#564. Welcome to the beach

By pascaljappy | How-To

Mar 01

Is the beach a better opportunity for street photography than the street itself? Reader Steffen Kamprath provides a compelling answer, following our call to contributions : A Force for Positive Change. Beyond the great photographs, I love the arguments and references. Thanks Steffen.


Hello fellow photo enthusiast,

my name is Steffen Kamprath. I’m an amateur travel photographer from Berlin, Germany. This is my first guest post for DearSusan in a series of more to come. As I grew as a photographer over 20 years, I constantly challenged myself with ideas on how to evolve. Pascal is kind enough to let me share my thoughts with you, dear reader, as an opportunity to grow together.

In my first article, I want to write about photography at the beach and the fun it brings to me. If you like what you read and saw, you’re welcome to drop a line in the comments here and explore my Flickr page.


Lovely, but not quite what I want to talk about … Navagio/Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos (Greece)


From the street …

Street photography is everybody’s darling. Everybody admires the grand masters of the genre, whole camera systems are dedicated to it, as well as  companies and brands. Every day millions of photographers hunt for random chance encounters, little gestures, interesting characters, and their perfect framing — on the street, in cities.


Relax! It’s laid-back … Punta Est Beach, Capo Coda Cavallo (Sardinia, Italy)


… to the beach

Now let me change your perspective on this genre a little bit. When you cut the street out of Street Photography, the most common grounds are candid human interactions, raw human emotions, and human characters. In my opinion, the beach is a better place for all this to happen. Now, Beach Photography (if that term really exists) is very often associated with dads snapping their family shots on holidays or photos of the actual beach. But why not approach the beach as you would the street?


Interested? Listen! … La Cinta Beach, San Teodoro (Sardinia, Italy)


Well … to be honest, Beach Photography — or Photography at the beach or Street photography at the beach — is nothing I invented. Martin Parr and his famous book The last resort should be on everybody’s mind (and shelf). Tony Ray-Jones did it even prior to him. Bruce Gilden’s and Robert Frank’s portraits of Coney Island are also general knowledge. But for some reasons, it’s not a common theme for today’s street photographers. I personally think it’s a missed opportunity and so much more fun than cerebral street photography.


Looks like fun, isn’t it? … La Cinta Beach, San Teodoro (Sardinia, Italy)


Why “cerebral”? Why “fun”? In my opinion, street photographers spend too much time, defining their personal scope and code of practice. To a certain degree, this focus is necessary for progress (and a personal branding too). On the other hand, this limitation is restraining and cerebral.


Restraining like his swim trunk — more or less … Liscia Ruja Beach, Costa Smeralda (Sardinia, Italy)


What really captures me about these afore-mentioned photographs, though, is the humor, the situations, the stories shown, to which most of us can light-heartedly relate. Just compare Bruce Gilden’s work from Coney Island with his other work: same artist, similar technique — completely different reactions and emotions! Martin Parr could have photographed *The last resort* completely grimy, cynical, and hopeless (it was the 80’s after all). But he didn’t. They’re comical, droll … maybe ironical … always gentle, never negative, always positive — Maybe because he’s British …


British … La Cinta Beach, San Teodoro (Sardinia, Italy)


… or maybe because you can’t do otherwise on a beach. It’s that positive attitude and feeling photography on the beach sparks inside the photographer and ultimately transmits to the viewer. People say, whenever you’re afraid in a presentation, imagine the audience to be naked (though, I never tried it). How can a bold man with back hair in swim trunks be frightening? How can the muscular, tattooed guy building sand castles with his daughter make you feel uncomfortable? This is the magic of beach photography: You have all these characters, doing things in a relaxed environment. Absolutely photo-worthy situations non-stop.


… like this shopping spee on La Cinta Beach, San Teodoro (Sardinia, Italy)


My approach

As with all kinds of documentary photography, it’s best to blend in. Swim shorts-only do the job here. A small camera is also beneficial. And I prefer a one-lens setup, like a 21 or 35 mm eqv. FF lens. With that, I can go in very close and still show context. And I can go very wide and create those marvelous wimmelpictures where things happen here and there and everybody is doing things.


Eek! And they all look in the same direction! … Cala Mariolu Beach, Gulf of Orosei (Sardinia, Italy)

For some reasons, my eyes can’t leave the center … Navagio Beach, Zakynthos (Greece)

In street photography, you often have to take control over colors by removing them at all. In that regard, colors on the beach are much more controlled but bold and lively. They mostly only come from swim suits, sun shades and towels. The rest is white (sand) and blue (water, sky) and a little bit of green (vegetation beyond dunes). To me, beach photography is all about the colors and — due to mid-summer and high-noon — high contrast. It can be challenging but, in general, the quality of light is much better than in a sunny city of the northern hemisphere.


