Beach Engagement Photos: Tips & Ideas

May 24, 2021

Kathryn Cooper Weddings | Destination Wedding Photographer | Beach Engagement Photos

Beaches offer a fun, stress-free, colorful setting for your beach engagement photos. If you’re looking to do your photos on the beach, these ideas will help your session go swimmingly. [You can groan now.]

Let’s get straight to it: Here are tips, locations, and photo examples that will help you get the best beach engagement photos possible. Picking the best beach is just one part of it!

Tip #1: The Best Time of Day

If at all possible, do you beach engagement photos in either the early morning (10 AM or earlier, generally) or early evening (4-5 PM onward). Early morning light and early evening light are the best because they have softer, diffused light that won’t cast harsh shadows in your photos. You may not look at someone and think, “Dang, that person has harsh shadows going on!” but trust me, us photographers do. Plus, mid-day at the beach means more people, more sweat, and fewer colors in that ocean/sea/pond/lake/river water.

Generally 90 minutes – 3 hours is good for beach engagement photos, though if you’re having multiple outfits in multiple spots, you may want more (I always do at least 2 hours).

Tip #2: You Need Variety

Engagement photos at the beach are fun and casual, but you’ll want some variety, too. Choose a beach that also has [walkable] forests, hills, mountains, flowers, gardens, rock formations, or other points of interest nearby. Or, choose a beach that offers something different from only the typical sand-sea-palm trees look.

Exhibit A: This beach engagement photoshoot at Sutro Baths in San Francisco. It’s not a traditional beach, but it’s darn cool! The old ruins (which used to be an actual bathhouse—click here to read more on the history) have nearby ocean views, Golden Gate bridge views, forests, graffiti, and labyrinths to take photos around. It’s not your typical beach!

Sutro Baths where to elope in the USA 2020

Tip #3: Here’s What to Wear

Beaches generally have really bright sand and green/blue waters, so you may want to steer away from super light pastels, whites and variations, and light blues. Yes, I photograph tons of beach weddings and destination weddings right on fantastic beaches—which means lots of white and black—but if you can do something else, try it! Reds, purples, medium pinks, navy blues, emerald greens, oranges…there are lots to choose from out there. Generally large patterns or solid colors work much better than small, busy patterns. And you definitely don’t want words on anything you wear! That will distract everyone from looking at YOU.

If you and/or your partner are wearing dresses, make sure you wear bike shorts or swim suit bottoms underneath. There’s usually more wind on beaches, and you’ll be constantly trying to hold your dress down in photos. Get a long dress that can’t blow up revealing granny panties, or buy some Spanx/bike shorts.

You’ll want to have a more sundress/casual look on a beach, but you can also go fancy if you don’t mind sand everywhere!

Tip #4: Choose the Right Photographer for Your Beach Engagement Photos

Photographing at different locations requires different tools and techniques, and taking engagement photos at the beach is no different. I used to work full-time in both Hawaii and the Caribbean as a photographer, so I’ve photographed hundreds of people on beaches. Now I’m more often in New York, New Jersey, or California, but I still photograph on beaches all over the world! Some of my favorite are in Malta, Italy, Malaysia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Oregon, California, and Hawaii—though I’ve photographed at beaches all over. Your photographer will need to know the best times of day, will need to use a special polarizing filter or ND filter to bring out the colors of the water and sky in the bright light, and will need to understand flash techniques if photographing during sunset. Make sure you hire the right engagement photographer for your beach photos AND your wedding (well, obviously!).

Worried about what to do? Your photographer will have all the suggestions, such as splashing around, piggy back rides, setting up a picnic, walking ankle-deep, making silhouettes, and more. Check out my engagement photography poses guide for ideas!

Tip #5: Here’s What to Bring

For your engagement photos on the beach, bring a bag with:

  • Towel
  • Flip flops or sandals
  • Comb
  • Sunscreen
  • Waterproof case for phone
  • Sunglasses/hat/accessories
  • If wearing makeup, powder—that sun is BRIGHT
  • Any fun personal items, such as a sign, a flag, your koozies…
  • A refreshment, such as water, beer, or wine
  • A blanket to lay down on

You may not want to bring much of anything on the shoot, but if you are parked near where you’ll be doing the photos, or if you’re on a more deserted beach, bringing a bag with the essentials I listed above will really help make the photoshoot more comfortable. Because let’s face it: Sand gets EVERYWHERE and you’ll smell like salt & sea until you shower.

