Shooting at the beach can be a challenge. I will share some of my secrets I use for fixed, pinhole and full manual cameras.
Perhaps you are taking a winter vacation to a beautiful tropical local or just have a hard time taking that perfect picture at the beach. I live in what some people would consider paradise: Hawaii. Warm nearly all year long, some of the best weather conditions on the planet and surrounded by miles of beaches.
Seems like perfect camera conditions right? Honestly…not always.
The beach and tropical locals have much stronger light conditions than your summer day in London, UK or Youngstown, OH. If you have a fixed camera this presents a real issue. Here is my sprocket rocket with the manual recommended 400 film, set to sunny in Waikiki.
As you can see it is a bit over-exposed.
If you follow the Sunny 16 rule, setting your aperture to 16 and speed to closest matching number of your film (Ex. 1/125 for 100 and 1/500 for 400), You will often end up overexposed. In the bright conditions that occur at a sunny beach, a snow capped mountain, or a desert you will need to use the sunny 22 rule. The suns rays are not only refracting off your subjects, but there is a mirror effect taking place between the ocean/ snow/ sand & the sky where the unabsorbed light is refracted back and forth between them. This adds a lot of extra light that your camera needs to compensate for during exposure. Many cameras decorated with symbols for weather conditions like the Lubitel have an enlarged full sun symbol or on some other cameras it is perhaps a camel/ umbrella to indicate super bright conditions. This can either change the aperture or shutter speed. On my Lubitel, this corresponds to a speed twice the recommended for regular sunny to balance the exposure.
That is fine and well but how does that solve the fixed camera like the Sprocket rocket or Ultra wide and slim? Try changing one of the few things you can: ISO.
As you can see they it is not as washed out. Both were taken in the afternoon facing East. Another trick you could try if you cannot change your ISO is to block some of the sun’s light. If you have a Neutral Density filter you could place in front of your lens or on the creative tip, someLomo members have used their sunglasses in front of the lens to reduce the light coming in during exposure.
If you like doing pinhole pictures like I do, the bright conditions can give you a difficult time too. Lets say you have the Diana F+ and you are using the Pinhole. You might think following the guide of 1-3 seconds at sunny conditions might be enough.
This presents a problem, you can half the exposure time, but how do you count a half a second and get yourself to open on close your shutter smoothly? Again, lowering your ISO is key, because I can not easily change my aperture and I am not agile enough to take a half second picture. Lowering your ISO by one factor raises your time by a factor of two. For example, going down to ISO 50 instead 100, I can take that 1/2 second exposure time and go back to a more manageable 1 second. One a camera like Holga 120 WPC that has an exposure time of 7 seconds, I can get back that time to show the motion of the waves.
Lowering your ISO with a fully manual camera also lets you have more control at the beach. If I have my Canon AE-1 at the beach with 400 ISO film, I may be forced to take all my pictures at f/22 and 1/1000 shutter speed. I can artificial lower the ISO with a ND or a color filter on color or b&w film.
With so much light, the beach is the perfect place to take advantage of the low grain of low ISOs like 50 and 25 if you can get your hands on it. Here are some samples with my Lubitel
So to sum it my tip, remember that there is a lot more light present at the beach so be prepared. A lower ISO is a lot more fun to work with so bring a roll or two the next time you are at the beach.
Maybe someday you see me shooting on the shores of Oahu.