So easy, even an iPhone can handle the light … Navagio Beach, Zakynthos (Greece)


What else?

The good thing about beaches is, they exist everywhere, in all different shapes and manners, temperatures and climate zones — and all at the same time. There’s always summer somewhere on the planet and a beach’s waiting for you. And remember: Beaches are not only located at the sea, but also on almost any lake or river near by.


Sunset in Moalboal, Cebu (The Philippines)


Beaches are also not only interesting in midsummer but also in winter, frozen, in autumn/spring with huge waves, during fog, storm, flood, cold summers, warm winters, at golden hour, blue hour, mid-night or noon … Beaches are extremely versatile in that regard.


Midsummer or winter? Who knows? … Hiddensee, Baltic Sea (Germany) (It actually was August 🙁 )


Furthermore, the beach is often not only the beach-only. Think about beach bars, lounge areas, hawkers, coastguard stations, sports fields, water sport rentals, harbors, backwater lakes … Many new opportunities for motifs, locations and backdrops.


… like this Flamingo colony in a brackwater lake at Cala Brandinchi Beach, Sardinia (Italy)


For now, I’ll leave you with some random beach inspirations. Summer is coming to a place near you. I hoped I could inspire some of our dear readers to join the sunny side of beach photography soon.



Email: subscribed: 4
  • NMc says:

    Thanks for your article, I think you have captured the relaxed informal social setting very well in some of these shots.
    With regard to a street photography approach to beaches, I think you would need to be careful in many places. Your text suggest a more European &/or extrovert beach culture is the norm, I think if your tried to do this photography away from typical tourist beaches you may get some bad responses from other users.

    Having said all that; I try to include tourists as a natural part of the scenery for photographing anywhere they are a usually always present. I have not succeeded in producing any work that I feel is worth sharing, it is just that trying to exclude or avoid them usually produces somewhat dry and false sense of the place in the results.
    Regards Noel

    • artuk says:

      It’s funny that I often try very hard to avoid people in some types of photograph, such as landscapes or city scenes. That is in part because I like the desolate look of seeing places that are normally busy without people, but also because images without people may have greater sales potential if you shoot stock photos (pictures with people without a consent form can only be used for editorial purposes).

      I agree that other beach user’s attitudes could be a problem – the beach is in some ways a quite intimate place where people dress and behave in ways they never would in their normal lives, and as a result although they may seem uninhibited, they perhaps may also be on their guard. I remember a friend telling me that someone had tried to photograph him (alone) at the beach without asking, and my friend reacted very badly and was highly suspicious of the motives. With any kind of public photography of people, you should always be sensitive to the local culture, social ‘norms’, and how people may feel about and react to being photographed.

      • Steffen says:

        Any kind of documentation photography is hard to sell as stock photos anyways. Beach is no different from that. However, if you can avoid faces or distinguish body features, you eventually end up with some nice moods.

        For the second paragraph, I totally agree and am sorry if my post above could misinterpreted for something different. I just didn’t want to blow this up because to me it’s common sense to any kind of public photography. I expect a certain level of empathy of any photographer that shoots in public places.

    • Steffen says:

      Hello NMc, you may be right with European/extroverted beaches. But I experienced the same positive mood also in Asia, US, South America and Arabia, including super privacy-concerned Germany. But of course I’m not talking about small, solidary beaches where people go to hide and relax. You wouldn’t go to a family house area for street shooting, right.

      In general, you will face similar situations like with any kind of public photography. Just because your subjects and you are in a more relaxed mood, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Lurking around in the background like Lord Muck with your super-tele-zoom, NatGeo vest, and Lionel Richie memorial sunglasses acting like Lord Muck … you will look suspicious 😉

      There’re some things you should never do on a beach. But they’re all within common sense. Of course, you’re invading personal privacy on a beach partly more than on a street. You should be aware of that. However, from a photographer’s perspective: The opportunities are amazing and worth trying (just like street photography, street portrait or extreme sports, photojournalism, war photography, etc. pp.). If you feel your actions could offend any one, just stop it. People first, photography second – always. Everybody should feel comfortable.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I’m adding this one to the list of subjects I must practice – I should be ashamed (but of course I’m not 🙂 ) – I live less than a kilometre from the Indian Ocean, it’s something that figures large in my daily life, I regularly drive past it – seeing everything there, making mental notes of photo opps – but where are the photos?

