Life’s a beach: 17 photos that capture the spirit of summer

Photo Stories

This spring, research from Tripadvisor revealed that more than two-thirds of Americans plan to travel for summer vacation, with beach getaways topping this year’s wish lists and resorts in sunny Florida and Mexico in high demand. Beach vacations have always been a favorite subject for photographers ranging from Martin Parr to Richard Misrach to Massimo Vitali, and this summer will provide fresh opportunities for artists craving the coast.

We curated this collection of 17 photographs from the 500px community that capture the freedom and joy of life in summertime. Along the way, we also share some quick tips for creating memorable photos by the shore. From the sunrise swimmers of Bondi to the sunbathers of Coney Island, the mountains of Montana to the islands of Croatia, these pictures remind us of what it’s like to be a kid in June, with nothing but endless summer days on the horizon.


Little People Bondi by Rebecca Adler on 500px.com

Rebecca Adler has traveled the world, from Santorini to Nice, but one of her favorite spots will always be Bondi Beach in Australia, a 17-hour flight from her home base in Dallas.

During her time there, she photographed sunbathers and swimmers at the Bondi Icebergs and journeyed along the coast from Bondi to Coogee. “After exploring the area, we walked down to the famous Bondi Beach every day,” she shared on her blog. She describes the beach as “the land of surfing, flat whites, avocado toast, and bare feet.”


summer swim by Sam Brockway on 500px.com

When Sam Brockway camped in Sawtooth National Forest in Stanley, Idaho, two years ago, it was a special trip for his dog Poppy, who had just had surgery on her knees. Happily for her, swimming was part of her rehabilitation process.

“There was a time where we weren’t sure if Poppy would get to do this anymore,” he shared. “She was more than a little emotional getting to swim with her new knees. This was probably my favorite moment from summer ’19.”


Endless summer on the Gold Coast by Kalle Lundholm on 500px.com

Kalle Lundholm often dreamed of moving to Australia before finally embarking on the journey to Coolangatta, where he spent evenings watching surfers braving the waves. The Gold Coast in Queensland, known for its signature light, has been a favorite spot of his for years now.

His ideal times to shoot are thirty minutes before and after sunset and sunrise, when the sky has a gradient of color; he calls it “chasing the gold.”

Quick Tip #1: Explore the coast. The best beaches are often the lesser-known, tucked-away gems, set apart from the tourist hotspots. California, Hawaii, Brazil, Portugal, and Thailand, for example, are all known for their “secret beaches.” Keep in mind that many of these “hidden” places might require a road trip or hike by foot, but they’re often worth the effort. Some are only accessible by boat. If you do discover a new spot, treat it with respect. Stick to the designated trails, and leave nothing behind when you leave.


Picnic at Sea by Ryan Brown | @lostboymemoirs on 500px.com

“The term ‘rafternoon’ was something I coined when working on sailboats,” Ryan Brown remembers. He captured this moment in Croatia, a leading sailing destination. “Usually a couple of times a week, we’d build these boat rafts, where we’d anchor and secure each boat to the next so we could all hang out and enjoy the afternoon together,” he says. “Raft afternoons.

“It was one of my favorite things to do each week, as everyone got a chance to know the others on the flotilla better and just enjoy life in that moment. Soaking in the sun, hanging out with friends, swimming in an incredible bay only accessible by boat, and disconnecting from everything else. Paddleboarding, practicing backflips, family meals, all of it.”


Summer Swim by Forrest Mankins on 500px.com

Forrest Mankins spent the summer of 2017 on the road, driving dusty roads, chasing wildflowers, canoeing, and swimming in warm waters after dark. Sometimes, he camped in the back of an old Land Cruiser affectionately nicknamed “Burt” and slept under the stars. He took this picture close to home in Whitefish, Montana in the Northern Rocky Mountains.


Baywatch by Dom Piat on 500px.com

Miami Beach is famous for its iconic art deco lifeguard stands, first designed in 1995 after Hurricane Andrew and later updated in 2015 by William Lane. The architect himself has said the rooflines were created to look “playful, childlike and toylike,” and visitors often say they evoke a sense of whimsy reminiscent of the 1960s Space Age cartoon The Jetsons. In this photo, Dom Piat riffs on the legendary, vibrant designs.

Quick Tip #2: Chat with the locals. Local surfers usually have the down-low on the most unique spots, so reach out and connect with them. If you’re in a beach town, people working the boutiques and shops might have insider tips waiting to be discovered. Similarly, if you’re staying at a bed-and-breakfast, chances are the owner knows about some out-of-the-way beaches you can explore. Get to know the people and the culture, and they’ll lead you in the right direction.


