I often receive a strange look when I mention that summer is my least favorite season. Sure, some relaxing days in the sun are great (not so much the following week with a sunburn though…) but the long summer days often involve long periods of cloudless days, which isn’t ideal for landscape photography.
Don’t misunderstand; there are just as many beautiful scenes waiting to be photographed during summer as it is during the rest of the year, so there’s no need to pack away the camera for the season. As always, it’s just a matter of finding the right subjects and the best light (and seeing that summer means vacation for many, there’s a lot of time to take from!)
But how do you capture the best possible images during this time of year? How do you come home from your vacation with images that you’re excited to share with friends and family, perhaps even sell as prints?
Here are some tips and ideas on how you can capture the beauty of summer:
#1 Use a Polarizer
A polarizer is an essential filter for landscape photography during summer. It’s a filter with several purposes but the two main ones for summer photography are to add contrast in the sky and remove unwanted glare from wet surfaces.
I find this particularly useful when photographing on partly cloudy days, such as the image below
During these types of conditions, a polarizer does a great job increasing the contrast in the sky and making it ‘pop’. Keep in mind that a polarizer will increase the overall saturation and slightly darken the image by 1.5-2 stops.
#2 Avoid Rivers & Water During Daytime
The second tip is one that should be taken into consideration all year but it’s especially important on a sunny summer day; avoid photographing rivers and wet surfaces during the daytime.
Rivers, streams, lakes and other wet surfaces have a strong glare when the sun is high in the sky and there are no clouds to block it. This can be quite distracting in an image and it is hard to correct in post-processing.
For that reason, it’s better to plan your visit to these scenes on overcast days when the sun is at a lower position.
If you’re not able to visit at another time of the day you should at least use a polarizer. As mentioned in the previous tip, the polarizer removes glare from wet surfaces. It won’t remove everything but it will reduce it significantly.
#3 Don’t Take Cloudy Days for Granted
Yes. This depends on where in the world you’re located but if it’s a place where clouds are rare during the summer, make the most out of the days that have them.
This isn’t the biggest issue here in Norway but we do (believe it or not) have periods where we don’t see a cloud in several weeks. Whenever there’s an overcast or partly cloudy day in the forecast, you can bet that I’m ready to take advantage of it.
Clouds aren’t only good for colorful sunrises and sunsets, they also make it easier to photograph forests and rivers and give a softer light throughout the day.
#4 Photograph the Blue Hour
Since the sun is harsh throughout most of the day, why not head out after it’s down?
The Blue Hour offers a much softer light for photographers and it’s an interesting light to photograph in. It tends to bring out details in the landscape you might not have noticed otherwise.
The image above was captured about half an hour after sunset as the light quickly started to fade. The soft light made the mountain quite appealing compared to what it was only an hour earlier when it was no more than a large white spot in the image.
#5 Photograph During the Night
Summer is one of the best seasons for night photography if you live in a part of the world where it gets dark at night. Clear skies are common, the temperature is tolerable and the stars shine brightly.
Photographing the Milky Way was one of the summer’s highlights when I spent a year living in Northern Spain. It was incredible to see the landscape transform from harsh and unphotogenic to mindblowing in a matter of hours.
Don’t be discouraged if the clouds are absent; this simply means you should stay up late and enjoy what could perfect conditions for night photography.
#6 Go Abstract
When the light is harsh and the sky is uninteresting, there are still a lot of pictures to be made. Zooming in on the details is a good place to begin.
In Sarah Marino’s eBook Beyond the Grand Landscape: A Guide to Photographing Nature’s Smaller Scenes, Sarah talks about the importance of zooming in and exploring the abstract parts of the landscapes. The images accompanying the eBook speak for themselves and proves why this is a practice you should be taking advantage of yourself.
These smaller scenes can be anything around you: a patch of grass, flowers, branches, textures on the ground, sand, waves… you name it. There are no limitations besides your own creativity.
#7 Flowers, Flowers, Flowers
Summer is a great season to photograph wildflowers and they’re often found anywhere. They can be a nice addition to an image whether you choose to zoom in and make an abstract shot or incorporate them into a wider composition.
A fun practice is to use an ultra wide-angle lens and get extremely close to the flowers. By doing so you’ll make the flowers look bigger than what they may be and create an interesting and unique foreground.
What’s Your Best Practise?
Summer is quite different in the various corners of the world. Here in Norway, the nights are bright meaning night photography is impossible (if you want any stars, that is). However, clouds are more common so it’s rare that we have more than a few days without a half-decent sunset or sunrise (which take place in the middle of the night).
In some locations, summer is the most photogenic due to thunderstorms and stormy weather while others rarely see a cloud.
With summer being so different depending on where you’re based, I’m curious to hear how you deal with it and what you focus on during this time of year. Let us know in a comment below!