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10 ways to supercharge your summer photography

Summer throws up unique challenges for photographers, but here’s how to beat the heat and make the most of long days...

Summer is in full swing and while this means the weather is nicer for photographers to head out with their cameras, it does present a multitude of extra challenges that you wouldn’t experience in other seasons.

The combination of unsociable golden hours of dawn and dusk, coupled with the intensive overhead sun can lead to harsh shadows and less-than-perfect results, but we’re here to help. We’re serving up six tips, tricks and technique ideas that will not only overcome challenging conditions, but will also deliver new ideas to try when you’re out and about, shooting in the sun…

Beat the heat and take your best-ever summer photos. Image by Matty Graham

One – Embrace the shadows

When you shoot during the middle of a summer’s day, the sun is likely to be directly overhead. This will result in harsh shadows that photographers generally try and avoid. While your gut instinct may be to reduce the effect of these shadows by searching out some shade, a bolder approach could be to embrace the challenge and make a feather of the shadows in your scene. This technique can work especially well when shooting abstract scenes, especially close up when using a macro or telezoom lens. To really make the most of shadows, you could try shooting in black & white; the mono conversion is likely to help the viewer’s focus on the light and shade in the scene without the distractions of colour.

Mono conversion are perfect when shooting scenes stacked with shadows. Image by Matty Graham

Two – Saturate a scene

Summer is full of colour. Bright blue skies, lush green grass and, if you’re lucky enough to be near the coast, golden sands. Of course, there are ways to make even more of the colour in the scene. If you are a photography purist and shoot everything in RAW, you can use software such as Photoshop’s Camera RAW or Lightroom to precisely control the colours in your scene and their saturation. If you shoot in JPEG, you can still boost the saturation by shooting in your camera’s Picture Style (also called Art Filters or Picture effects). Ramping up the saturation helps tell the story of the scene and gets across the feel of summer.

Look for colourful subjects to fill the frame. Image by Matty Graham

Three – Late, Late Shows

While winter brings sunsets in early afternoon, summer brings golden hours that can be late in the evening (depending on where in the world you are shooting). Some photographers who are in northern latitudes can even enjoy the midnight sun, where the sun doesn’t set below the horizon for weeks. While a late sunset (or early sunrise) may involve an unsociable time to travel to your location, the extra effort can bring unexpected benefits. Chiefly of these is the fact that the normal crowds that flock to landscape locations during the daytime are likely to have dispersed by the time late evening rolls around.

Late sunsets mean clear scenes and a great opportunity to try out a silhouette shoot. Image by Matty Graham

Four – Use nature’s cover

If you want to escape from the harsh rays of the summer sun, there are a number of locations you can visit. Tall buildings will block the light and afford shade on the streets should you wish to shoot some architecture, but for some more traditional landscape photography, head to a forest where the tree canopy will do a great job of breaking up and diffusing the harsh light.

Trees can provide a block to the harsh midday summer sun. Image by Matty Graham

Five – Fun with filters

While it may be tempting to leave the filters at home when you head out for a day’s photography in the summer sun, there’s one filter you should also carry with you. The humber circular polariser filter is a value-for-money accessory that can make two big differences on a perfect summer’s day. Firstly and more widely known, the polariser can deepen and saturate clue skies, saving you time in post processing and adding more punch to a landscape scene.

As you can see from this comparison, a polariser filter can deepen and saturate skies during a summer’s day. Image by Matty Graham

The polariser can offer a second benefit however; for example, if you are shooting at a lake, the polariser can help remove the sheen that the glaring sun can cast on the water’s surface, revealing detail below the surface. What’s more, the polariser has a similar effect for automotive photographers trying to rid windscreens of sheen to reveal the car’s interior.

Six – Banish haze

There will be occasions where focal lengths and shooting conditions mean you’ll have no option but to shoot a scene that includes from a summer evening. However, all is not lost thanks to Photoshop and Lightroom’s Dehaze feature, which does a great job at reintroducing clarity to the scene so that photographer’s can rescue a frame that would otherwise be lost.

Wave goodbye to haze thanks to Lightroom’s clever technology. Image by Matty Graham

Seven – Use Liveview more often

Framing up summer scenes using the optical viewfinder can be hard work on your eyes and, of course, you should always avoid looking directly into the sun. In these conditions, it can pay to use LiveView and frame up using your LCD instead. Take things further by activating your camera’s warning for Overexposure, as achieving a balanced exposure during strong summer lighting can sometimes be tricky.

Eight – Turn the sun into a star

Here’s a trick to try if you are planning on including the sun in the frame and want to make more of a feature out of it. If you shoot at a large to mid-range aperture (say, f/4-f/8) the sun will be a round, bright lightsource. However, if you switch to a very small aperture (like f/20), the shape of the aperture blades will introduce a star effect to the frame. It’s worth knowing that this trick will also work with artificial light sources (such as street lights) when darkness falls.

Turn the sun into a star with smaller aperture. Image by Matty Graham

Nine – Create shallow depths of field with ND filters

Photographers who know about exposure also know that a bright day will prevent you creating a shallow depth of field in the scene. Why? Because if the light is too bright then using an aperture like f/1.8 will take the camera past it’s fastest shutter speed and will result in an overexposed frame. However, there is a solution and using an ND filter on the front of your lens can be your salvation. The ND filter will drastically reduce the amount of light that can pass through the lens and onto the sensor, enabling you to use a large aperture without the risk of overexposing the frame.

Shoot shallow depths of field in strong light using an ND filter. Image by Matty Graham

Ten – Seek shade

If all else fails and the power of the midday summer sun proves too much, then always have a Plan B. By seeking shade and focusing on subjects out of the glare of direct sunlight, you may find controlling exposure is easier. In the shade, light will be diffused but still plentiful so remember not to ramp up the ISO levels too high or you will risk introducing digital noise into the frame.

Shaded streets are a great place for photos on summer days. Image by Matty Graham
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