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Five Tips for a Successful Family Photoshoot on The Beach

My most popular location request for family portraits is the beach, but can also be the most challenge location. These tips will help parents navigate their photoshoot on the beach to help make it as successful as it can!


take photos during golden hour when at the beach


The number one tip I can give to families is this - Schedule during GOLDEN HOUR! Golden hour typically occurs one to two hours after sunrise and one to two hours before sunset. Golden hour creates a softer, warmer tone that reflects beautiful across skin tones and offers soft subtle shadowing.

Lighting play a big role in creating beautiful portraits. In parks photographers can find even, flattering, beautiful lighting at almost any time of the day using the open shade created by walls, buildings, trees, etc., but on the beach, it is just you and your family. No shade. No objects to create shade. So, if you schedule your beach session for mid day you can expect harsh shadows across the face, squinting eyes, and blown out details. Yes, a photographer can bring in lighting equipment to combat the sun's harsh rays, but it is not ideal when shooting with young active kids.


Believe it or not, many beaches offer a different variety of looks, so choosing exactly where to take the portraits matters! In the Wilmington North Carolina area alone we have over ten different locations that all offer different vibes!

  1. Wrightsville Beach, South Side, Intracoastal Waterway: This area offers calm waters and boats cruising by in the distance, including an occasional sailboat. Leading out to the area are beautiful tall sea grass lined trails and lining the water's edge are sea oat filled sand dunes. I start my families out with some posed shots on the trails, then move to walking action shots, followed by some snuggle sessions on neutral blankets tucked in the dunes. If we are lucky, this spot offers some great opportunities for silhouette images backlit by stunning sunsets over the intracoastal waterway. Parking in this area can be challenge, but really so is every where on Wrightsville Beach. There are no bathrooms at this location.

  2. Wrightsville Beach, South Side, Jetty: This area offers a gazebo, softer sand dunes, and a textured jetty leading out into the ocean. While I do not permit any clients to climb the jetty, it does offer a fun element to the background of images. I start my families out with some posed shots in the gazebo, then head to the dunes for poses sitting tucked up among North Carolina's signature sea oats. Finally we end with strolls along the shore line for some more fun family action shots outlined by the changing light of the sunset. There are no bathrooms at this location.

  3. Wrightsville Beach, NC, Oceanic Pier: Any time you head to a pier at any beach you can expect it to be a bit more crowded. These areas are best to choose during the off-season like early spring or fall. During the summer these areas can be very crowded making it difficult for the photographer to capture your family, and is a big distraction to kids! Piers offer great leading lines in the background and beautiful shaded lighting underneath when the timing is right. I start my families off under the pier if the lighting is right, then slowly bring them out away from the pier for some more posed shots, then head off towards the coastline for sand castle building and slow strolls along the wave break. There is a bigger parking lot near here with bathrooms and foot wash stations.

  4. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, Downtown: Although not a beach, this area still gives off a beach vibe! The main street of downtown Wrightsville Beach offers fun lifestyle options and beautiful murals. Families can make this a fun moment of ice cream, laughs, and hand in hand walking with fun vibe! This area can get very crowded, so this should be chosen during the off season and works best with older children who wouldn't run off into the street.

  5. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, Johnny Mercer's Pier: This is another HOT spot for tourists and can often lead to very crowded backgrounds. This has a similar look and feel as Oceanic, but has the added benefit of nostalgia due to the iconic nature of the pier. Anyone who know Wrightsville Beach, knows Johnny Mercer's Pier! I start my families off in front of the pier and slowly work my way to under the pier, and eventually down to the water line for some fun splashing photos. Sometimes we can even incorporate the "beach town" feel by venturing up to the road to take some photos among the beach restaurants nearby. If clients want to go up on top of the pier there is a fee to go, but it is an option! There is a bigger parking lot near here with bathrooms and foot wash stations.

  6. Wrightsville Beach, North Side, Shell Island, Access 2: This is my most popular location. This area offers a variety of looks and is often less crowded due to the small parking lot. I start my clients off on the sea salt weathered walkway, then we head to the access entrance where there are sea oats and sand fencing to create beautiful leading lines. We continue to make our way down to the beach where we sit among the dunes, and eventually make a splash in the waves along the shore. There is limited parking here, access to bathrooms and a foot wash station.

  7. Wrightsville Beach, North Side, Shell Island, Access 2, Marsh Side: This area is only accessible during low tide, but creates adventurous family portraits framed by tall reeds and beautiful sunsets! If the timing works out there are some stunning palm trees that when paired with the sunset create a visually appealing silhouette image that screams beach! There is limited parking here, access to bathrooms, and a foot wash station.

