A new application of the autocorrelation grain size analysis technique for mixed to coarse sediment settings has been investigated. Photographs of sand- to boulder-sized sediment along the Elwha River delta beach were taken from approximately 1??2 m above the ground surface, and detailed grain size measurements were made from 32 of these sites for calibration and validation. Digital photographs were found to provide accurate estimates of the long and intermediate axes of the surface sediment (r2 > 0??98), but poor estimates of the short axes (r2 = 0??68), suggesting that these short axes were naturally oriented in the vertical dimension. The autocorrelation method was successfully applied resulting in total irreducible error of 14% over a range of mean grain sizes of 1 to 200 mm. Compared with reported edge and object-detection results, it is noted that the autocorrelation method presented here has lower error and can be applied to a much broader range of mean grain sizes without altering the physical set-up of the camera (~200-fold versus ~6-fold). The approach is considerably less sensitive to lighting conditions than object-detection methods, although autocorrelation estimates do improve when measures are taken to shade sediments from direct sunlight. The effects of wet and dry conditions are also evaluated and discussed. The technique provides an estimate of grain size sorting from the easily calculated autocorrelation standard error, which is correlated with the graphical standard deviation at an r2 of 0??69. The technique is transferable to other sites when calibrated with linear corrections based on photo-based measurements, as shown by excellent grain-size analysis results (r2 = 0??97, irreducible error = 16%) from samples from the mixed grain size beaches of Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Thus, a method has been developed to measure mean grain size and sorting properties of coarse sediments. ?? 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.