I love tide pools. When I was a kid on the west coast, nothing was more interesting and entertaining than seeing all of the critters in the pools. Today I live on the east coast where tide pools are few and far between and just not the same as out west. But whenever I get out to the West Coast, you’re sure to find me looking for a tide pool. I’d like to share some tips for tide pool photography.
1. Research! Use the internet to find cool tide pools. The west coast is littered with them, but they are not along every shoreline. So find out where they are.
2. More research! Know when the low tide is and even better look for the negative tides, often found around the full moon phase. This means the tide goes out further and you can get out further to more pools. Also know when the tide is coming in. You don’t want to get trapped out in the water or get hit by an incoming wave!
3. Wear the right clothes. Tide pools are located in slippery, rocky, uneven terrain. Have good shoes that grip well and support your ankles. Bring an extra pair of socks. Waterproof pants are not a bad idea. Wear your sunscreen. A rain coat is also not a bad idea. It can be quite cold or hot out there, so check the weather.
4. Not only do you need a low tide, but you need a fairly calm day. So check the weather, a lot of wind causes ripples on the water, which will not allow for clear images through the water. I prefer cloudy days to bright sunny ones – less glare. Stormy days are also not a great idea, go figure.
5. A circular polarizer is your friend. There is a lot of glare on the water and even on the critters not in the water. A circular polarizer helps cut through the glare and get beautiful colors instead of a washed out foggy image.
6. A diffuser, umbrella or dark coat to cut even more glare. Even with a calm cloudy day and your polarizer you may get glare and reflections on the water you are shooting through. I have used a black wrap to great effect by blocking overhead light. A diffuser or neutral color umbrella can help on a sunny day.
7. Some critters look better under water. Anemones look like squishy dull blobs out of the water, but are graceful, vibrant creatures under the water, provided you don’t poke them!
8. Tripod! Focusing through water, precarious positions, high depth of field, sharp images, use of a polarizer all do better when you use a tripod. This will slow you down and give you better quality images. So use your tripod or you’ll come home with a bunch of ‘almost’ images.
9.Lenses – I have generally used my macro lenses for tide pool images, but do not discount wide angle lenses to get nice shots of the environment. To tell a complete story, multiple focal lengths are best.
10. Cleaning Kit. This is salt water and the legs of your tripod are bound to get wet. You may also get spray on the camera or lenses. Use a moist washcloth to wipe everything down when you are done for the day, including the bottom of your shoes.
11. Take your time. The terrain does not allow for quick movement; don’t hurt yourself. Also take the time to see what’s in the pools. There is an awful lot to see out there, both above and below the water.
Enjoy the experience and have fun!
I have 2 workshops with my friend Rod Barbee this summer that visit tide pools. The images above are from trips like these. For more information visit: