This is why it’s important to always pay attention to your surroundings! Yesterday a couple was swept to sea by a massive wave while posing for their wedding photos in Laguna Beach, CA. Thankfully both were rescued by nearby lifeguards and neither faced major injuries.

Watch the video of the dramatic events shared by ABC News below;

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Each year, a few people lose their lives on the rocky beaches of Southern California, from LA County (Malibu, etc.) to Orange County, (Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, etc.) to San Diego. (La Jolla, etc)

If you are a photographer who dreams of doing a beautiful beach photo shoot, on rocks with dramatic waves crashing in the background, please remember this very important detail: the photos you’re inspired by were likely captured VERY CAREFULLY, and with literally years of familiarity with a particular beach…

laguna beach portrait photography tide pool wave victoria castle

Simply put, do not just pick a random day and a random beach, and go for it. Good planning and preparation (and a backup plan) are crucial. Fortunately, planning ahead is not rocket science, in fact it can be done in less that two minutes using some apps on your phone.

Indeed, believe it or not, tides can be predicted very far in advance, and you can also forecast how big waves will be, too. You should never plan a beach photoshoot (especially on the rocks) for a day that is unsafe. Also, you should never bring paying clients (or any subjects, of course) to a beach that you are not intimately familiar with. If you’ve never been to a certain beach before, or even if you’ve only been once or twice on “calm” days, how do you know what it will be like if the tide is up, or the surf is high?

Here are a few tips on how to plan for safety, while still getting beautiful images…

How To Predict The Tide

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Huntington Beach, California, 2015 Mega-Low Tide | During a mega-low tide, even flat sandy beaches offer beautiful imagery!

Tides, since they are created by the position of the Moon (and Sun) relative to the Earth, can be predicted with extreme precision, months or years in advance. With a simple tide app like Tide Charts – Free by 7th Gear, a photographer (or anybody) can see the exact tide all day long, and especially obviously at sunrise & sunset.

We recommend checking the tide at the nearest location for any dates that you want to do a photoshoot on the beach, and only choose days when the tide is relatively low. You can still get great photos on the beach at high tide, however, you will absolutely want to stay OFF all rocks near the surf, and your access to sandy beaches will be limited, too.

Unfortunately, TIDE IS ONLY PART OF THE EQUATION. You must also check the surf itself, and that is much less predictable.

How To Predict The Surf

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Laguna Beach after El Nino Storm, 2017 | That’s a ~30-foot tall splash! (I was solo, doing seascape photography, not portraits!)

Surf, or the height of waves, is almost totally unrelated to the tide, and depends almost entirely on the weather and other conditions. In other words, to get right to the point- you can have a relatively low tide, and yet still have very, very big waves that make a beach unsafe.

Unfortunately, as we mentioned, the surf cannot be forecasted months or years in advance, and with free apps like Surfline, you can only see predictions for 2-3 days ahead. So, if you do a lot of photoshoots on the beach, especially with paying clients and not just by yourself, then it might be well worth it to invest in a paid Surfline subscription, or any other surf forecast that can predict at least a week or so in advance.

The bottom line is, if the surf is high, then your photoshoot should not happen as originally planned. Either stay well away from crashing waves, (use a telephoto lens for compression!) or reschedule your photoshoot. It’s not worth risking your life, or your clients life, just for a photo!

Don’t Be Afraid To Cancel Or Reschedule A Photo Shoot

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Clearing El Nino Storm, 2017 | This is the exact spot where dozens of people stand, on safer days!

It might seem like a huge hassle or even an impossibility for your clients/subjects to have to reschedule a photoshoot that they’ve been planning for weeks or months. They likely got their hair done, shopped for wardrobes, and took time off work. Still, none of that should amount to a decision that risks anyone’s life!

This is why it’s extremely helpful to not only choose a date when the tide is low, but also check the surf repeatedly, and if necessary, cancel/reschedule a photoshoot a couple/few days in advance, NOT on the day of the photoshoot.

If you approach it this way, and if you’re honest with your subjects from the very beginning, then they will appreciate you looking out for their safety and their best interest, instead of being upset at you for cancelling at the last minute.

If you absolutely must take pictures on a certain day, even though the waves or weather are just not cooperating, you can always take pictures much further away from dangerous areas. Again, to all the professional portrait & wedding photographers out there: managing your clients’ expectations ahead of time is key!

No Photo Is Worth Risking Life

The bottom line is that no portrait (or selfie) is worth risking anyone’s life for. Play it safe, and never turn your back on the ocean!