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The difference between a portrait session and a beach photo shoot

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

So you’re planning a beach photo shoot. You know, a group family shot, pictures of each family member and different groupings of the family, like just the parents, just the children and even different groups with grandparents. You’ve probably done it before in a photographer’s studio. Expect the same right?

Well not so fast. If it’s getting professional photography and photo finishing, yep that’s all the same. But a studio portrait session and a beach photo shoot have some stark differences.

Portraits are defined by the people in the shot, the subjects. That is, a portrait focuses on the person and makes them look their very best. You’ll find photographers using longer lenses to effectively zoom in on their subjects. Whether in a studio with a white or color-textured backdrop or a favorite outdoor location, the background takes second stage to the subjects. The background is often out of focus, muted or blurred to better highlight the people in the frame.

Beach portrait photography aligns and takes advantage of these principles, but more often than not expands beyond these basics to also include common principles of landscape photography. Landscape photography generally calls for a wider lens to capture more of the landscape scenery like the beach, water and dunes. After all, the reason portraits are taken at the beach is to capture both the subjects and their location, often with equal representation.

Here in lies a major difference between portrait photography and a beach photo session … typical portraits focus on people with little concern for the environment; beach portraits focus on both people and the environment. Not that this is a problem, but be aware that shot framing, angles and photo finishing are handled differently and become so much more important.

Control is the another difference between studio and beach photography. In a studio the photographer has complete control over, well, just about everything. On the beach, not so much. Just consider the environment. In a studio, the photographer can easily control lighting to eliminate shadows or force mood shaping shadows on demand when desired using supplemental studio lighting. In the controlled studio environment, you along with your photographer can ensure every hair is in place, clothing lies perfectly and lighting is impeccable.

A great deal of photographic control is lost on the beach. The sun is the primary light source which is harder to modify, so be prepared for some degree of shadows. Perfect hair is sometimes hard to achieve with the inevitable wind. Sounds like a big problem, huh? No, not really. A professional photographer has ways of dealing it all, like off-camera lighting strong enough to overpower the sun to get back some control that would otherwise be lost. But be prepared for some 'fly-away' hair.

So, what have we learned? Studio portrait photography is different from a beach photo shoot for even more reasons than already discussed. that's not to say that both a studio session and a beach shoot don't provide provide a 'picture perfect' experience. . . . . they both can. It’s all about setting the right expectations and working with a professional photographer that makes a beach photo shoot fun, deals with not so perfect conditions and captures the ambience of the location without sacrificing the principles of portrait photography.

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