Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. —Russell Baker
The Summer Solstice doesn’t officially begin until 6:34 PM EDT this evening, but it only took one step out the door this morning to realize that summer is here. When it’s 75°F with 78% humidity at 4:00 AM, you know it’s going to be a hot and difficult day. The dog took a couple of steps and looked up at me as if to say, “Are you sure you want to do this walking thing this morning?” He relieved himself, chased a cat, and was ready to return home.
Summer has been here for a while, at least in terms of outdoor temperatures. If you were in Arizona this weekend, you endured temps already over 120°. According to NOAA’s climatology forecast, most of the US is looking at hotter-than-usual temps this summer. Hardest hit is likely to be our friends along the West coast and New England. There’s talk that this could be the hottest summer on record.
With dangerous temperatures and likely an absence of moisture in most places, finding things to be happy about this summer could be challenging. For photographers, our best chance of getting a decent shot occurs around 7:00 in the morning, just after sunrise, before everything on the planet gets too hot. Scheduling can be a nightmare and if you’re shooting anything other than swimwear or lingerie you need to be ready to deal with sweat stains.
There are some good things about shooting in the summer. I thought I’d start this week with an illustrated list of reasons to embrace the season.
Waterfalls don’t induce hypothermia
See that water flowing behind Anneliese? It is ice cold. Most waterfalls run at temperatures below 70° which feels a bit chilly on the skin. What summer affords is the ability to shoot in these lovely places without the model turning blue. Granted, the water will still be cold and I definitely recommend taking along some petroleum jelly to protect the skin, but the chances of a model having a severe reaction to the water are dramatically reduced.
Location options increase
Shooting outside in winter is almost impossible. In spring, we wait impatiently for leaves and flowers to appear. Autumn has us trying to guess exactly when the leaves are going to turn and hoping we don’t miss it. From late May through August, though, we typically don’t have to worry as much. We can shoot outdoor almost anywhere and have workable summer scenery. Having more location options also means we can create more variety in our images, playing with things such as flares and reflective lighting. The options for being creative are almost limitless.
In it, near it, over it, around it, water becomes the ultimate summertime photography prop. In fact, it’s difficult for me to do any kind of photo in the summer that doesn’t involve water in some way. My preference is to be in the water, though there are several precautions involved in doing so. Rocks, tree limbs, and boat docks in the water provide options without necessarily getting too wet. A photo on or in the water just says summer and captures everything wonderful about the season.
Walking around in underwear is possible
Summer gives one permission to do things they might not normally do, like walking around town in your underwear. Granted, whether or not anyone says things, or calls the police, likely depends on the quality of the underwear and who is wearing it. There can also be location issues, especially on Sunday morning near a church. This shot was taken quite early on a Sunday morning in a neighborhood that tends to sleep late. No one minded one bit that Cynthia wasn’t wearing much while walking her dog. Warm weather can be very freeing that way.
Reflection in the shade
With the summer solstice, we get a more intense sunlight for a longer period of time. That can sometimes be a bad thing, such as when the harshness at 10 AM makes it difficult to control highlights. One advantage, though, is that it increases the ability to cast reflective light in the shade. We can work under trees or in the shade of a building, avoiding the harsh glare, without having to blow out the background. This can certainly make the experience more comfortable for everyone.
Shooting in the rain
Rain shots can be lovely, but to do them anytime other than summer runs the risk of making everyone miserable. Rain is always cooler than the air temperature by several degrees, so if the air temperature is too low all we’re going to see is goosebumps. Of course, scheduling that shoot and actually being in the right place when it comes down can be quite challenging. Rain forecasts this time of year are often inaccurate and undependable. I’ve chased all over the county trying to get in front of the one rain cloud that was doing anything. When you catch it, though, it can be wonderful.
Adventures into the unknown
Anyone can stand under a tree or in a flower garden, but what summer gives us is the chance to wander off into places we’ve never been. Model choice is a critical element with this option, though. Not every model is inclined to spend an afternoon in the company of spiders and bugs or possibly snakes. Scouting a location can also be critical so that you know if there are crawdads just under that layer of silt in that pool of water. Still, exploring new places with the right people is always fun, even if you’re not taking pictures!
Even cloudy days are good
Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that every day is going to be full of sunshine. The good news is that during this season, again thanks to that wonderful tilt, we have greater light intensity on cloudy days than we do at any other time of year. Depending on the type and height of the clouds, they can provide a beautiful diffused light or a dramatic background to one’s photograph. The absence of sun is never an excuse to stay inside!
Color and contrast
As much as I enjoy shooting outdoors and with natural light, there are times when mother nature doesn’t give us much in the way of color and contrast. Winter, especially, tends to give us so much grey that shooting black and white is almost requisite. Not this time of year, though. If anything, we can have the opposite problem. Backgrounds that are too full of color can be distracting, especially if the model is wearing something patterned. Nature provides plenty of perfect backdrops, though, especially with a little planning and coordination.
Summer is just more fun
Despite the challenges, summer photography is loaded with fun. We can take off our shoes and walk through the mud, wade streams, create crazy effects with reflectors, and really push our cameras to their limits. At times, we’ve taken a picnic and made a day of the event. We’ve found beautiful places we never knew existed. We can take advantage of everything the world has to offer.
Summer is the one season when there’s really no valid reason to not be outside taking pictures. A little planning never hurts, but with an open, creative and adventurous mind there are great pictures waiting for the click of your shutter button. Get out there, take advance of the season and shoot!