The 45 Best Tips and Ideas for Amazing Family Photos at the Beach

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The 45 Best Tips and Ideas for Amazing Family Photos at the Beach

Summertime is the perfect time for beautiful beaches, white sand, and having a good time at the beach.  Whether you’re a pro at taking family photos or this is your first time, capturing beautiful memories of your loved ones on the beach can be tricky.  With the right tips, you can get stunning shots that will last a lifetime – and we’re here to help!  So please read on for our ultimate guide to taking great beach family photos.

Making Arrangements for Incredible Beach Photos

Beach sessions are a great way to capture the whole family in photos while they are all in one place, and they can be a lot of fun for everyone involved.

  1. Be sure to plan ahead and mark your calendar, so everyone knows when the photos will be taken.  This way, no one will be surprised or unprepared on the photo shoot day. 
  2. If you plan to include extended family members in your beach family pictures, be sure everyone agrees on beach portraits.  This way, you can avoid grumpy faces or disgruntled looks during the session.

You Can’t do Everything, Mom!

  1. If you are wrangling kids and extended family, know when to call in a pro.  Even if you’re a fantastic family photographer with a great camera, sometimes the best choice is to lighten your load and let someone else do the heavy lifting.  Beach sessions are the perfect opportunity to put someone else to work!
  2. If you opt to bring someone else in, choose a photographer who has experience with family beach photos.  The beach is a great place but can require different lighting and angles than a cityscape or a backyard.  Look at examples of their work and check their social media posts before deciding, so you’ll know what to expect. 
  3. When looking at potential photographers’ portfolios, check out their editing style.  Beach lighting lends itself well to natural editing and natural shades.  Be careful of a photographer who leans toward over-editing family portraits and pushing natural shades into bright colors.  If that’s your style, go for it – but if you’re looking for natural tones, choose a photographer who will edit photos in that natural style. 

Timing is Everything

  1. Choose morning or evening for your shoot rather than the middle of the day.  Harsh sun shining from straight overhead can be hot and casts harsh lighting and shadows on everyone.  The best time of day to shoot at the beach is early morning or late in the evening when the sun is low in the sky and creates softer shadows.  This light, called golden hour light, is the most flattering.
  2. Are you taking family photos on vacation?  Great idea!  But make it easier on yourself and your family by scheduling family photos early in your trip.  Dad’s lobster-red sunburned nose and little Suzy’s scraped knees and elbows from too much fun make for tricky family photo sessions.  Plus, you can get the photos out of the way quickly and relax for the rest of the trip!

Hats and Glasses and Tan Lines, Oh My!

  1. Speaking of squinting, plan to ditch your sunglasses.  I know, I know – there’s always someone who doesn’t like this suggestion, but if you shed the glasses and caps at least an hour in advance, you’ll give your eyes time to adjust to the bright beach lighting.  Plus, the red nose marks will be gone by then, too!
  2. That goes for baseball hats and caps, too.  Caps and hats that cast shadows over your face make the lighting incredibly difficult.  And you want to see your faces, not big dark shadows, right? 
  3. If you have tan lines from your swimsuit, now is not the time to wear a strapless dress showcasing those lines.  Yes, those lines can be removed in editing, but it’s not a simple task you want to conquer on your own, and you sure don’t want to get socked with extra editing expenses.

Clothing Choices

One of the most important aspects of taking great photos is choosing the right clothing.  The clothes you wear can significantly impact how your pictures turn out.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what to wear for your photos:

  1. Choose clothing that compliments your body type.  If you’re unsure what looks good, bring a trusted friend along while trying on your outfits so she can help you decide what you love and what makes you feel great.
  2. Along those lines, choose mom’s outfit first.  If mom’s not comfy, nobody will be.  I’ve taken a lot of family photos, and I can honestly tell you that’s just the truth.  Mom sets the tone for the whole photo session.
Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Picking the Perfect Outfits