  8. Carolina Beach, NC, Carolina Beach State Park, Sugarloaf Trails: This park is a hidden gem offering intracoastal views and trails that create rich tones. This location is adventurous and serene all at once! The trails offer rich vegetation framed portraits, the small sandy shore is strewn with driftwood stools and grass reeds, and let's not forget the sunsets over calm waters and beautiful boats in the distance! Although this area can be very buggy and snakes are around, if you are willing, it offers a beautiful background for family portraits.

  9. Kure Beach, North Carolina, Coquina Rocks: This unique find is only available during low tide. Low tide reveals an area on Kure Beach of smooth, salt water worn rocks covered with bright green flora. The rocks can be slippery, but with careful footing offer a stunning and unique background for family portraits. This location does require a little walking and is not recommended for small children.

  10. Fort Fisher Historic Site, Fort Fisher, North Carolina: This area is super special to me, because it is where I got married! Fort Fisher is strewn with the icon tree of the south, the twisted live oak as well as wood fences to pose against, a small beach if the timing is right, open grass fields, and rock jettys. It has it all!

  11. South end of Carolina Beach/Kure Beach/Fort Fisher, NC, just beyond the Southport Ferry: Perhaps one of the most remote areas out of all of the above mentioned, this hidden location is for adventurers! So many fun places to hike too that create different looks from driftwood to jettys to tall marshland grasses and tiny hills to climb. Although, adventurers beware, there is a lot of wildlife, bugs, and even cactus! Which I found out the hard way, ouch!


Once timing and location are established, the next thing you will want to tackle is attire! The first thing I always ask clients is, what will you be doing with the images. If the answer is ever that they want to create a wall portrait, then I immediate encourage them to choose outfits that compliment the room they will be displayed in. You will not want to hang a portrait that doesn't fit your aesthetic. After that, I urge clients to choose outfits with the following things in mind:

  1. Coordinate, don't match. Choose a main color and an accent color. Encourage all family members to choose clothing in either of those two colors.

  2. Dress for the weather. Make sure to plan backup outfits for a change in weather. (Cardigans and sweaters over sundresses, etc).

  3. Don't worry about shoes for most locations.

  4. Avoid logos, words, stripes, pictures, and only use one pattern if you want to have a pattern.

  5. Mix in textures to create visual interest.

  6. I love navy for the beach, but have also seen reds, aquas, and pinks done and they look stunning too!

  7. Be okay with your outfits getting wet!

  8. Moms, wear under shorts if you choose dresses, but also be mindful, windy days will sometimes create strange movement of dresses with flow (imagine the dress being wrapped around your legs and in between!) So I encourage a pants outfit backup in case of windy days.


As an adult, you understand what a photo session is, and you know what to expect, but kids do not. When they go to the beach, they associate it with play, with freedom, with getting sandy and wet! Make sure the days leading up to your session you begin talking to you children about the upcoming family portrait session and what behavior you expect from them. I even suggest going as far as doing some role playing! Let them know ahead of time they are not permitted to run, play, or get into the water until you or the photographer say they can. Letting them know this ahead of time will prepare them and hopefully avoid some meltdowns. Let them know what will happen when they do listen well and how much that will mean to you.

If you are able to, visit the location in the days leading up so they can understand your expectations even more.


The pressure to create picture perfect portraits is as hard on the photographer as it is the parents and children. Just know in the end you want to make sure that family portraits are fun. If the kids are not smiling, not posing, no sitting still, then yelling at them will not leave a good taste in their mouths for future sessions. Vow to have fun and relax, and see where the moment takes you. If posing isn't working your photographer will most likely switch to lifestyle or may even put the camera down to work on connecting with the child. In the end what matters most is that it was a positive and fun experience, capturing what life is like at that moment. If the session does not go as smoothly as you liked you can always consider another session down the road that suits the child better (new location, or choosing a longer or shorter session time) - the important thing is that they are having fun so they can look forward to a new session next year (or next month!).


Anything can happen on the beach. Hopefully these additional tips will help guide your family to a successful family portraits on the beach whether its at Wrightsville Beach or farther down south in Fort Fisher!

  1. Weather can change quickly. (hot, cold, humid, misty, windy) Prepare outfit options and style hair so it can stay out of your face.

  2. Choose outfits in plenty of time! Do not wait until the last minute.

  3. Make sure your child has worn the clothes before in case you discover they are itchy or uncomfortable.

  4. Mamas - book an appointment for hair and make up!

  5. Don't forget to make sure nails are clean and either polish removed or freshly painted. Don't forget those toes!!

  6. Feed your kids before hand.

  7. Make sure everyone has hydrated throughout the day leading up to the session.

  8. Use restroom before your session.

  9. Bring a fun, neutral prop to distract younger children.

  10. Be open to being silly, getting wet and of course getting sandy! If you or your child does not like wet, ocean, or sand, I recommend choosing a non-beach location.

  11. If you want to bring sand buckets, beach balls, or any sand toys, avoid ones that are brightly colored!

  12. Lightly dust feet and legs with baby powder, this will help deter sand from sticking.







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