If I had a dollar for every beach photos I have in my hard drive, I’d be rich by now. Beaches are my haven, and I don’t wanna sound annoying, but they’re my thing. Summer or not, I’ll find my way there, and I will make it for damn sure that I have photos no matter what.
I may not be a photographer, but Instagram gives me a chance to explore my creativity. And although many might assume that all beach photos look the same, I completely disagree. For one, not all beaches are ever the same, and two, it all comes down to creativity. Now before you go rolling your eyes saying who the eff is this wannabe photographer, let me be clear that I’m not claiming to be a pro. Not a photographer, and definitely not a model. I don’t even claim to have great photos because I know there’s always room for improvement. But I’d like to think my creativity and originality has somehow helped me develop my skills behind and in front of the camera. I like to believe that because I have so much fun with it, I manage to produce fun content that really is expressive of who I am.
Because it’s a fun subject for me, I’d like to share with you what I know based on my trial and errors, and also based on tips I have learned elsewhere. I’ve published a How To Guide on solo travel photography in the past (Read: The Art Of Taking Photos Of Yourself When Traveling Alone) and I’ve also made a list of enviable Filipino beach babes (Read: 13 Instagram Accounts From That Will Give You The Beach Envy). You may refer to those if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas. But nevertheless, if you’re aiming for fun Instagram shots for your next tropical vacation, don’t fret! We’re all models and photographers on Instagram! You just need the right resources and inspiration.
First things first, let’s be clear here…
“Photography” = Instagram shots
“Beach Photography” = Basic bitch tropical shots
Creative = NOT candid and NOT entirely “natural”. I don’t wanna hear any complaints about “deceitful portrayal of travel”. This is for the sake of creative shots, and if you have trouble distinguishing real life vs Instagram, that’s your problem, not mine.
We all love them basic bitch shots. You’re a sucker for them, don’t even lie. Pretty blonde mermaid hair, super azure water, and sand so perfectly white. It’s hard not to double tap when you come across them in our Explore Feed, because it’s a fact– something about blue that us, humans, cannot help but be drawn to. But guess what, you don’t have to be blonde to nail the game.
This guide may seem a little extra, and if you’re not about that life, I suggest you close the tab already.
Look, I get it, we want our photos to be as natural and effortless as possible, but the truth about these beautiful Instagram shots we call “goals” is that they’re staged af. I’m not telling you it’s impossible to achieve those shots without trying too hard because I believe there’s a way to find balance. But those Instagram famous shots you see in picture perfect locations with the fittest girls holding pineapples in their heads– I can guarantee you, one way or another, it took some effort.
Instagram is NOT real life.
Now in terms of the gadget…
I’ve been using my iPhone 6s because of my own lazy reasons, but I do recommend a good camera if you wanna commit to this. I use my Canon Rebel when I’m feeling quite the pro, which gives me better quality with my photos. That’s what we’re trying to aim for here. Fun, expressive, not too extra, and high quality amateur photography. Like I said, we’re all photographers on Instagram. Anyone who has a camera can be a great photographer. But here’s what you cannot ignore– it all comes down to execution. So you can be the hottest babe in town with the finest piece of camera, but if you can’t execute your creative idea, it’s just gonna be a sucky photo.
I. The Setting
This is why I say beach photos are never the same. There are so many ways you can shoot at even the most basic beaches. But when you’re on tropical vacation, you wouldn’t really wanna spend your time scouting for location, unless you do, and that’s ok too. Some corners may look simple and plain, but with a little bit of creativity, anything can become photogenic. Here’s a few ideas you can play around with if you’re so over taking pictures of yourself just standing on the shore. Begin by envisioning your photo when you find the perfect setting. Once you have an idea, it gets easier.
– Coconut Trees. Nothing says tropical more than coconut trees do. Standing, sitting, climbing– the choice is yours.
– Hammocks. You’re on vacation and they’re not so you better let them know that.
– Sand babe. Nothing is cuter than a babe covered in sand.
– In the water. You need proof that even if you can’t swim, you’re all about the mermaid life after this one tropical vacay.
– Underwater. Plus points if you can do underwater twirls.
– The Resort. So many Instagrammable corners in a resort. Infinity pools. The bar. The lobby. The outdoor showers. The WALLS. Etc. Utilize that shit.
– Rocks. Personally not a fan of rock pictures but they’re a nice change of atmosphere. Caves are fun too but mind the lighting.
– Along the shore. Plus points if it’s during sunset with foot prints in the sand.
– Cute little shacks. Coconut stores, food trucks, trinket shops… anything you find along the beach. Even if it’s not pink, if you can find a way to be creative with it, go for it.
– On a boat. Because you’re either fancy, or because you’re down enough to ride a sketchy traditional boat.
II. Outfit And Props
These two are just as vital as the setting. You wanna wear something that pops. Something that contributes to helping you stand out in the shot. Almost every color looks good with ocean blue, but if you’re aiming for a different setting, use the color wheel to guide you on color combinations. Warm vs cool always produce great outcome. Or to make it simpler, you can also go with a different route– when in doubt, go match your surrounding.
I usually stick with bikinis on the beach because 1.) that is literally all I wear at the beach and 2.) you can never go wrong with that. However, it’s an ongoing trend on Instagram to wear dressier cute outfits on the beach. You know what I’m talking about– off shoulders, gingham prints, flowy maxi dresses– I’ve got a whole wardrobe. I don’t, however, would really wear them on a beach. But if you do prefer this route and enjoy going on a stroll with fancier attire, I say work! There’s only one rule, really. Be you. I don’t know about you, but my photos are expressive of who I am (extra af) so just dress the way you feel.