Above Coney Island by Jerm Cohen on 500px.com

Jeremy Cohen captured this photo over Coney Island on Memorial Day in 2019, before the days of social distancing. That year, thousands hit the beach, drawn by the sunshine and a soft breeze coming from the ocean. The water was chilly, but people still hopped in. Local news even called it a “picture-perfect day.”


Bryant Park Movie Night by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

Also in pre-lockdown NYC, Navid Baraty spotted these clusters of spectators waiting for a movie to start one summer evening in Bryant Park. It’s not the beach, but in the summertime, it’s hard to beat a movie in Bryant Park. As per tradition, the movies are screened at sunset, and everyone sets up their blankets around 5:00 pm, when the lawn opens. “I photographed this looking down from the roof of a 50-story skyscraper [Salesforce Tower] across the street,” Navid remembers.


Floating in the Dead Sea by Aline Fortuna on 500px.com

Aline Fortuna visited Israel’s Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet at 434 meters below sea level, in May a few years ago. The water in the Dead Sea has a salt concentration ten times as high as ocean water, meaning that swimmers can float along the turquoise seascape.


Beach social distancing by Julia Wimmerlin on 500px.com

In late April 2020, Julia Wimmerlin photographed Repulse Bay Beach in Hong Kong in the age of social distancing. Repulse Bay is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and volleyball, known for its warm, clear blue waters. Julia has visited beaches across the world, from Australia to Mauritius, but this particular beach proved unforgettable.

Quick Tip #3: Add some color. Nothing says “summer” like a splash of color, so scan the beach for umbrellas, towels, boats, and bathers in vibrant outfits. Beach vendors carrying floaties or balloons also make for great subjects. Drones, like the portable DJI Mavic Pro, are perfect for those overhead shots of crowded, brightly-colored beaches.


B r o n t e B e a c h by James Phillips on 500px.com

James Phillips spent this morning on Bronte Beach, with the early rush of surfers humming in the background. Using his drone, he soared over the bright azure water, sun-baked sand, and lifeguard hut. “I love watching the waves crash into the beach from this angle,” he says. “The textures are so vivid and complex.”


Amelia by Alessio Albi on 500px.com

Alessio Albi created this portrait a few summers ago while exploring Southern Tuscany, home to some of the country’s wildest and emptiest beaches, with model Amelia Zadro.

It was a sun-drenched summer of backpacking and adventure, resulting in dreamy pictures from tucked-away landscapes along the countryside.


Salzkammergut, Austria by marina weishaupt on 500px.com

“The Salzkammergut region in Austria is well known for its huge amount of beautiful lakes and mountain views,” Marina Weishaupt shared on her blog. This moment, featuring her friend’s dog, Marley, unfolded against the backdrop of Lake Grundlsee.

“The lake’s shore mostly is under strict nature conservation,” Marina says. “You can relax along the 14 km-long natural beach, rent boats, or walk around the lake. And this is where we spent hours, just sitting in the sun.”


Summer en la city by Ibai Acevedo on 500px.com

Barceloneta Beach, pictured here by Ibai Acevedo, is one of Barcelona’s oldest beaches. In summertime, you might find bathers in the clear blue water, soccer and volleyball players, vendors serving fresh mojitos, and people dining on tapas. A modern oasis, the beach is just a couple hundred meters from the city center.

Quick Tip #4: Carry the essentials. On days with beautiful light, you might stay out from sunrise to sunset, so pack plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen. You might also want to pack a lens hood to prevent flares on sunny days. If you’re headed off the beaten path, bring a map and tell someone exactly where you’re going.


Pelican Beach by Anthony Rayburn on 500px.com

Anthony Rayburn visited the private beach at Pelican Grand Beach Resort, a luxury hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, creating this photo in 2019.

In 2020, when Broward County closed its beaches to the public, he got the chance to document its pristine seascapes. “We covered 23 miles of shoreline from the ocean and the sky,” the artist remembers.


Day in the Water by Ryan Longnecker on 500px.com

Ryan Longnecker is no stranger to California’s beaches, having grown up in the city of Bishop, where he says, “summers stuck on your skin like honey and lemonade.” He’s photographed beaches in Iceland and Belize, but he always returns to his home state; he took this picture in Dana Point in Orange County, known for its beaches and surf.

Quick Tip #5: Switch to manual mode. Your camera’s auto exposure is no match for the bright light on beach days, so adjust your settings manually to avoid underexposure. We also recommend using spot metering for more precision; this mode is especially helpful when working with strong backlight.


Summer shandy by Felix Russell-Saw on 500px.com

Nothing compares to summertime nostalgia, especially when captured on film. Felix Russell-Saw shot these frames on Cinestill 50D at Bedruthan Steps beach in Cornwall. Sadly, the cliff stairs were closed following a rockfall above the beach in 2019, making this picture all the more special and irreplaceable, but visitors can still enjoy cliff-top views and picnics at Bedruthan.

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