GoPro marketing is swamped with images and footage of epic adventures. From surfing 30-foot waves to swimming with sharks to racing down a mountain peak in pristine powder snow.
But not all of us are living life on the edge like that. And for some of us, some of our favorite photos that we will ever take are of our kids having loads of fun. They might not appear in National Geographic, but stick them on the wall, and they can bring a smile for years to come.
And what better place for pure fun than the beach?
That’s who this post is for: the person who wants to use their GoPro to take fun family shots at the beach. I’m not going to get all bogged down in technical info here. And I’m not talking about one specific GoPro model. I’m just going to suggest some tips based on my own experiences in taking many, many photos of my kids having fun at the beach. Some of these tips are obvious; some are less so. But with luck, it might just help someone capture some wonderful family moments.
If I have to take one camera with me to the beach, there’s a clear choice: a GoPro. I have plenty of other cameras, including some excellent waterproof models that are fancier cameras and more expensive. But for sheer fun and foolproof beach action, a GoPro is what I reach for. I don’t have to worry about it getting wet or banged up. And, most importantly, I’ve gotten some of my favorite photos of my kids with a GoPro—the types of shots that just bring a smile to my face every time I see them.
But I should also clarify that when I talk of family photos, I’m talking about action and candid shots. A GoPro just isn’t a good choice for a traditional family portrait with everyone decked out in their finest capris. The super-wide fisheye lens adds too much distortion and can be unflattering (linear FOV can help a little, but doesn’t really solve it). But for in-the-action shots of fun at the beach, a GoPro is hard to beat.
Top Tips for Using a GoPro at the Beach
- Get in close. And I mean really close. You almost can’t be too close. It’s obviously not always possible to do that, but if you can, it’ll make a big difference to how dynamic your photos look.
- Get down low. This is related to the get in close tip. Grown-ups have a habit of taking photos from grown-up eye level. But photos of kids, in particular, can be much more dramatic if you get down to their level. And that’s really easy to do with a GoPro, because it’s not a camera you need to look through a viewfinder. You can use a grip or selfie stick or trigger.
- Take lots of photos. Use Burst Mode or Continuous Mode. It’s going to mean more sorting the photos afterwards as you find the gems amongst all the rubbish, but modern apps can handle this pretty well, and it’s well worth the hassle.
- Be aware of where the sun is. This will also help you dodge shadows. There’s a lot to like about GoPros, but their sensors don’t have a lot of dynamic range (that’s the range of light between the brightest and darkest areas). And they will usually try to expose the largest part of the view properly. Which means that faces and bodies can be dark. There are ways to compensate for that when you’re editing the photos later, but you’ll get even better results if you keep aware of where the sun is and how it’s shining on the thing or person you’re trying to photograph.
- Keep the lens clean and clear. GoPros are great in the water, but water drops on the lens can still ruin an otherwise great shot. As can sunscreen smudges.
- Get a float. Like most cameras, GoPros don’t float by themselves. But there’s a bunch of different ways to keep your GoPro afloat, and some of them are surprisingly cheap and easy. Making a GoPro float is something I cover in more detail elsewhere on this site. But it shouldn’t be hard to find an option that works well for you.
- Get in close. Yes, I know I’ve already said this. But it really is important, especially with a GoPro’s super-wide-angle fisheye lens. And it will make a huge difference to how dramatic your photos look.
- Have fun with it. GoPro can do things you can’t do with other cameras. And there’s no harm in experimenting. So go hog wild–try it out. You might just end up with some of your favorite-ever family photos.
Things to Watch Out For When Using a GoPro at the Beach
- Sunscreen smudges on the lens port can ruin a photo.
- Sand in compartment door seals can prevent the camera from being waterproof. It’s a good idea to check the seals around the compartment doors each time you open them. Any sand or grit stuck in there can prevent a proper seal. If there’s damage to the seal, the doors for recent models are easy to get as replacement parts.
The tips I’m focusing on here mostly apply to any GoPro camera (or any other action camera, for that matter). I’m lucky enough to have the latest GoPro models on hand, but you don’t need the latest and greatest camera to get fun family photos at the beach.