  1. Since the beach is usually light and airy, choose colors that fit that theme and go light and airy.  You’ll want to choose clothing that blends in and doesn’t distract from your surroundings. 
  2. Solid colors are the most straightforward choice and the easiest to photograph when placed together.
  3. If you love patterns and must have them in your photo, go ahead!  These are YOUR photos, after all.  Try to keep patterned clothes to one person, or two at the most.  Putting people next to one another gets tricky if there are competing patterns.
  4. Keep jewelry simple and classic.  For so many reasons, you will be happier in the end with simple classics.  First, bright shiny pieces can catch the sun and cause funky glares and shiny spots.  Second, the focus should be on the people, not the jewels, and finally – what a catastrophe if you lose that fantastic giant broach when getting to and from the beach and frolicking throughout the shoot.  Keep it simple.
  5. Skip the shoes!  One of my favorite things about a beach photoshoot is that you don’t need shoes at the beach.  And really – you don’t even want them.  Bang!  I just saved you a whole lot of money by not buying coordinated shoes.  Of course, if you must, coordinated flip-flops could be a lot of fun!
  6. Plan for windy weather.  The beach can be pretty windy!  Think about how to best style your long hair.  Bring extra hairspray and avoid clothes with lots of flowy layers – unless you want the windblown look!  Remember, too, that a flowy dress will often cling unflatteringly to your legs and body. A note about safety: Double check beach safety conditions on the day of your shoot – if the beach has red flags or warnings, please don’t swim after your photoshoot.

What to Bring to Your Beach Photoshoot

  1. Pack the Sunscreen!  Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen for everyone, especially if you’re heading out while the sun is still high and UV rays are intense.  Remember that spray sunscreen and greasy lotions can make sand stick everywhere, so consider putting it on before getting in the car to avoid sand meltdowns or shiny skin in your photos.
  2. Snacks and water for everyone, please!  Simple snacks such as pretzel sticks, cheese sticks, and a jug of water are perfect.  You need just enough so that everyone stays hydrated and happy throughout your shoot.
  3. Bring a shovel and a bucket to build a sandcastle.  These little items make great props and are one of the best ways to carry your sunscreen and snacks, too.  Once the family shots are done, kiddos can be just out of the view of the camera and playing with them in the sand while you get some photos of just mom and dad.
  4. Towels.  You will want a towel for kids to dry off after they play in the water (at the end of the session).  Or to set your camera backpack and gear on so it doesn’t get sandy.

Let’s Talk Cameras!

  1. You know what they say – the best camera is the one you have with you!  That said, go ahead and grab photos with your cell phone if that’s what you have.  If you have a DSLR or Mirrorless (I like to call those “fancy cameras”), bring that along!  Click here to learn more about full-frame cameras, crop sensors, mirrorless, and DSLRs. 
  2. If you’re using your fancy camera, consider your lenses.  I always pack my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.  This will give you the most amazing closeups and the best creamy bokeh backgrounds!  If you don’t have that particular close lens, pack the best one you have!
  3. You’ll want some wide shots too, so be sure and pack your widest lens.  My favorite wide-angle lens is my Tamron 15-30 f/1.8 G2.  This lens takes terrific wide images and is perfect for capturing a large group for a golden hour session!

And Other Gear!

  1. Now that we’ve made our way through the camera and the lenses, let’s talk about other doodads that might come in handy.  Consider packing your Speedlight.  A small pop of light on your subject’s faces as the sun is setting behind them is the perfect way to get all the gorgeous colors of the background while still having enough light on their faces.  You may be able to use your camera flash, but a Speedlight will allow you much more control over how bright the light is and how you use it.
  2. Another way to achieve some light on your subjects is to use a reflector, which will reflect the primary light source behind them onto their faces.  I love this easy fold-up reflector.  The reflector is especially helpful if you have someone along who can hold it for you.
  3. If you are taking your own family photos, you will need a tripod and a timer

Bonus tip:  You will want to carry all your gear in style, so consider this camera bag from Peak Design, which is functional, lightweight, and will keep everything safe and sand-free! 

Camera Settings for the Win!

If you opt to hire a professional for your photoshoot, you can skip right on over this part.  Trust that your pro will know what she’s doing with settings!  And if you need a little refresher on what makes professional photographers professional, read Why You Should Hire A Professional Photographer.

