As the nights get lighter and the temperatures begin to warm, check out our ten top summer photography tips for some inspiration and guidance on how to take great summer shots.
1. Summer Photography Tips – Aerial Photography
Summer is a time for all manner of aerial goings on, from air shows to balloon festivals, and they’re great subjects for photography. Make sure you take a telephoto lens (at least 200-300mm) to get frame-filling shots of aircraft in flight. A zoom will give you the most flexibility, as you’ll be able to go in close and then out again to capture wider shots such as formations, low-flying planes and static pictures of subjects on the ground.
The best technique for catching fast moving subjects such as aircraft is panning – following the action through the viewfinder with finger poised on the shutter ready to strike. Select a continuous shooting mode, so you don’t miss the action, and a fast shutter speed to make sure it’s sharp.
Try a speed of 1/250th or higher for the fast jets, and 1/180th for helicopters or propeller aircraft (you don’t want to totally freeze the propeller blades). In any case, don’t be afraid to experiment with slower speeds for more creative effects.
Balloon festivals are a more stately affair, with less need for motion-stopping shutter speeds. The bright colours of the balloons make a great contrast against the blue sky of a summer’s day and you can really make the colours sing by using a polariser.
Again, a tele-zoom lens will allow you to zero in on the action, while a wideangle can add drama to shots of subjects closer to the ground.
2. Summer Photography Tips – Dawn Photography
Dawn can present awesome photographic opportunities. Capture that perfect sunrise, or the atmospheric mist rising from lakes and river scenes as the temperature rises.
As the sun peeks over the horizon linger a while to catch those long shadows stretching across the landscape.
Don’t forget your tripod and cable release to ensure your images are pin sharp, and check the weather forecast before you go to save you the trouble of getting up early in bad weather.
Dawn can be a very active time for wildlife too, as many animals are feeding, and you may have the opportunity to get shots that people wrapped up in their beds will never get – be it a badger shuffling around, or a deer skipping across a field.
Get into position early, preferably 20-30 minutes before sunrise. This will give you time to set your gear up, and reduces the chance of you missing anything.
3. Summer Photography Tips – Try silhouettes
Photographing silhouettes is a great way of conveying mystery, drama and emotion in your pictures, and the power of the summer sun presents the perfect opportunity to try them.
To do this you need to position the subject in front of the light source – most likely the sun or sky – and take your meter reading off the background, rather than the subject.
Subjects with a strong, distinctive shape make the best silhouettes, such as trees and people in interesting poses.
What better time of year to shoot pictures of your family than in the summer, during the holidays. You don’t have to go far. If you have a young family, the garden – especially if you have a paddling pool – can produce some great candids. Or go further afield for ball games in the park, bike rides in the country or a trip to the beach.
Don’t forget the family pets, too. A dog running through the surf makes for an interesting shot.
Whether it’s the kids or the dog, getting down to their level makes for a more natural shot and a better composition. Large apertures and fast shutter speeds will freeze the action and keep attention on the subject, but focus on the eyes for maximum impact.
5. Summer Photography Tips – High Dynamic Range
The contrasting lighting conditions of the summer provide the perfect opportunity to try High Dynamic Range photography, or HDR as it is more commonly known.
Dynamic range is defined as the ratio between brightest and darkest areas of a scene. In strong sunlight this ratio is much greater and it’s impossible to record detail at both ends of the scale with a standard exposure.
With HDR photography, you shoot three or more shots at different exposures, before merging them together via Photoshop or HDR-specific software, such as Photomatix.
To begin you’ll need a tripod to ensure that the camera doesn’t move between exposures. Shooting in Raw will give you more control over the images at a later date, and will also allow you to capture the maximum amount of data. To determine what range of exposures to use, meter for both the lightest and darkest areas of the proposed shot, then find the average. Shoot your sequence at this setting and either side of it, in one or two stop steps, using either Auto Exposure Bracketing or manually.
