If you're planning a day-trip at the coast you don't have to take your DSLR and a bag full of lenses to get good close up shots. The majority of compact cameras now have macro modes, some better than others, which can produce good results. The cameras are also smaller and usually lighter too making them easier to carry when you have arms full of buckets, spades and seaside treats. Plus, only shooting macro/close up shots really makes you stop and think about what you can photograph.
Above: Bolt on the pier at Whitby.
On the beach look for:
Patterns/footprints in the sand
At the harbour search out:
Chipped/cracked paint on boats
Rust on railings
Patterns in wood
Get in close to lobster pots and ropes to photograph the patterns
Capture shots of sweet treats:
Sticks of rock
Jars of old-fashioned sweets
Find your camera's shooting modes and select the Macro Mode. This is generally the one that looks like a flower and by selecting it, your camera will know you'll be working with objects close to the lens and it will also use a larger aperture so the background's out of focus. How close you can focus to your subject will depend on the camera you're working with as they all have various close focus distances.
Even if you're using a point-and-shoot camera using a tripod for close-up/macro work is a sensible idea. When you're working at close focusing distances any shake/movement is amplified and as a result, is more noticeable. As mentioned above, a tripod will reduce the chances of shake spoiling your shot and you'll be forced to slow down, so you think more about the shot you're trying to produce.
Even though you're using a tripod, when you press the shutter button it can shake the camera so use your compact's self-timer to stop movement spoiling your shot.
It may sound obvious but do make sure the right part of your shot's in focus. If your compact has the option, switch to manual focus to have more control over what's sharp and what isn't. Once you've taken your shot, use your screen to view the image, zooming in to make sure all the bits that need to be sharp are.
If possible, use a simple background that's not cluttered. This is easy on the beach when you can use the sand or position yourself so you're facing out to sea and use the water/sky as your backdrop. In busier locations such as harbours this is a little more tricky to do but by putting space between your subject and the background it'll be easier for the camera to throw the background out of focus. You could also create your own background with a piece of card or even a jacket.
Flash may seem the obvious way to go but as the flash on compact cameras is fixed, it's a bit too direct and can add too much light to the scene. If your camera allows it, you can dial down the flash but most of the time you'll be better off just shooting when there's plenty of natural light around. You can always use a reflector to direct the light and use a piece of card to shield your subject if you find there's too much light in the scene.
Visit Robert White, one of the UK's leading photographic retailers, for more information on the high-quality imaging equipment they stock.