  1. Shoot in RAW format.  Shooting in RAW gives you much more flexibility when editing and processing your photos, especially if you end up having to correct an over or underexposure.
  2. Set your aperture around f/5-f/8.  You will want it wide enough to capture some bokeh but stopped down enough to get everyone’s faces in focus.  To learn more about how to set your aperture just right for any scenario, check out Take Your Photos to the Next Level by Understanding Depth of Field.
  3. You’ll need to set your shutter speed fast enough to catch those moving and wiggling kiddos.  A slower shutter speed can lead to blurry photos.  To learn more about shutter speed, read 7 Best Beginner Tips for Using Fast Shutter Speed in Your Photography.

Bonus Tip:  If you need a refresher on shooting your fancy camera in manual, here you go:  Manual Mode:  One Tool To Give You Control of Your Camera.

Beach Fun – Photo Style!

Now that we have all the technical details out of the way, let’s talk about how much fun you will have on your beach photoshoot!  Here are some great ideas to get your family having a blast and looking great in your beach pictures!

  1. Line them up!  A lineup is especially fun if you want to show how tall everyone is and is a super fun shot to repeat annually so you can see who is growing and how much each year!  It’s especially cool if they can step back into the water far enough that their reflections show.  Have fun with this one!
  2. Jump for Joy!  Have the whole family be ready to jump as high as possible on the count of three.  The kids especially love this one!
  3. Try the walk away and look back shot!  Have everyone walk away from you down the beach and then all turn and look back at you.  This action shot is especially fun if parents hold hands with their young children.
  4. Piggyback rides!  If the kids are small enough to ride piggyback on dad’s shoulders or mom’s back, let them!  They love this, and it’s a great way to get faces all on similar height levels. 

Who Doesn’t Love the Beach?

  1. Bribe them!  A great way to get kids to cooperate is to let them know that when the photos are done, they can play in the water, or everyone can enjoy an ice cream cone from the concession stand.  I know – it’s not chic to bribe the kids, but sometimes ya gotta pull out all the stops!
  2. Use Prompts instead of poses.  I’ve listed a few prompts here, but if you want to have your family remember this day, Use This Giant List of Photography Prompts to Capture Natural Photos.
  3. Take photos of individuals and kids without parents.  It can be easy to focus on shots of the whole family, but remember to get a few pictures of the kids on their own and parents by themselves, too.  If you have grandparents along, get some shots of them, too.  Maybe with the grandkids.  If you need to, make a list on your phone of all the specific images you want, so you don’t miss one!

A Note About Beach Scenery

Just because you’re at the beach doesn’t mean you need to limit your creativity and only go for the sunset and the water.  Consider some of these creative ideas that will make unique photos.

  1. Look for beach grass or dune grass.  Line the family up in the tall grasses and take a shot from low where you can see everyone with the grass rising high on their legs.
  2. Write in the sand.  Everyone loves a message in the sand.  Draw a giant heart in the sand and have your family stand around it or behind it.  Or write the family name.  Be creative.  
  3. Are there rocks or a pier nearby?  At our local beach near Lake Michigan we have a couple of beautiful piers and a great lighthouse called Big Red.  These make lovely backdrops!
  4. Taking photos under the boardwalk is another good idea for your family portrait session!  We don’t have a boardwalk in Holland, but many beaches do!  If you can’t get to the boardwalk, you might be able to place your family so the boardwalk shows up behind them. 

Editing Your Photos

Once you’ve taken your photos, it’s time to edit those family portraits.  Editing is where you can bring out the colors and details in your shots.  You’ll want to keep a few things in mind when editing beach photos.  Adobe Lightroom is the most popular photo editing software and works great for basic edits and cataloging your images.

  1. First, increase the contrast to make the people stand out from the background.
  2. Second, use a bit of sharpening to highlight the detail in the waves and sand.
  3. And finally, add a touch of saturation to make the colors pop.
  4. All this talk of color is fun, but don’t forget that black and white images can be beautiful and bring the focus back to the people in your photo. 

Wrapping it All Up

Summertime is an excellent time for family photos, and the beach provides the perfect backdrop.  With a bit of planning and coordination, and of course, these beach photography tips, family beach photos can be a great way to capture lasting memories of your whole family.  Of course, capturing beautiful memories of your loved ones frolicking in the sand and surf is the most important thing.

Have you taken any beach photos lately?  Share them with us in my Facebook Group!  I’d love to see them.

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PIN image of beach family photography tipswith a blue background and an image of a family on the beach

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