Summer is fast approaching - in the northern hemisphere, anyway, and if that's the half of the world where you reside you might benefit from some summer photography tips. (If not, then photographing winter landscapes might be more your thing.)
To photographers, summer is first and foremost a time of sun. Sun of course means bright, which of course means difficult lighting. You can get some great photos even in the middlish hours of the day, but you will need to keep a few things in mind. Here's a short list to get you started.
[ Top image A glowing sunset! by Flickr user PhotoArt Images (Almost home)]
The Summer Theme
Refreshing! by Flickr user las - initially
Before you start thinking of the particulars of summer photography, remember that if you are shooting fun-in-the sun types of activities, you should try to capture summer as a theme rather than just an environmental condition. This means blue skies, bright colors and settings that universally symbolize summer: beaches, of course, sprinklers, lakes, campsites, kids eating ice cream, barbecues, summer carnivals and music festivals are just a few ideas.
Beautiful Beach by Flickr user esther**
Blue skies are a summer icon, but summer may also be the most difficult time to capture a deep blue sky because of all that extra light.
A polarizing filter is almost a must for summer photography. You wouldn't go out in the bright summer sun without a pair of sunglasses; don't expect your camera to do the same thing. A polarizing filter will not only deepen the blue color of your skies, it will also cut back on glare and reflection on everyday summer surfaces such as the surface of the water and the lenses of your spouse's sunglasses.
I know I don't have to tell you to avoid shooting at noon. Sometimes you can't help it of course, it's either shoot at noon or miss all those awesome shots of your kids on the high-dive. But if you do have a choice, don't schedule those one of a kind photo shoots for the middle of the day, because the angle of the sun (or lack thereof) washes out the sky at that time of day. During those times before and after noon which are still out of the scope of that magic hour, you can minimize the washing out affect of the sun by pointing your camera away from the sun instead of towards it. To find the darkest part of the sky, put the sun at your back and make a pistol shape out of your thumb and forefinger, with your thumb cocked towards the sun (like explained in my article on circular polarizers). Your finger should wind up pointed at the darkest part of the sky.
Shoot in raw and underexpose
Underexposing your images will always produce a darker sky, though you'll of course underexpose the rest of your scene as well. If you're going to do this shoot in raw so you can keep as much of that tonal range as possible, and bracket your shots so that you increase your chances of getting a shot you like.
Three is a crowd by Flickr user JadeXJustice
The sky, of course, isn't the only part of your scene where you should be looking for summer colors. Bright, primary colors mean summer to a lot of people, so look for them in every scene and try to incorporate them whenever you can. Think brightly colored beach umbrellas, hot air balloons, colorful sailboats, and flip flops. Use warm colors to enhance that feeling of summer heat and cool ones to give your viewer a sense of relief, ala a dip in the pool.
Find the right light, or fix the light you do have
There's no way around it, summer light is harsh light. Keep this in mind whenever you're shooting in full sun. You can mitigate this problem by moving your human subjects to the shade whenever possible, and always making sure that they're facing away from the sun (squinting is nearly always unflattering). You should also pack a set of portable reflectors, or turn on your camera's flash - these can help you fill in the dark shadows on faces. Alternately, a portable diffuser will diffuse the light as it falls on your subjects. The diffuser should always be placed between your subject and the sun, while the reflector should be angled to reflect light into those ugly shadows.
You can also improve the exposure on your subjects by switching to spot metering and metering for their faces only. Of course if you follow this final suggestion, be aware that other parts of your image may not be exposed correctly.
Spain 2011 - Retinette Adventures by Flickr user TempusVolat
The hazards of summertime photography
Apart from the sunscreen and floppy hats you'll need for yourself, you'll need to take some precautions for your camera, too. While sunscreen is a must for the photographer, keep it away from your camera. Sunscreen can actually cause paint corrosion, so if your camera has one of those colorful, shiny paint jobs you might be horrified to discover it actually flaking away after it comes into contact with sunscreen.
Sand and your camera are not friends. This is particularly true for DSLRs and other cameras with interchangeable lenses. If you must use one of these cameras at the beach, pick a lens and stick with it - don't try to change lenses on the beach because a stiff breeze can blow sand into your camera, and sand can very quickly ruin the inside of your expensive piece of equipment. Water can also cause harm, especially if you wade out into the surf to get a photo and are knocked off your feet by an unexpectedly powerful wave.
His & Hers by Flickr user JenK ♥
The beach is an excellent place to try out one of those rugged, waterproof cameras instead. Sure, you won't have the flexibility you will have with your DSLR, and the photos may not be as nice at full size, but you'll be able to play in the water and have a good time while taking photos, and you won't have to worry about damaging (or losing!) your nicer camera.
Summer is a great time for photographers because photo opportunities are seemingly endless, just like the season itself. Don't forget to have a good time while you're at it, though, and unless photos are your ultimate goal you may want to pack light so you can hop on that roller coaster at the summer carnival in between taking those shots of the Ferris wheel and the carousel.
Need more inspiration? Check out my list of Twenty Two Outstanding Summer Photos
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