As a photographer in Panama City Beach I have spent many years learning these lessons. I love shooting family beach portraits but it also has its challenges. Hopefully these 11 tips will help you as they have helped me. Enjoy!
1. Bring some bribery.
If you photograph families often, you know that entertaining the kiddos is one of the hardest parts of our jobs. I always have a few things handy in my camera bag ready for my assistant to grab at a seconds notice:
A. Seashells – These are a great souvenir from their beach trip and provide you with some leverage for the children. They also aren’t an eye sore for photos if you can’t convince the child to put it down.
B. Dollar Bills – I know it sounds ridiculous. To me, in order to make a child happy, I will offer up a dollar…and sometimes it’s just what we needed.
C. Noisemakers – Whether it be a horn, shaker, or dog squeaky toy, a noisemaker is essential to grab the attention of the little ones.
2. Bring a blanket/sheet to put your gear on.
Everyone knows that salty water is not great for gear. Neither is sand. If you’re like me, sand finds its way into my camera bag, car, and house. Bring a small sheet or blanket to not only put your gear bag on, but also for the clients. It’s a win-win situation for both of you and they will view it as a nice gesture.
3. Gear matters.
As a self-taught photographer, I started at the bottom. My husband and I invested in a Canon 60D as well as a Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC lens. This was a great starting point but when we upgraded to a full frame body and the Sigma 50mm 1.4 ART lens, it was like heaven on a photograph. The sharpness was exquisite. The noise was minimal. The detail was ravishing. That being said, gear matters. I knew how to take a proper photograph, but the upgrade in gear took a “good” image and made it “great”. The gulf coast brings lots of challenges: rain, wind, salt, and ever-changing light. Make sure your lenses are protected with UV filters. Polarized lenses are also something to consider since they enhance the sky. The bottom line is, invest in good gear if you want to produce high quality images.
4. Communication is Key.
Don’t be afraid to ask your clients what they hope to get out of the session. When I schedule an appointment to get my hair colored, the stylist always asks “What would you like to do today?”. We need to maintain this consistency as photographers. Some families want a great family picture. Some want romantic sunset photos. Others want candid shots of their kids playing on the beach. If you are afraid to ask, they may end up disappointed with the session. If they aren’t sure what they want, a great list of poses for a typical family session on the beach can be viewed on point number 7.
5. Schedule sessions within two hours of sunrise or sunset.
Every professional photographer knows how important lighting is for a photo session. I try to schedule my hour sessions from an hour to an hour and a half before sunset. This gives me the best light of the day and ends with (hopefully) a nice colored, romantic sunset. Keep in mind, if sunset is at 7:34 pm today then it will not be black outside until nearly 8:00 pm. The importance of a camera that can handle low light and a fast lens comes into play as it gets darker outside. A great option for a full frame camera that is affordable and does great in low light is the Canon 6D. It sells for $1399 and has features such as wifi and GPS which I will discuss in point 9.
6. Create a demand for your style.
Something I have struggled with is being booked because I am being found and not necessarily because I have something unique to offer. I thrive in creative environments and strive to give every customer a dose (even if its small) of my style. I love taking lifestyle photographs in the midst of Rosemary Beach and then hitting the beach right at the end of the session. Be unique and capitalize on “you”. Some photographers use a specific filter or edit a certain way so they are known for that look. In order to be a successful photographer you have to create a brand. Once you know who you want to be, it will be much easier to become that person.
7. Common List of Poses
Since the majority of my clients are young families of up to 6 people, I have a mental list I go through to make sure we have a thorough session. Here is a layout of a typical hour session for me:
- Standing family (close together, casual – not too posey, breaks the ice)
- Couple (headshots, full length, wide, kissing, silhouette)
- Children (all together, individuals, with mother, with father, racing down the beach, walking down the beach, looking at the water)
- Girls of the family
- Boys of the family
- Walking down the beach looking at each other and laughing, walking down the beach smiling at the camera holding hands, walking into the sunset
- Family sitting with beach and shoreline behind them (mom and dad in middle with children posed equally on each side and behind)
- Jumping family – a good alternative is parents in focus with kids slightly behind blurry and jumping
- Sand dunes sitting – since I am a local and I have seen the devastating effects of hurricanes my entire life, please please please do not walk on the sand dunes. I love the look of the family about 20 feet in front of the dunes with the dunes nice and blurry (bokeh).
8. Have clear contracts with specific terms.
If you don’t have your clients fill out a contract, at least have them fill out a form on your website agreeing to your terms and conditions. I have found the following to be important:
- Deposits – Are they required and/or will be refunded at any time? We require 50% upfront. I have never had a client who paid a deposit cancel their session. I have had many who never paid a deposit cancel. If it rains and we are unable to do the session, I will refund their deposit.
- Inclement Weather Plans (Note that it is important who will decide if the session is canceled for rain. In my experience 90% of photo shoots can happen in our weather) If the weather decides not to cooperate, will you be refunding their deposit?
- What all you edit – This used to not be a priority for me until I had that horrible client who wanted every stray hair and even a jet stream photoshopped out of the image. I do not add sky overlays. I will not edit windblown hair (unless the image can be drastically improved from the editing). My clients know the beach will be windy I expect them to plan for it.
- Turnaround time – What will your turnaround time be? What happens if it’s longer? Never make false promises to clients. If it will be 1 week, give yourself two.
- Copyright release – Will you be providing them with the copyright release? Will it have a size limit (8x10’s and below, etc)? Make sure you outline these terms in your agreement.
- Model Release – Technically to use anyone’s images for advertisement, you need to have a signed model release. Even with just promoting them on your website or running a social media ad campaign, it is good to cover your business and reputation by obtaining the permission prior to the photo shoot.
9. Change poses often.
Sometimes we think a pose or background is nice…until we see it in the editing room. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket when it comes to family sessions. 5-10 images per pose is a great way to switch it up and if one of them just doesn’t wow you, it can be thrown out without sacrificing the majority of the photo shoot.
If you are like me and competiting for business in a highly saturated photography market, every bit of search engine optimization help I can get is needed. When purchasing a new camera consider one that has built in GPS. This feature takes coordinates of where you are photographing and embeds them into the meta data of each image. Google likes help when promoting photographers and if the images that are represented on your website have the GPS location of where you are marketing to, they are more likely to rank you higher than a competitor who does not.
11. Photograph the “sitting” poses last.
I always end the photo shoot with the sitting poses. Sand is not fun. Sand in undergarments is even worse and children tend to mentally check-out after they are sandy. Always approach the photo shoot with your client’s best interest in mind. For me this means wait until the end to ask them to get covered in sand. Most of the time they don’t mind and are happy to have a change of pose. The key is to ask kindly and make them feel considered and respected.
I hope you enjoyed my tips for beach photographers. Hopefully they will help you like they have helped me! To see some of my recent work, visit my beach photography website at www.beachphotosdestin.com.
If you have questions or comments regarding my photography business, feel free to email me anytime at email@example.com.
husband and wife. photographers. parents.