While most people probably know it as a sunny vacation destination, Tenerife is an amazing place for landscape photography. Going there has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me and over the years I had the chance to photograph its beautiful beaches, incredible mountains, and unforgettable sunsets. So this year I really wanted to try something different. I recently got my first taste of wave photography at a landscape photography workshop in Hawaii and instantly got hooked. Tenerife with its rugged coastline and ever-changing ocean conditions seemed like a perfect place to give it another spin. And so, after spending a few days on the island chasing surf, here are my three favorite locations on Tenerife for capturing water action, as well as some general tips for getting stunning looking shots.
As is the case with all landscape photography, being in the right place at the right time is half the work. For wave photography on Tenerife winter months between December and March work best. That is when the big winter swells of the Atlantic hit the island from the north creating massive waves. This also means that for the best shots you really should head to the northern shore of the island. It is definitely possible to capture some action in the south, but it would be much more difficult and the results would probably be far less impressive. The three spots below are the ones I personally shot at and really liked, so it’s a good starting point. But I’m sure there are dozens other places along the northern coast that would work equally well, if not better.
Socorro Beach (Playa el Socorro) located to the west of Puerto de la Cruz is a widely known surfing location on Tenerife, and a decent spot for photographing waves. The beach is quite popular with the locals, so parking could potentially be an issue on a hot summer day, but on a windy weekend in February it wasn’t a problem at all.
The crescent shape of Socorro Beach makes it easy to try different angles on the waves and the rocky outcrops on either side of the sandy area are perfect for getting closer to the action (though I would advice against venturing there on a stormy day). Getting a good shot from Socorro Beach can be rather difficult, however, as the waves are breaking somewhat far from the shore and you definitely need a long enough lens to capture the details. As I arrived I also discovered that local police has restricted access to the beach due to unsafe weather conditions, so I was limited to shooting from the parking lot. It is still doable, but obviously not ideal.
On a more positive side, I found Socorro Beach to be a promising spot for
Bajamar is a small quiet town on the northern coast of Tenerife that I learned about it by pure chance. A friend of mine living on the island recommended it when I mentioned my desire to photograph waves. I decided to check it out on a whim and showed up with no preparation or even idea about the place whatsoever. Yet amazingly, it is Bajamar where I got some of the most impressive shots.
There is a wide promenade along the coast in Bajamar and that is the place to be on a windy day with high swell. If waves are large elsewhere, be sure that they will be absolutely massive in Bajamar. The best spot with most of the action in my opinion is right next to the town lighthouse. Huge waves breaking next to a seemingly tiny building make for some insane splashes and amazing images. Honestly, I have never seen the ocean crashing as ferociously against the shore in my life as it did at Bajamar lighthouse.
Finding parking in Bajamar could be a real problem as a lot of people come to the coastal walkway to admire the raw force of nature in action. I had to drive a couple circles before eventually finding a space at the outskirts of the town and walking back to the center for 15 minutes, so plan some additional time for that.
Punta del Hidalgo
Punta del Hidalgo may be the last spot on my list, but it is easily my favorite. If I only had time for one location, Punta del Hidalgo is where I would go, hands down. Luckily, it is only ten minutes of driving from Bajamar, so there shouldn’t be any problems hitting them both on the same day.
Punta del Hidalgo is located on a small peninsula which makes it ideal for shooting waves from the side rather than from the front. Depending on the time of day, light conditions and swell direction, it is also possible to shoot both to the west and to the east, leading to more options and creative freedom for capturing more dramatic images. For example, the photo below was taken facing west, while the one above was photographed to the east.
I suggest leaving the car at the parking lot next to Punta del Hidalgo camping and then walking the shore towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse is an excellent place to position yourself – from here there are unobstructed views both to the east and to the west, so it is easy to shoot in both directions. Keep in mind though, much like in Bajamar, parking at Punta del Hidalgo can be difficult in the evening, so allow yourself enough time to find a spot or simply come in the morning when there is no one around. In my opinion, sunrise is actually better for wave photography here anyway.
While we are on the subject of sunrise, Punta del Hidalgo is equally amazing for more conventional landscape photography. The lighthouse is an impressive building in its own right and a great subject for a photo. There are also lots of rock formations and natural pools all around the coast that are great for photographing reflections or water movement during high tide. The possibilities are virtually endless. I arrived at dawn and was treated to an incredible sunrise sky that made waking up early totally worth it even before I got my first wave shot.
Tips for photographing waves
In many ways photographing waves is relatively straightforward, but, as is often the case, there are certain things that are useful to know. Some of them may sound trivial, while others I learned the hard way. Hopefully the following tips will help some of you avoid making the same mistakes as I did and capture some great shots.
Monitor the weather. To photograph the waves you need… well, waves! So before setting the alarm for an early wake-up or driving an hour and a half from the southern part of Tenerife, it is a good idea to make sure the conditions look promising. There are a number of resources to assist with that, but my personal favorite is an app (and website) called MagicSeaWeed. It has detailed information about the tide times, expected surf height, swell and wind direction and strength. I relied on it almost exclusively while on Tenerife and it never let me down.
Stay safe. No photo is worth dying for and the ocean can be very dangerous. It is easy to think yourself safe and well outside of the tide’s reach but occasionally a rogue wave larger and stronger than others will appear. So always make sure to observe the ocean for a few minutes when deciding where to position yourself and never turn your back to it. Being washed away into the stormy sea or even simply having camera gear soaked in the salty water is not going to be fun, trust me.
Light is important. Photography is all about light and ocean photography is no exception. If the sun is too harsh and strong, it will be difficult to deal with extreme highlights in the water, but take that light away completely and the photos become flat and lifeless. In my experience, the best times are about an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset, when the light is soft and beautiful.
Bring proper gear. A long lens is absolutely essential for wave photography. Personally, I recommend 400mm full frame equivalent (250mm crop lens) but on
Experiment with shutter speeds. To freeze the water motion, a high shutter speed is required. In my experience 1/500 of a second is an absolute minimum, but I strongly recommend going even faster (crank the ISO up if needed to get the correct exposure). Sometimes, however, a lower shutter speed can help accentuate a smooth silky motion, especially in the upper part of the wave. Somewhere around 1/200 of a second can be a viable choice in these cases.
Prepare for a long and tedious culling process. When shooting waves, it is very easy to get carried away trying to catch the perfect moment and end up with tons of photos on the memory card. Going through all of them and choosing the best ones is not going to be enjoyable (at least it isn’t for me). Unfortunately I cannot offer a satisfying solution for this, as I’m yet to find one myself. So if you have any good advice on this, please share it in the comments, I would really love to know it.
And that is all I have on the subject. If you liked this article or are planning a trip to Tenerife that involves landscape photography make sure to check out my other blog post about the best locations on the island as well as my YouTube video about Tenerife. And of course share your own tips, tricks and amazing shots in the comments below, I’ll be happy to chat!