20 February 2017

7 pro tips for coastal photography

Is your photography limited to snaps of birthday parties and holidays? For those who want to raise their game, we share inspiration and practical tips from Photographer Nathan Williams.

Nathan’s enthusiasm is infectious. He’s been part of the RNLI Film and Image Team for 10 years and has been taking photographs for longer. His work regularly appears on RNLI websites, social channels and printed materials, promoting our lifesaving work to the general public.

So is there a knack to taking good photos at the coast? Nathan assures us that anybody can do it: ‘Trial and error – it’s the best way to learn. And it helps if you have a good eye for composition.’

Plan ahead, take your time, then snap away ... Nathan Williams has some pro tips for coastal photographersPhoto: RNLI/Harrison Bates
Plan ahead, take your time, then snap away ... Nathan Williams has some pro tips for coastal photographers

If you do want some free training, Nathan strongly recommends going online: ‘YouTube’s absolutely brilliant for tutorials – from what kit to buy to more advanced skills like flash lighting.’ Some of his favourites are by Jared Polin (FroKnowsPhoto).

You can spend a fortune on cameras and gear, but you don’t have to. Some professionals are doing great things with mobile phones these days.

One big benefit is that your photo can be online instantly. Other cheap options are point-and-shoot cameras, quality second-hand ones or an old film camera.

'If you invest in one bit of extra kit, buy a tripod,' Nathan advises. 'It stabilises the camera – this is particularly useful when there’s less light, which would mean you need longer shutter speeds.

‘Work on your technique, get the basics right and, to a certain degree, it won’t matter what you’re taking the photo on,’ asserts Nathan.

A practical example: Our cover photo of Swanage Pier


1. Light: Think about the quality of light and consider the 'golden hours' of sunrise and sunset.

2. Subject: Add some interest, with a pier or a lifeboat for example.

3. Composition: Follow the rule of thirds, foreground interest and leading lines.

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Nathan’s step-by-step guide to coastal photography

1. Plan ahead: Familiarise yourself with the location, think about what you’re trying to achieve and what kit you’ll need. Avoid taking risks when taking photos near cliffs or water – visit RNLI.org/RespectTheWater for safety advice.

2. Take your time: When you’re aiming for sunrise or sunset, get there early so you can set up carefully. Patience is key.

3. Snap away: Try different compositions, move the camera around, try something that wasn’t planned.

4. Look after your lens: When changing a lens, shelter from the sand, salt and dirt.

5. Experience the moment: Have a little look up from the camera now and then.

6. Resist over-editing: Adjust contrast, brightness and sharpen, but don’t overdo it.

7. Share: Don’t just store your photographs on your computer: share them, print some out, enter competitions or create a calendar. Share your best coastal photos with us on Twitter or Instagram by including the hashtag #RNLIOffshore. Or email images@rnli.org.uk.

In the mood to put these tips into practise? Enter our #RNLIMyCoast Instagram challenge and your photos could be featured on our website! Visit our My Coast challenge page for more details, tips, and inspiration.