This article was originally written for Streethunters.net
These images were taken in several locations around Italy—like the island of Salina in Sicily, Salento in Puglia, and Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany. I watched people of all ages and social standings (stations) hoping to find that one common thread of surreal irony. The Italian summer is the season when Italians can express their lightness of being and their love for life. As an Italian ex-pat who has lived in London for more than ten years, I can finally see my cultural traits spread out on the beaches of Italy. That evokes strong childhood memories of the long happy summers I spent there.
Here are some tips to shoot on the beach
Beach photography can be considered a sub-genre of street photography. Most of the preparations, rules, precautions and practices for street photography also apply to the beach. But the beach presents a different kind of “extreme environment”. On the beach, there is heat, water, sand, animals, and kids to deal with. I have made a list of some specific rules, precautions and tips you should consider to get the most out of your street photography on the beach.
Acclimatise to the beach
Before starting, give 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(!), than you'll blend in more and won't stand out like a sore thumb on the beach. You will feel more comfortable with the locals and have more confidence to face whatever unpredictable situations beach street photography throws at you.
Study the natural light
Learning the path of the sun throughout the day will allow you to make the best of your beach photography. For instance, if the beach is facing east it means that in the afternoon 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 beyond the golden hours!
Keep Your Camera Clean
Have a cloth ready to use in case waves splash all over you and over your camera lens. It's also useful to wipe any residue on 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 beaches are often pebbly and rocky and you might walk some distance.
Wear 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’ 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 important. I like to use a comfortable compact digital camera with a built-in lens on the beach. You will look discreet and not like an invasive paparazzi. I'm using a Fuji X100S with a built-in 23mm lens (equivalent to 35mm). This focal length also forces me to get closer to my subject and straight into the action.
Use a DSLR with "standard" zoom lens
You aslo can use a DLSR with a zoom lens. I know I just said the opposite above 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 a different focal length to play with when you need it.
Shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority
On a beach the luminosity is strong and constant from dawn till dusk. Only a few scenes will be shady. So you can comfortably use manual settings without making your llife too difficult by having to change settings all the time. Aperture (AV) priority is a good option too. It will allow you to control the depth of field of beach sceneries quickly while the shutter speed will be automatically fast enough to avoid too much light or overexposure.
Look around you
Always turn around. A scene can look totally different and less or more 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 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 the beach-bars and 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. You can even go into the sea with you camera (obviously be careful!). The sea provides so many opportunities for funny and dynamic photos – people playing beach tennis, kids splashing around, brightly colored floating inflatables.
Bring Your Kids with You to the Beach
If you have kids, it's a good idea to bring them with you. You can frame them inside a scene you want to capture with no complaints from other people!
Be Confident – Everyone is Relaxed!
Italians tend to quite like attention and don’t mind too much if someone is taking pictures. They tend to be more concerned about their hairstyle or body posture! People on holiday are generally more relaxed than in a conventional urban environment. If the worse comes to the worst, there are ways to get out of an awkward situation. For instance, 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 “cliché” beach shots
Avoid clichés like a silhouette walking alone on the beach at sunset, an old person sleeping, a beach hut. I know it’s not easy to avoid them but if you do so you’ll push yourself to get more interesting and dynamic beach shots.
Different Scenes Throughout the Day
You probably know about the best times for street photography and what they offer. The same is true on the beach too! From dusk till dawn the beach environment changes a lot and every hour has its own element of interest for a beach 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 hour light painting people’s bodies.
You are in a sea environment so choose the sea creature you want to be for your beach 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!
Have fun on the beach...
This article was originally written for Streethunters.net