Props and accessories are also a fun part of tropical photos. It adds a little character to the picture you’re trying to portray. Hats are the easiest accessory to work with, but a nice tropical flower in my head is definitely my favorite. Sipping on fresh coconut is almost obligatory, and a Piñacolada is a like a subtle reminder you’re on vacay. Arranging a nice beach setup with colorful beach blankets adds a nice little touch and if you wanna commit even further, you can add tropical fruits, wine, and flowers for a dreamy picnic setting. Floaties are definitely basic but it really makes the picture look even more lively. A kayak! A surfboard! The fishers! The world is your oyster!
If you wanna be more on the down low, a book is always a great prop. If you used a bicycle to get to the beach, utilize that too! Perhaps put some flowers on the basket if you wanna go the extra mile. Pineapples are another famous beach prop and you really can’t go wrong with them. There are so many things you can use to brighten up your photos. Your beach essentials— from the tote to the sunnies and speakers– sometimes you don’t even have to look very far! Let your creative juices flow– it’s fun!
III. The Poses
Whatever your style is, the movement or the pose you’re trying to capture helps portray the story you’re trying to tell. Non-candid “candids” are all the rage right now, but if you feel like smiling at the camera, then look at the damn camera and smile! Just be your damn self. My go to will always be “the laugh” or the smile while looking away. I mean, that is pretty much me in a nutshell. At least when I’m at the beach. Real life basis, that’s a different story.
To be honest, you don’t need to try too hard with your poses–
that’s what all the other factors are for. At this point, all you really gotta do is be in the picture. But again, BE YOURSELF. That is the only story you need to be telling, period. Check out my previous post to get more ideas for poses. (Read: The Art Of Taking Pictures Of Yourself When Traveling Alone)
IV. The Technicalities
There are various technicalities you need to be mindful of especially at the beach. Lighting is probably the most crucial. If you’re going for a nice pastel glow, then you might wanna plan your shoot at golden hour, which is usually an hour before sunset. I personally enjoy the lighting just during and an hour after sunrise as well. It gives you the soft tones that adds a subtle magic in your photos.
Pastel feed is all the rage right now, but here’s where it gets tricky. Those lightings doesn’t really emphasize the true colors of the ocean, which can be a bummer if that’s what you’re trying to show off. I live in the Philippines so damn right, the bright gradient of the water is what I’m trying to gloat about in my shots. These colors usually pop out when the sun is at its brightest, so starting around mid-afternoon. The problem with this is that photos taken around this time tends to give a lot of shadow, so you gotta work your way around this. I am no photographer so I can’t give you legitimate tips regarding this except the only rule I try to follow– play around with your camera. I’ve been quite lax shooting in auto so every time I discover something new in my camera, I’m completely over the moon. Do the same and see what yours can do– just by playing around, you might already be taking creative shots that are actually candid!
Timing is actually more crucial than you think. I hate big crowds and I’m sure you wouldn’t want them in your shot as well. Being an early bird helps in a majestic way, I don’t know if I can emphasize that enough in my blog. Going on a different side of the beach or the island also has a high possibility of more privacy so just keep exploring until you get a spot. Although, the best spots are most probably gonna be taken if you come in late.
Weather is clearly vital to the success of your shoot. Cloudy skies gives a gray-ish tone but it can always be enhanced when you edit the photos later on. Too much sunlight on the other hand, can produce very harsh lighting. You can rectify this by either situating yourself on a shaded area or by simply manipulating the settings of your camera. Again, playing around is the key. You can also learn in advance by watching YouTube tutorials.
V. The Edit
I recently just started using Lightroom. I tried to make my own preset that is original and representative of me, but I wasn’t very successful. In the end, a friend of mine hooked it up with her presets and I completely fell in love with them. I added some minor tweaks to make it more “me” but my friend’s presets are pretty much the glue holding my Instagram together. She has amazing photos as well so you might wanna check her out @zipporah.b !
The photos I’ve used in this post are a mix of different filters and edits so you can pretty much see in a very cluttered form how my feed’s evolution was. Plenty of amazing IGers and bloggers sell their presets, two of my favorites happen to be @mvandersluis and @lisahomsy. But if you’re particularly feeling more creative, there are plenty of Lightroom tutorials on YouTube to get you started, the best ones of which are actually from @mvandersluis (Mel Vandersluis on YouTube).
If Lightroom is not an option, don’t stress. VSCO is the classic bae of IG. You may have to invest a couple of bucks for the better presets, but that’s completely up to you. To keep a tropical vibe, I recommend the filters C8 and E3 the best. But of course, it all depends on the mood you’re going for. I just like them because they’re very summery. If you scroll down to my older photos earlier this year, they were mostly edited with the E3 or E1 filter.
At the end of the day, photos just account to a partial amount of your memories. You don’t have to try too hard like some of us do.
However, although I can’t speak for everyone else, I actually have fun trying hard to achieve those creative shots though. I don’t feel that I’m great yet, but that’s what I love about it so much. I continue to learn while I play around and develop my creativity and originality.
If you feel like it’s a chore, to hell with it. If you feel like you’re doing it for others (the likes), it’s not worth it. If you’re doing it while hating it, trust me, don’t put yourself through that and do you instead. Again, let me remind you– Instagram is not real life! But might as well have fun with it.