catch a great shot surreptitiously with no complaints from other people!
Be Confident – Everyone is Relaxed!
In my experience in Italy, Italians tend to quite like attention, and don’t mind too much if someone is taking pictures of them – they tend to be more concerned about their hairstyle or body posture! People on holiday are also generally more relaxed than in a conventional urban street photography environment and so are less likely to mind having their photo taken. If the worse comes to the worst, there are ways to get out of an awkward situation in street photography that will also apply to the beach. If you are particularly interested in a close up shot (perhaps even a portrait) of an interesting character with particular features (tattoos, exaggerated muscles etc.) then just be friendly and ask!
Try to Avoid Clichéd Beach Photos
Avoid clichés – a person silhouette walking alone on the beach at sunset, an old person sleeping, a beach hut etc. I know it’s not easy to avoid them but if you do so you’ll push yourself to get more interesting and dynamic street shots on the beach.
Different Scenes Throughout the Day
You probably already know about the best times for street photography and what they offer. The same is true on the beach too! From dusk to dawn the beach environment changes a lot and every hour has its own element of interest for a beach street photographer. Early in the morning when the beach resort has just opened – the umbrellas are being set up, dogs are being walked, and people going for their morning jogs. Later in the morning the beach transforms, becoming overcrowded with people trying to find their little corner of peace, and often acting in amusing or funny ways. After lunch people are often in a sleepy calorie-induced stupor and the beach becomes very lazy. At dusk people may be playing sports like volleyball or card games – a great opportunity for action and surreal shots. At this time, the atmosphere is much more relaxed with the golden light of the ‘Golden Hour’ painting people’s bodies.
Pick a Persona & Enjoy Your Beach Street Photography
You are in a sea environment so choose the sea creature you want to be for your beach street photography hunt. For me the most appropriate sea creature is the Moray Eel, a long and fast fish that hides amongst the gaps and crevices in coral reefs, patiently waiting for their prey, and then finally they strike. Snap!
Great work. Very colorful. Reminds me of Michael Ernest Sweet’s black and white work at Coney Island in New York – which is a good thing!