Have you ever wondered how professional photographers produce such amazing beach photos?
You may have attempted something similar, but you can’t put your finger on why your photos don’t come out looking the same? Well, aside from lighting, location, or even the models themselves… It starts with the camera lens.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the best camera lens for beach photography. Also, we’re going to touch on what makes the lens so great for a beach setting.
By the end of this article you’ll have a better understanding of what makes a great beach photography lens as well as valuable information to help you going forward.
First, let’s discuss the ideal beach photo.
The ideal beach photo - the look you’re trying to achieve
Generally speaking, there are two types of beach photography.
One of them is a landscape that consists of the beach and either a sun-rise or a sunset. These are those amazing photographs with the sun flares and the extra-sharp sand in the fore-ground. There isn’t much of anything more beautiful in a photograph (in my opinion)
The other type of photo is the beach portrait. This can include wedding, engagement, event, product, etc. All of this centered around the beach.
These photographs are amazing as well. These photos put your viewer right there on the beach. They can envision themselves there almost replacing the subject in your photo with themselves.
Both of these types of beach photos are very relevant and have their place. The reason I have created this section of this article is to address the fact this article and recommendations are geared toward both types.
You will notice as you read through the article that there are references to both types when needed. We’;ve got you covered. Don't worry!
Let’s dive into the importance of focal length!
Why focal length is so important in beach photography
Imagine for a minute. You’re on the beach, you have a subject (possibly a model) and you get everything setup. You have everything posed and the exact way you want it to look in your photograph. Everything is perfect.
Well, that’s until you look through your lens. There’s something that doesn’t seem right. You aren’t feeling the framing and attempt to adjust, but still can’t seem to find the right look.
The most common reason for this is your focal length.
Your focal length is one of the most important aspects of beach photography. You want to be able to capture as much of the scene as you can while maintaining your subject as the focal point of the image.
Compression of both the foreground and background is an aspect that’s very important in portrait photography. That’s accomplished with a specific range of focal length as well.
Let’s talk about those focal ranges.
16-35mm focal range
This is the focal range of many landscape photographers. This is very ideal for those looking to capture as much of the landscape and beach as possible. Don’t mistake this lens for only landscape though, you can get amazing wide angle portrait style shots with this as well.
This is a great focal range for wedding/event/engagement beach photos. It allows you to keep the subject in frame while capturing their surroundings.
The lower end of this focal range (50-75mm) is very similar to the focal length our eyes see. This would make it very ideal for those taking portrait shots on the beach while capturing a bit of their surroundings while you’re at it.
When you dive into the 85mm to 100mm range, you’re stepping into the semi-telephoto look. This is where you can use compression of the foreground and background to make your photograph more engaging and grounded.
This focal length is great for portraits. It does an amazing job of separating your subject from the foreground and background.
This focal range is great for capturing a single subject (or couple) and capturing the sunset behind them at the same time. All the while, separating them from their surroundings.
I wouldn’t say that anything above 100mm is useless for beach photography. But if you’re into portraits or landscapes, I find myself using anything above 100mm, rarely.
The reason you’re at the beach is to capture it within your photos. You want to show off the beach, sunset, sand, waves, etc. It can be difficult to do this with the amount of compression that anything over 100mm offers.
I’m not saying you can’t do it - what I’m saying is it may be a bit more difficult to achieve the look you’re looking for.
The best camera lens for beach photography goes to the 24mm
This decision comes from a style perspective. But, you can achieve so much with this focal length.
You’re able to achieve amazing landscape photos of the beach with this focal length. From sunrise to sunsets, the sky is the limit when it comes to a 24mm lens.
Also, you’re able to take incredible wedding and event photos on the beach all while capturing your subject and the beach, all in the same photo!
When it comes to product photography on the beach, you can achieve about anything with this lens as well. Your ability to use the natural distortion within the lens means you’ll be able to make objects closer to the lens appear larger.
