If you were to ask any keen photographers to name their favourite season to capture, it’s likely that not many of them will pick summer. Autumn will feature quite highly, thanks to its dramatic colours, with the lushness and optimism of spring and the bleak beauty of winter helping to keep summer at the bottom of the list.
However, as all wedding photographers will tell you, summer’s long days and high natural light levels offer some rare opportunities for great photographs you simply can’t take at any other time of the year. It does pose unique challenges that need to be mastered first though, including hazy weather, harsh light, black shadows and high contrast to name just a few. The sun is directly overhead for most of the day, which makes the quality of the light poor – and depending on how good a summer we’re having the landscape can look scorched and the sky characterless and bland.
The trick with photographing summer is to accept the conditions you’re working with, choose your subjects more carefully and explore different techniques.
1. Get up early
Although sunrise comes a lot earlier during the summer, it’s worth getting out of bed for occasionally as a summer dawn can be breathtaking.
To take a great sunrise shot, you need to plan ahead so you know exactly where to go in the morning. Locations that feature water are great for sunrise photos as the water mirrors the dramatic colours in the sky – so it’s worth making a trip to the coast or a nearby reservoir or lake – but anywhere that gives a good view of the horizon can work well.
You should aim to arrive at your shoot location at least half an hour before sunrise to set up and to take advantage of the gradually shifting twilight.
2. Use the light to your advantage
When the sun is high in the sky, the light can be very harsh and intense. Also, with the sun directly overhead, shadows can be short and dense – which all detracts from any depth or atmosphere you’re trying to create with your photos.
However, this time of year is ideal for bold images. Buildings, bridges and any other manmade structure can look great against the backdrop of a clear and deep blue sky. So take advantage of the conditions on offer, head to the city and experiment with unique perspectives to create dynamic and abstract compositions.
3. Embrace nature
Nature is at its most vibrant during summer, so take advantage of the stunning scenery and train your lens on the flowers around you.
Gardens are never more photogenic than they are in summer, with poppies, ox-eye daises, buttercups, begonias, foxgloves and more all combining to create a riot of colour under our noses. To capture simple close-ups, use a close-focusing zoom or a macro lens. To shoot large areas of flowers, such as fields or meadows, use your telezoom lens to get a compressed perspective to make it appear the flowers are crowded together. Alternatively, use a wide aperture to help you isolate a single flower from its surroundings.
4. Experiment with shadows
Strong sunlight means strong shadows, so summer is the perfect time to experiment with shadows in your photography and to create some stunning and unique compositions.
When the sun is high shadows are short and dense, or are cast vertically down walls and doors. When the sun gets lower the shadows can rake across the landscape, making for dramatic shots. Shadows can be used as lead-in lines in wide-angle shots, or use a telezoom lens to fill the frame with unique shadow patterns.
5. Use a polariser
A polariser is an optical filter that only allows light waves of a specific polarisation pass though, and blocks the rest. They are great for giving your summer shots a boost, helping to deepen the blue sky, emphasise cloud formations, eliminate reflections, reduce glare and lessen the effects of haze.
6. Capture silhouettes
Silhouettes can make for a striking image that really stands out in your portfolio. Any solid object between you and a bright background will result in a silhouette, and with either a strong sun or the subtle light of a setting sun you can experiment with different forms of silhouettes during the summer months.
7. Take advantage of dusk
Have you ever wondered why the sun appears to be bigger at sunset than at sunrise? It’s because the light is scattered and diffused by the thicker atmosphere, bathing the skyline in ‘warm’ golden light and vivid colours.
This time of day has many names: dusk, twilight, gloaming, but for photographers it is known as the ‘golden hour’, as the hour before sunset offers some of the best conditions to photograph.
8. Take infrared photos
Summer is easily the best season to create stunning infrared photos. This is because there is a lot of lush green plant life around that reflects infrared, and the blue sky, white clouds and strong light creates a high contrast that suits infrared photography.
Buildings such as castles, churches, old ruins and manor houses can also look amazing in infrared with the blue sky as a back drop and some foliage in the foreground.
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