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 for the body and spirit (especially for a northerner who doesn’t get a whole lot of sun) but the long summer days will for most involve long periods of cloudless days.
This isn’t ideal for landscape photography.
Don’t get me wrong; there are just as many beautiful sceneries 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. It’s just a matter of finding the right subjects and the best light.
But how do you best photograph summer? 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 summer photography tips and ideas to help you get started:
#1 Use a Polarizer
A polarizer is an essential filter for summer photography. It’s a filter that serves multiple purposes but the two main ones during summer are adding contrast to the sky and removing unwanted glare from wet surfaces.
This filter is particularly useful when photographing on partly cloudy days, such as in the image below:
During those conditions, a polarizer does a great job increasing the contrast in the sky and making it ‘pop’.
Just keep in mind that a polarizer increases the overall saturation and slightly darkens the image by 1.5-2 stops. That means you’ll need to make adjustments to your shutter speed, aperture, and/or ISO (known as The Exposure Triangle)
#2 Avoid Photographing Rivers and 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 such locations on overcast days or 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 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 Northern Norway but we do (on rare occasions) 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 should be 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 (the hour-ish before sunrise and after sunset) 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 highlights when I spent a year living in Northern Spain. It was incredible to see the landscape transform from harsh and unphotogenic to otherwordly in just 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 be perfect conditions for night photography.
#6 Focus on the Smaller Scenes
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 prove 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. Alternatively, you can use a telezoom lens to isolate just one or two flours and use a wide aperture to blur the background.
Bonus Tip: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Light
In his book “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Light: An Exploration of Creatively Using Midday Light”, TJ Thorne talks about how all types of light can be photogenic. It’s just a matter of finding the right subjects and having the right mindset.
For too long we have limited our creativity by avoiding photographing during certain times and light conditions. How many great shots have we missed because we didn’t bother to look in harsh light?
Bring your camera the next time you go out for a walk during the day. Who knows, maybe you’ll capture your new favorite shot!
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What are Your Best Summer Photography Tips?
Photographing summer is quite different in the various corners of the world. Here in Northern Norway, we have the midnight sun which means night photography (read: star photography) is impossible.
However, clouds and gray skies are more common so it’s rare that we have to struggle with the harsh midday light.
In some places, summer is the prime season for photography with its 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!