Life’s a Beach

A Photo Essay With Some Tips for Candid Image Making

At Durban ‘s very heart is its beachfront. That strip of golden sand that drifts into the ever restless surf has, over the years, given thousands of holidaymakers pleasure, fun, relaxation and a tan to take home as evidence.

So, how to photograph the unique character of Durban’s beachfront, but at the same time include some of the elements that are universal to all beachfront cities? The only way to do it is to see it through your own eyes.


We all have different perceptions of places that are either central to our lives, or places that we travel to.If you are visiting a city for only a few days, it becomes difficult to try and distil the essence of it into meaningful images that see beyond the normal tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace.

So, it’s good idea to simply walk around, sit at an outdoor café, and watch life go by.

Become an observer with your mind first, and then the camera. Talking to people, and the simple process of meditative observation allows us to see patterns and compositions that are uncluttered.

When I think about Durban’s beachfront, all the obvious elements come to mind…sun, sand, bikinis, sticky ice creams and even stickier suntan lotion. They are elements you will find at just about any beach.


In a very real sense, you want those sorts of shots in this visual story – because they are the universal elements of beach culture. But you want to try and go further – if you can, and sometimes that can be very difficult.

It’s difficult, because the essence of any destination other than bricks and cement, comprises people. People are difficult to photograph in a street or beach environment, for several reasons. Firstly, many of us will see images in our mind’s eye, but most of us are far too shy to actually ask people if we can take a shot.

Naturally, we fear rejection. And by asking, we loose the immediacy of the moment and we often get a posed image that is devoid of emotion or expression.

Depending on my mood, I can be either very shy, or quite bold when I take pictures like this. When I’m very shy, I steer clear of this sort of photography altogether. I like to use wide-angle lenses and be quite “in your face” and I’m not one to stick a huge zoom lens on my camera and hide behind a bush – paparazzi style.

I try to blend in and not be obvious, but at the same time, I’m not sneaky. It’s quite a difficult balance to achieve.Sometimes, someone will only realise I’ve taken a photograph after the fact. If a person notices me about to photograph them and objects to it, I back off immediately.


Usually, showing the person I have photographed the image on my monitor relieves the tension and breaks the ice.


You have to develop a few key abilities for this sort of photography – two important ones are to be able to anticipate a decisive moment, the second is to be quite thick skinned and bounce back if you have been told off.

At the time of this feature was produced I used small and unobtrusive camera. All these images were shot with an entry level Nikon D40 with a standard 18-55 kit lens. The beach – and the street are not ideal places to display your new monster pro camera.



Today my go-to camera is Nikon’s Z50 mirrorless, this is a great little camera.

Besides, the kit I used is more than adequate for most situations of this kind.At the heart of all the images you take should be some kind of coherent emotion or feeling that connects the photo essay, not just a collection of faces and places.

In these images, I’ve tried to show something of beach culture and life, from the tacky to the beautiful, and something that represents the wider culture and nature of those that breathe the air deeply, wade in the waters, or just linger on the warm sand for a while.

“Become an observer with your mind first, and then the camera.” Peter Bendheim