Low light conditions
Another great aspect of using a prime lens (a lens that doesn’t zoom), is it’s ability in low light conditions. You’ll have the option to purchase a 24mm lens with an aperture as low as f/1.4. This will allow you to take photos past dusk (blue hour) and have amazing results.
Let’s not forget about bokeh. With a low minimum focal distance (0.16m or 6 inches) you’ll be able to place your subject very close to the lens and get great bokeh. Combine this with a great sunset on the beach… yeah, it’s amazing.
Like stated before, you can’t go wrong with the 24mm, for almost anything . I can’t recommend this focal length anymore than I already do or have.
Let’s talk about some honorable mentions!
16-35mm for beach photography
This is a great contender for the top spot. You have a zoom range of 16s to 35mm. That’s ultra-wide to wide angle all in the same lens. You can achieve sharp, amazing, landscape shots of the beach with this lens.
The only reason this wasn’t the top choice is practicality and price.
I wouldn’t want to recommend this lens over a prime 24mm because you may find yourself not using the focal lengths below 24mm. Ultra-wide is a very distinct look. It has it’s time and place in photography, and that’s it (in my opinion).
You’ll find that if you attempt to use this lens with a subject (like a bride and groom) at a focal length below 24mm; your subject will be entirely too small. They’ll get lost in the photograph. This is very apparent if you shoot at 16mm.
The price is steep
The price of the f/2.8 version is well over $2000 as well. You can find it on sale from time to time right at the $2k mark, but again, it’s hundreds of dollars less than other lenses in this article.
Regardless, I would recommend this lens for landscape photographers only (Sony, Nikon, Canon). If you are into portraits on the beach, you can use it for wide angle portraits (stylized portraits). If neither of those are your cup-of-tea, I would steer away.
24-70mm is a great contender
This focal length is considered to be the most versitile. You have some amazing focal lengths built into it. It hits 24mm, 50mm, and 70mm. 24mm is great for landscape (obviously), 50mm is great for portraits and street photography (closest to the way your eyes see the world. 70mm is almost perfect for portrait photography. I like 85-100mm for more separation.
So why didn’t this lens make it to the top? Because beach photography should show the beach. And while 24mm is recommended at the top spot, the focal lengths throughout the zoom do not.
As a lens you can leave on your camera 24/7, it’s great (Sony, Nikon, Canon). But for beach photography, specifically, it’s a bit of a waste. The best you’ll get in terms of aperture is f/2.8. Nothing lower/faster. The image results aren’t as sharp as a prime lens either.
Not to mention, it’s very expensive. But I’m sure you already knew that.
35mm is the second best for beach photography
I was torn between recommending the 35mm or the 24mm. 35mm sits in that sweet spot between 24mm and 50mm. You’ll get very similar results as a 24mm. They’re incredibly sharp lenses, can produce great bokeh (f/1.4 aperture), and all around amazing lenses. I’ve taken thousands of photographs on a 35mm prime.
But, you don’t get the wide angle look, in my opinion.
There’s just something about the 24mm that the 35mm doesn’t produce. It’s slightly tighter, requiring you to move backwards a bit more and you would with a 24mm. You get a bit more compression with this lens as well, all of which I don’t enjoy as much when taking beach photos.
Your minimum focal distance isn’t as short either. You can’t get objects as close to the lens and focus on them. This can be a bummer when doing product photography on the beach.
Let’s wrap this up!
As you can see, there are many different types of beach photography. From landscapes to portraits, there is a large need to fill between those types.
That’s why the 24mm is the most recommended. You can fill nearly all aspects of beach photography in a single lens. All of this while producing incredibly sharp, bokehlicious images.
So, imagine yourself on that beach again. Image everything is ready to go and you slap on a 24mm and start firing that shutter. Your images will be amazing. That could be your weakest link, your lens.
Thank you all so much for reading. I hope I helped you by explaining the best camera lens for beach photography. Not only just telling you, but explaining why it’s considered the best and how I could help you in your quest for that perfect beach photo!
Please leave a comment or two below letting me know what you think or if you have any questions!
Until next time, keep shooting and creating!