6. Summer Photography Tips – Take Better Summer Portraits
When there’s bright sunlight you can be forgiven for leaving your flashgun at home, but more often than not this is one of the best times to use it. Direct summer sun is harsh and unflattering, and creates unflattering shadows across people’s faces. By using a flash they can be reduced or removed, filling the deficient area with light. Fill-in flash can also be used if your subject is backlit and you want to illuminate the face.
Almost all digital cameras have a built-in flash, and the ability to override the auto flash mode by switching it on even when there’s enough light to shoot without it. With DSLRs you can use a separate flashgun for more power and the ability to bounce it for a more diffused illumination.
Another way to get a more subtle effect is to reduce the flash output by one or two stops using flash exposure compensation, if you have it on your camera. When using flash, make sure your shutter speed stays at or below the maximum flash sync speed of the camera (typically around 1/250) – this is only likely to be an issue with non-dedicated external flashguns or when shooting in manual exposure mode.
An alternative to flash is to use reflectors, placed on a stand or held by an assistant, to lighten areas of shadow by bouncing light back on to the person’s face. They come in various shapes, sizes and colours, and most can be folded up. Visit www.lastolite.com for the biggest selection.
You can of course avoid the harshness of the sun altogether by shooting in the shade, such as under a tree or the shadows of a building.
If you’re after the quintessentially British shot, then you won’t go far wrong by donning your handkerchief and heading down to the seaside. There’s a wealth of subjects available, including the ever-popular deckchair shot, and, of course, the messy-mouth ice-cream photo.
Traditionally, seaside piers area popular subject, whether photographed from the beach or the pier itself. Beach huts are also great subjects for a shot with their often vibrant colours.
Be careful of sand though. Even on a relatively windless day sand can get into your camera and lens. Keep your kit in a bag between shots, and before you go check the tidal tables for low and high tide times.
8. Summer Photography Tips – Sunrise and Sunset
It’s warmer (sometimes) during these months, so staying out late won’t feel as much of a hardship, and the later sunset also gives you more time after work to get to a good location in time – the coast is ideal for providing great foreground interest.
Most newspapers list sunrise and sunset times, but failing that, there’s always the internet: www.britishinformation.com displays these times throughout the year.
Most cameras do a reasonable job of metering for sunsets, though you may want to underexpose a little to preserve the colour saturation, and be wary of using auto white balance, which may try to filter out the golden tones of the setting sun. Try the Cloudy or Shade setting instead – better still, shoot Raw.
9. Summer Photography Tips – Maximise colour
Blue skies are a common sight at this time of year, and you can make the colour even punchier with a polarising filter. Not only do these filters reduce reflections on water or shiny surfaces they also deepen the blue of a sky, the green of trees and grass, and all the other colours in your shot.
Polarisers are most effective with subjects at 90 degrees to the light source, so keep the sun over your shoulder for best results. Also, be aware that polarising filters absorb about 1.5 stops of light, so you’ll need to use a slower shutter speed, wider aperture or higher ISO than you would otherwise.
Another way to help maximise your colour saturation is to use a lens hood. These reduce the risk of flare – stray light hitting the front lens element obliquely from outside the image area. Flare lowers image contrast and reduces colour saturation.
10. Summer Photography Tips – Flowers and Wildlife
During the summer, gardens come alive with colour. Shooting at close range you’ll get little depth of field so you’ll need a small aperture to ensure your subjects are sharp. Or you could use a wider aperture for a shallow depth of field, drawing attention to, say, a single bloom.
For static subjects a tripod will help ensure pin-sharp images, though it’s less helpful for moving subjects such as insects unless you can coax them to a pre-focused spot. To get in close you will need a macro lens, or modifying accessory such as a screw-in close up lens or extension tube.
A skilfully controlled twin or ringflash can also be a useful summer photography tip to ensure even illumination on the subject, but make sure the flash doesn’t overpower the natural light.