Capturing memorable coastal photographs, those that can evoke emotion in the viewer, are a combination of good planning, good composition, a great eye, and the always welcome touch of good luck! Most of my work is shot on Cape Cod where I am very familiar with the towns, beaches, and photo opportunities that the Cape presents – and that is key. You should be familiar with your surroundings – or subject – in order to maximize your photographic efforts.
“Your work is beautiful. But, we can easily find beautiful work – give us something narrative, something special.”
Knowing the “lay of the land” so to speak will allow you to spend your time getting the shot right instead of looking for parking, or walking an extra mile or two that you didn’t need to – and in some cases being able to avoid an onslaught of tourists. Tide charts are handy and can help determine how, when and where you shoot. Knowing sunrise/sunset times is vital as well. All will also serve to provide you a better idea of what gear (and clothing) you may need to capture the intended images.
If you have the time, do a dry run to and around the site that you want to shoot. Get out and walk it. If this is not possible, then reach out to locals, or fellow photographers, or visit your ol’ friend Google to get some tips of where it’s best to go and when to get the shot you are looking for. (TIP: Always have a protective “raincoat” for your camera and lens with you – or water resistant camera bag. Often summer coastal storms can pop up and you need to protect your gear!)
Everyone it seems loves to shoot the colors that a sunset/sunrise offers – and that presents a major challenge of successfully creating something special that will hopefully stand out and catch someone’s eye to make them want to buy your art. There’s a zillion sunset images out there, and many of them are quite bad, but still they get oohs and ah’s! Your work needs to stand out from others.
Generally speaking, I don’t really like to shoot sunsets/sunrises just due to the fact that everyone does it! But, people do like them and I do like the challenge of creating something a bit different that sets my work apart from the usual sun setting postcard image. See my portfolio “Cape Sun” at www.bobbybaker.com.
I look for different angles, or I seek out subjects to include in the image that make it tell more of a story than “it’s the end of the day and the sun is going down!” See my image “Chasing the Summer.” (above) I was on location shooting late day surf, beach, and sunset when a family running in and out of the water caught my attention. (TIP: Another key to capturing something special is to always be aware of your surroundings, of people, animals, weather, etc. and be ready to capture the unexpected!) I kept an eye on them and all of a sudden like magic they appeared symmetrically from tallest to shortest, chasing the sun setting into the ocean, as if trying to save the glorious day from ending – and I captured it. The image includes a sunset, but it’s so much more and tells a story that many can relate to.
I like to use the sunset as a supporting element to my main subject. In this case the setting sun supports the family frolicking in the summer surf. It connects, and that is what you want to target – your work connecting to your audience. In “Orleans Orange” (below) the main focal point is the unique cloud formation with the sunset once again in the supporting role. This is one way that I strive to have my work differentiate itself from the usual, boring (to me) “beautiful, scenic, postcard, sunset” images.
IMPORTANT: Be patient! Once the sun goes down, the excitement often just begins. Frequently I see photographers shooting frame after frame while the sun is descending. Yes, there may be some wild color, but the sun is still very much alive and bright and washes out much of the image with a big round white sun; I don’t find that appealing. I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have written off a sunset as “not happening tonight” only to have my wife/assistant tell to me hang on and wait a bit longer. And then the sky EXPLODES! This very thing occurred just a couple of weeks ago on the Cape where I would have bet a bunch of money that there would be no color on this night; a very “blah” sunset with next to no color. And just as I was about to pack up my gear, the sky began to get red, and then it just literally exploded with vibrant, amazing reds and oranges and kept getting better and better….and of course she said, “I told you so!”
(TIP: Use a tripod! I used to shoot 99+% of the time handheld. When light became an issue I just cranked up the ISO. This was fine, but usually resulted in additional noise in my images that I had to deal with later in post-processing. A hand injury necessitated that I use a tripod, and guess what? Yup – sharper images, better IQ due to maintaining lower ISO, and additionally, you’re all set to try some longer exposure effect shots while shooting on your tripod using a remote shutter release!)
Years ago following a portfolio critique I was told, “Your work is beautiful. But, we can easily find beautiful work – give us something narrative, something special.” That was important advice that caused me much thought. At first I was confused; wasn’t it my goal to create beautiful images for people to enjoy? Over time I understood that my mission had to be to create images that did indeed tell a story or caused thought in viewers allowing them to develop their own story. I believe that this should be your intended target, too, if you want to succeed in not only having your work connect with viewers, but to inspire them to buy your art.
With the thought of selling your work, it’s vital that people KNOW of your art! Hopefully, you have a website to showcase your photographs. There are many options of next to no cost to more expensive feature laden website options to choose from (Google “websites for photographers”). A website alone with few viewers does little good. Use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) and your friends word-of-mouth to share your work and to spread the word. Many photographers have gotten their work recognized by way of Instagram and YouTube, too. Try email-marketing as well. The beauty of social media and email-newsletter services today is that it doesn’t cost a fortune to get the word out about your work. I know of people who are successfully doing business with free low feature websites and minimal expense email services.
Word of mouth is very important. The more people that you can get to see your work the more people can talk about it to other people. The image at the top of this article, “Color Over P-Town” was used by an advertising agency as a 32 foot billboard for a promotion at a major international airport. I didn’t solicit this account, they contacted me. My Cape Cod work has become well known and the agency searched out my website and my work. This kind of thing has happened on quite a few occasions. It’s a matter of getting your work – and your name – out there. It needs to be seen to be heard!
How can you expand the visibility of your work, you ask? Enter online contests, join your local art association and participate in as many exhibits with them as you can. Many art associations have juried processes for membership where your work is reviewed by highly qualified artists and judged for membership acceptance. This can be a very valuable process, especially if you are provided with a critique of your work following the jury process. Many of these art associations will also list your website on their site resulting in more traffic to, and visibility of, your work. Join local camera clubs where you can interact with fellow photographers, critiquing one another’s work and growing while gaining exposure. Search out local photo contests from newspapers, businesses, and fairs and participate.
In today’s world where everyone has a camera (e.g. iPhone, etc.!) it does take more planning, creativity, and skill to stand out. And in some ways, that makes it even more fun and rewarding when you do! Accept the challenge and enjoy creating your art.