    One that I want to do is the young guys on their wind sails – on a good day, the sky is thick with them, for hundreds of metres along the coast.

    I think I’d be too shy to take a *Beach Photography* shot of the teenage couple who I saw “going hammer & tongs”, at 11:am on a Saturday morning, about 10 metres further along the beach from where I’d left my towel etc – but there are plenty of other relaxed and unposed figures on your average beach.

    Early morning and late afternoon bring out the fishing crowd, too. And of course the “surfies”, with their boards – the sailboarders, who literally fly through the air, from time to time – the ever changing colors of the sea and the sky – the backdrop of sailing craft and other vessels.

    • Steffen says:

      Thank you, Jean! That was my intention: To motivate some readers to grab their cameras and try it out because it’s fun and rewarding. Though, you have a lot more opportunities than just people snoozing on the beach. Landscape, fishermen, surfers … as you said.

      You’re a lucky man to live so close to the Indian Ocean. I’m jealous. However, I experienced to overlook close/daily things easily. I always use the visits from friends & family to explore my home city. Otherwise I’d stuck in daily routine 🙂

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        That’s very profound, Steffen. A while back, there was a bit of discussion on that very issue – of whether we ignore our own surroundings and go for the grass on the other side of the fence. There was a book about Australia when I was younger, called “The Tyranny of Distance” – pointing up the isolation of this vast (almost empty) island continent, as far away from most other places as it’s possible to get. And most of my “serious” photography is done in Europe – which I cannot do anywhere near as much or as often as I’d like to. So I accept the isolation and do what I can with what’s available.

        The result is I am generally “practicing” all the time, on various different things that I can photograph here. One is actually stuff I find in my own local pocket-handkerchief sized suburb. Another even narrower one is a study of different lighting conditions in my own street, with practically all the shots taken from roughly the same spot, using the same gear, which shows up quite extraordinary variations and is of great value to me in studying “light” and its effects on landscapes. Atmospheric conditions like dust or smoke haze, or humidity, for example, have a very strong impact on light, contrast, and tonal range.

        I’ve made one foray into doing the ocean, here – mostly, a study of sunsets – and suspended it pending the arrival of a more suitable grad ND than the one I used, to start this. I was also distracted – because as I studied the sunsets, I became acutely aware of the extraordinary range of colors in the rest of the landscape – sunsets don’t just beautify the west – they also light up the east, the north, the south – even the sky overhead – and of course the landscape underneath it all. So your article is a timely reminder that I should resume the oceanside project.

        It has distinct challenges and rewards – there’s nothing nearby to rival the cliffs along the southern coast – the islands are a long way offshore – the sand dunes are generally fairly flat (certainly most of the ones near here, are). So it’s necessary to put in a bit more effort to pick a location. And then there’s the issue of the actual sky – sunsets scream for clouds, to reflect the brilliant array of colors, but this area is famous for its blue skies. And so on.

        Ignoring all of that, the rewards are there – if I put the effort into the task.

        • Steffen says:

          I go for on-the-fly studies. Everything else feels too academic to me and doesn’t get things done. If your gear doesn’t do the job, adapt, make it work for you, and use the limitation to improve yourself. Only through constraints, humans will grow. That has always been and is also true for photography. The best gear will not make you a better photographer but bad gear will – my point of view.

          • jean pierre {pete} guaron says:

            I don’t know if you will ever see this, Steffen – I just re-read this post – seems few members of the group dig backwards through previous articles.

            I was struck by your comments in your last paragraph. I have some really great gear, some mid-range, and one “almost pocket” job with a 1″ 12.8MP sensor. I can’t lash out and buy much more than I already have, so I have to make the best of it. And it’s surprising how many of my “good photos” are taken on the less-than-perfect gear.

            As to “academic” – I’m a poor class-room/blackboard approach student – I am a “hands on approach” learner, always have been. So my learning curve is almost entirely on-the-fly. There are many paths in life – but we all arrive at the same place, in the end.

  • Steffen says:

    I go for on-the-fly studies. Everything else feels too academic to me and doesn’t get things done. If your gear doesn’t do the job, adapt, make it work for you, and use the limitation to improve yourself. Only through constraints, humans will grow. That has always been and is also true for photography. The best gear will not make you a better photographer but bad gear will – my point of view.

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