If you’re looking to buy a GoPro, though, the latest models do tend to have both the newest features as well as improved image quality. While GoPro updates tend to be incremental, the improvements to image quality can make a noticeable difference in the high-contrast scenes of sun and shadow you’re likely to get at the beach.
Here are some accessories I’ve found useful for shooting family photos at the beach with a GoPro.
- SD card. If you’ve already been shooting with a GoPro, you’ll already have an SD card. But I’m putting this here as a reminder to anyone who is buying a GoPro for the trip that they’ll need to pick up an SD card separately and will need one that’s fast enough and compatible with the GoPro.
- Spare battery & charger. Even under the best circumstances, GoPro batteries don’t last long. If you’re spending a full day at the beach, or making a couple of outings, it’s easy to go through at least one and perhaps two batteries. I like to keep a spare charging back at the house/hotel so that I can swap them out when I get back from the beach and then it’s immediately ready to go again.
- Float. There’s a range of different options for keeping your GoPro on top of the water rather than sinking under the waves. Probably the two simplest are the Floaty and a floating hand grip. There are also other good options, but one way or another, a float is important to have if you’re going in the water.
- Hand strap. For much the same reason (ie. you don’t want to lose your camera) a hand strap is a must-have for me. In the rough-and-tumble of the waves, it’s easy to lose your grip on the camera, and a strap adds a lot more security.
- Trigger. This is a matter of preference for how I like to shoot in the waves, but I find a floating trigger grip to be the most comfortable and practical option for me. I find it an easier way to aim the camera and get in close, press the shutter, and it doubles as a float. I’ve tried several different trigger grips for GoPros, but the one I prefer for surf conditions is the one from the dome port (without the dome).
Using a GoPro In the Waves
My kids love body boarding (or boogie boarding). It’s like every wave is as much fun as the first one they ever caught.
You don’t need big waves to get fun photos. By getting in close and getting down low, you can exaggerate the drama of the moment. With luck, there’ll be water flying and a huge smile on their face.
I’ve tried a bunch of different combinations for taking photos of them playing in the surf. The one that has become my go-to setup is using a trigger mount. Specifically, the mount part, without the dome, from the dome. It floats, and it’s very strong. It’s also not sharp, so there’s no harm if it bumps someone in the rough and tumble of the waves.
With a wrist strap firmly attached around my wrist, my hands are still free to launch the kids on waves–I can even launch two at once. And it’s not a hassle to hold even when you’re just enjoying the moment rather than shooting.
For settings, I use burst mode and continuous photo extensively. It maximizes the chances of getting a good shot, even if it does mean that you’ll end up with an awful lot of reject images to delete.
I also recommend locking the back screen. Water can do some odd things when it contacts the camera’s touch screen. And that’s especially important if you’re using a trigger grip, because they tend to block most of the back screen.
Under normal circumstances, I usually turn off the beeps. But in this situation, I like to turn them on, and to turn them on to the loudest setting. It’s a nice bit of feedback that the camera’s working when you can’t see the screen and there’s a lot else going on in the waves.
I’ve found no perfect solution to keeping water drops off the lens. I’m in the habit of a quick, forceful blow of air on the lens right before the wave comes and then maybe a quick dab on the fabric on the shoulder of my rash guard. A water beading agent like RainX can help, but it won’t necessarily solve the issue.
Mounting a GoPro to a Body Board
It’s also quite possible to mount a GoPro to a bodyboard–GoPro even makes a dedicated mount for that. It’s easy to install, but it’s beyond the scope of this post and I’ll cover it separately. It’s worth knowing, though, that the bodyboard mount requires you to drive a hole through the board. That’s probably not an issue for a cheap board like the ones you can get at beachside stores, but it might not be something you want to do with a fancier board.
I’ve tried mounting a GoPro on my kids’ boogie boards a few times but have never been that impressed with the shots I’ve gotten from it. But you might get better results, particularly in larger waves, so if it’s something you’d like to try, it’s absolutely possible to do, and your mileage will inevitably vary.