Building a concept and developing your style
TECHNICAL mastery, an eye for a killer composition and an understanding of light will let you take any number of great shots, but if you want to pursue coastal photography as an important element of your portfolio then carving out a niche and making your shots stand out from the crowded host of seascape snappers is vital. This is where the rather nebulous idea of ‘concept’ comes in, and it can often be the area of photography that really stumps those just starting out in the hobby, or looking to move from keen amateur status to part-time pro.
Look for the narrative
You may occasionally hear of someone who refers to themselves as a ‘conceptual photographer’. There is a view that this places them in a group distinct from ‘technical’ photographers who are more concerned with apertures, filters and sensor size. But in reality we should all strive to have a foot firmly in both camps. The technical side of photography allows us to turn the ideas in our heads into tangible images, but where do those ideas spring from?
Anyone who studies photography will hear about ‘narrative’ in photographs. Essentially, this is telling a story through the medium of photography. Coastal landscapes are perfect backdrops to this narrative
concept. They change from season to season and sometimes even from hour to hour. They represent man’s struggle against the forces of nature, as well as our impact on the environment, and they offer so much variety, from intimate details and textures to giant vistas.
Build a story
How do you begin to develop a narrative approach to your coastal photography then? A good starting point would be to really get to know a piece of coastline intimately. Repeatedly revisiting the same area will let you document the way it changes throughout the seasons and record the way in which the weather can completely transform the coastal landscape.
Another approach could be to create a series of images that document every aspect of your chosen coastline. Look for the little details such as textures in the rocks or sand, then pull out a little and bring in some of the broader environment before finishing with a grand vista that takes in the whole scene. Working in this way will give you a classic triptych that tells a story across three pictures.
There’s more to coastal photography than burning sunsets and long-exposure seascapes. Coastlines are perfect for anyone seeking a minimalist aesthetic, the range of colour tones is usually quite limited and seascapes are generally devoid of too many distractions. The serenity of the coast on a flat-lit, overcast day creates the ideal environment for minimalism.
And if breaking your coastal pictures down to pure line and form is appealing, then the obvious direction to go in is mono. Black & white photography is perfect for showcasing the graphic drama of the coast, and any type of coastal picture, usually taken in colour, can be considered for a mono treatment. Long exposures are hauntingly beautiful in black & white,
COASTLINES ARE PERFECT FOR ANYONE SEEKING A MINIMALIST AESTHETIC...
while the visceral power of the sea and weather gains a new dimension when rendered in simple tones of grey.
Seek human interest
You could fill several portfolios of coastal photography without taking a single shot that might suggest that any human had ever passed through the scene. Coastal landscapes are so impressive that they generally speak for themselves, but the coast is often a working environment and our interaction with it can be a source of inspiration for great images.
Old rowing boats, rotting away to their wooden bones, make incredibly romantic studies, while the man-made detritus that washes up on beaches, such as fishing nets and floats, could make a project all of its own – and could take on a certain beauty if rendered in black & white.
Have a vision
Setting out on your coastal shoots with a clear vision in mind is a great way to discipline your working practice. Researching the location, taking inspiration from the work of the top shooters in this field and honing your technical skills to the point where they become second nature will all allow you to concentrate on the important task of getting the best shot you can, no matter what the conditions thrown at you.
And when it all comes together to produce a coastal photograph that you can rightfully be proud of – and possibly leads to a whole portfolio of stunning images – the satisfaction will be immense.
Above A classic black & white treatment enhances the graphic nature of this coastal shot.