Location portraits–An engagement portrait at the beach

In Southern California, the choice location for portraits is naturally the beach.

No surprise I’ve heard of photographers getting into arguments because they have their favorite spots to work and when another photographer shows up, a tuft war ensues.

I admit, it can ruin my best plans too, but my years in newspaper work has taught that thinking on your feet is as important as is NOT panicking.

The more technically savvy a photographer, the easier you’ll adapt.

In the end, technique, and your interaction with your subject that will “make the picture“, not so much the surroundings.

So when my clients April and Alan arrive late when the sun is already high, I have to adapt.

What? Am I’m going to cop an attitude and make them drive back to this location ( an hour’s drive) when the sun is right? I may think that, but I’ve scouted my location well enough to know I have other options.

The picture on the left shows the extreme contrast I had to deal with.

Even with fill-flash, the scene is just terrible. Squinty eyes and horrible background.

Ambient light being 1/250sec @ f10 meant I was getting way too much depth-of-field.

I didn’t want the railing behind Alan and April to be that sharp, did I?


I asked Alan and April to walk down the beach and head towards the rocks.

Even with this more interesting setting, it was a stretch.

It was the time of the day.

Still, I had one more approach to try.

I popped open my reflector and placed it against the rock face, asked Alan & April to move closer.

This time I asked them to stand with their backs to the sun, so that they were backlit.

I changed lenses from the 80-200 zoom to my 50 mm lens.

Shooting wide open at f1.4 just completely threw the background out-of-focus.

What’s important when you’re working is this: even when you don’t see things coming together, you have to continue to praise and talk with your subjects while you plan what next to do.

Now that my reflector was out and it wasn’t windy, I decided to move them into the shadows.

Taming contrast

april_alan_finalThe previous picture with the 50 mm lens was a good start.

But the very bright background, though out-of-focus, was still distracting.

I want to emphasis my subjects, so by bringing them into the shadows and throwing light on them, I’m making them stand out.

The final adjustment I made was to pose April in front of Alan.

Alan’s white tshirt was bothering me.

I should have asked him to take the white tshirt off but I found this pose hid it sufficiently.

Tell me if you agree. Short of asking them to make the hour drive back here, what would you have done differently?