Tip #6: Where To Go for Your Beach Engagement Photos

If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, then go for it. In general, I like to photograph at far ends of any particular beach, because there are usually fewer people, it’s easier to find each other there, and there’s usually a point of interest, such as rock outcroppings, cool birds, tidal pools, trees, or coves.

If you’re completely open as to where to take your beach engagement photos, ask your photographer! Obviously tropical beaches are amazing, so I highly recommend the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, The U. S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, all of Hawaii, Mexico, etc. But where might there be beaches that you didn’t think of?

Some of my favorite tropical areas that aren’t near to the U.S. include Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Malta, Italy, and more.

Within the U.S., you can get really beautiful (but sometimes cold) beaches in ALL of the coastal states, though I’m partial to Maine, Oregon, California, Florida, and islands around the Carolinas. I’ve also photographed on the Jersey Shore, the Connecticut shore, Delaware, and more, and people rave about beaches in parts of Alabama and Texas (though I haven’t been to those coasts).

If I had my ultimate choice and an unlimited budget, I’d do my beach engagement photos at one of these epic spots:

  • Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
  • Gozo or Comino, Malta
  • French Pyranees
  • Oregon’s Coast
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Big Island or Kauai, Hawaii
  • Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
  • Whitsundays, Australia
One of the world’s best beaches: Trunk Bay in St. John, USVI. I’ve photographed many weddings and elopements here!

Tip #7: Be Prepared to Get Wet

If you’re taking engagement photos on the beach, here’s a pro tip: You’ll probably get wet. Ditch any nice shoes and anything you don’t want to get wet. Leave your phone, your high heels, and your velour dress, because it’ll all get wet most likely. Beach engagement photos should be FUN, so the chances that splashing will occur are…well, high.

Tip #8: Be Safe!

Even the most beautiful and calm-looking beaches can have dangerous rip tides, sneaker waves, or freak waves, so make sure wherever you’re taking photos is safe. Hey, no one wants to read these parts, but they are vital in keeping you AND our environment safe. Be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles, so try to leave those beautiful little shells (which usually have little crabs still living inside!) alone. And watch where you walk, both on the beach and in the water, to make sure there are no crabs, urchins, jellyfish, or megalodons around. You get me.

Tip #9: Make It Even More Fun!

Want to take your beach engagement photos up a notch? Your engagement photos on the beach needn’t be basic (nor romantic and smoochy-woochy). you can do that too, but if adventure is more your style, try one of these suggestions:

You could…

  • rent a boat
  • kayak
  • canoe
  • waterski
  • ride horses
  • play frisbee
  • jump IN the water
  • snorkel/SCUBA dive (yes, I take underwater engagement photos and am SCUBA certified!)
  • go on a vacation for destination engagement photos
  • hike a bluff above the ocean
  • jet ski

So, there you have it. Beach engagement shoots are fun and low-stress, though arriving early or starting late will mean you’ll have fewer people in your shots. You’ll also capture the amazing colors of tropical waters that the Caribbean and Bahamas are famous for. If you’re doing your photos on the boardwalk or pier, sunrise and sunset engagement photos on the beach are awesome.

If you could do your engagement photos on any beach in the world, where would you pick? Let me know in the comments!

Have fun, play in the water, and enjoy. Contact me here to schedule your beach engagement photo session, and let’s go have a blast!

Kathryn Cooper Weddings | Destination Wedding Photography | Hawaii Wedding Photographer | California Wedding Photographer

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Do you know if there is any location with two white horses?

I think you could easily rent horses for horse back riding at several locations–definitely in the Bahamas, Iceland, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hope that helps!

As someone who lives in the mountains and nowhere near a beach I had no idea there were so many things to consider for a beach engagement shoot! Especially given the elements and crazy weather, plus your photos are stunning!

Ah…take me to the beach right now…so many great tips….great info for a who want to play on sandy beaches worry free!

So many good tips for anyone who wants to elope on a beach!

What fun beach photos and great suggestions! So many great beach options out there – you can’t go wrong with the beach. 😊👍 Love this!

Such great tips! I love your use of exposure and waves in your shots! Beautiful!

Woah, that first long exposure image is so cool! Such useful tips for anyone planning engagement photos at a beach. Bookmarking!

These are awesome tips! Also that first photo of the couple in the water is STUNNING!!