Los Angeles. It has beaches. It has beautiful locations. If you're a photographer though, where should you shoot? This is probably the most common question that I ask myself before each and every shoot and thought it would make a great topic for a blog post. Shooting swimwear at the beach in LA requires a combination of planning, production, knowledge, and luck.
Typically, the more you know about your location ahead of time the better off you'll be for the shoot and the more prepared you'll feel. That includes everything from tides, to what the parking is like, to simply knowing where the beach is, which even as a Los Angeles native growing up is still something that can remain elusive if you don't know where to literally look.
For me and for a lot of other photographers, location can make or break a good shoot. At the very least it can add or remove elements that you may or may not want to include in your final product. In this blog I'll break some down some overall shoot location tips for swimwear and then include a few areas you might want to check out if you're new to beach location scouting.
1. Swimwear Can't Predict Weather
The most important aspect of shooting swimwear is to always always check the weather report. This is rule number one when going to an outdoor location and probably seems like a no brainer but I've had shoots pull through in the last minute because a rain storm subsided just long enough for us to get in all of the appropriate number of looks.
If it's going to be bright and sunny bring a reflector. If it's overcast, bring a strobe or a speed light to fill in some of the dull light. Weather is everything when you're at the beach and this also goes for ensuring that your model or subject is comfortable. If you're shooting swimwear and your model can't feel her toes, it might be time to leave the location.
2. Malibu Tides
It's now time for a quick story. I did a shoot at El Matador State Beach in Malibu many moons ago where the swell got so extreme that the beach lifeguard told us he had never seen waves that high before in Malibu. We subsequently left as did everyone else at the beach on this particular Saturday. The moral of this short story is simple, check the tide charts. These are easily accessible online at
They provide accurate tide data for photographers to use so that you can better plan your swimwear shoot! Pretty nifty right? This is Los Angeles location scouting 101 but something that I found to be invaluable once I knew it existed.
3. Working with a Team? Go Inside.
If you're working on a swim campaign and you have more than two people, it's important to prepare for your shoot inside or at a separate location if you can. This will not only result in a cleaner result for your images but will make your team happy with the comfort of an inside location to prepare for the sand, salt, and surf of the ocean.
Now without further hesitation, here are a few beach locations that I enjoy shooting at and a few of their pros and cons.
1. Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a great area for a cultural lifestyle shoot or anything that's a little more of a commercial vibe. The beaches tend to get a bit crowded with tourists, so making sure that you stay away from the pier during busy hours can be helpful to avoid the crowds.
Then again if you want to do something with a more populated vibe the crowds could also work in your favor. Time of day is also important here, during the day the light is pretty unforgiving while sunset can make for a range of locations.
2. West Malibu Beaches
West Malibu is probably where I frequent the most for shoots and where I'd recommend you shoot if you're serious about swimwear and live within a reasonable distance of the pacific coast highway. Malibu has a plethora of hidden coves, secluded beaches, and other fun spots to shoot swimwear and on weekdays and early morning weekends is often devoid of tourists.
Check my tips above for major Malibu recommendations. One other piece of advice I'd give is know that it will add an extra hour to your call sheet when you book in Malibu.
Both photographers and models can be flaky when it comes to free shoots, so if your shooting trade for print and don't understand why no one wants to meet you out in the boo, consider changing your location or finding a friend with a nearby pool for a more convenient option.
3. Manhattan Beach
Manhattan and Playa Del Rey is Santa Monica's slightly less crowded neighborhood. These quaint get away's that are just a stones throw from nearby Santa Monica and Venice, are perfect for a quick test and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
I go here when I don't want to deal with crowds, high tides, or complaints from other authority type figures. Manhattan also offers easier parking, a nice pier to shoot at, and plenty of backdrops if you'd like to incorporate swimwear with other types of clothing or switch things up mid-shoot.
4. Laguna Nigel
Depending on where you live in Los Angeles, Laguna Nigel is the mysterious jewel that is just out of arms reach. Way down the coast, Laguna offers pristine beaches, no crowds, and some of the most beautiful light and weather in California. If you have a reason to go shoot down here like a campaign or client shoot, I'd recommend taking advantage of the luxury beaches and great atmosphere. I've even considered a weekend trip just to shoot but have yet to check that one off my bucket list.
Like all of the other beaches, I'd recommend doing your homework before you go. Parking tends to be fairly easy but knowing the best beach locations by heart will require the aid of Google Maps. I'll be doing some of my own research down there in a few weeks and will report back on some beaches I'd recommend you check out.
5. Venice Beach
Last but not least is Venice the funky cousin when it comes to beach shoots. Venice is really more of an urban scene and straight swimwear isn't the best choice here if you're not sure where to go. The Venice skate park is a great place for a quick shoot as is the Venice canals. These are locations that if you haven't been to them are worth a look before you shoot as their style isn't for everyone.
With that said they're tons of beaches and other locations in Los Angeles to check out. I'll be sure to make another blog in the near future about other outdoor and indoor locations to make your scouting and your life a bit easier. Thanks for reading and I hope you've enjoyed this blog!
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Morey Spellman is a Los Angeles based fashion photographer.
His work combines a love for beautiful light, authentic beauty, and natural scenery.