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Picture This: Pictures of Summer

The season of heat and bright light brings special challenges and opportunities for photographers.

By Earl Nottingham


The dog days of a hot Texas summer can be brutal for anyone who spends time in the outdoors. But let’s face it, summertime is when lots of fun things really start to happen — things like trips to the lake, beach or mountains, or cross-country family vacations. These outdoor adventures bring opportunities for getting great photos and capturing the story and mood of the moment. In fact, if you think about it, many of our most memorable and iconic photographs in family albums have been taken in the good old summertime.

Along with the blazing heat, other predictable aspects (both pro and con) of summer can be of significant interest to a photographer when it comes to capturing the best possible image. Here are some considerations that may aid you in getting that album-worthy shot.

Harsh Lighting

For several reasons, intense summer light can be extremely harsh for almost any type of outdoor photos, including portraits, landscapes, nature or wildlife. From a technical perspective, the ratio of light from highlights to shadows (dynamic range) is too wide for the typical digital sensor to record, resulting in loss of detail in bright areas or completely black shadows. While the human eye can see detail in deep shadows as well as bright areas at the same time, the camera cannot. For portraits, the glaring light invariably invites squinting subjects with harsh, unflattering shadows, especially when taken in noonday sun. Shooting early in the morning or late in the evening typically produces more aesthetically pleasing portrait lighting. Alternately, move your subject into the shade of a building or overhang of a tree. This not only softens the light but will alleviate most squinting.

If you must shoot portraits in the sun, consider using a diffuser between the subject and the sun. This can be something as simple as a translucent shower curtain held over the subject or a commercially available photo diffuser that folds up for storage. A slightly overcast day will produce much of the same result and works as a natural diffuser. A natural reflector like sand or water can also help by bouncing light and adding detail into the shadows that would normally go black.

summer
Direct sunlight can be very harsh and uncomfortable for a portrait subject.

summer
A diffuser placed between the sun and the subject softens the light for a more pleasing portrait with softer shadows.

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The result of using the diffuser is turning harsh sunlight into your own outdoor studio.

Bright Colors

One of the photographic upsides to summer is the abundance of bright colors, mainly primary colors. Unlike the more pastel color palettes of winter and autumn, summer goes wild with vivid reds, greens, blues and yellows that can be found in such things as a deep blue sky, blooming plants, beach toys, amusement parks, hot air balloons or even the clothing we wear. The bright seasonal colors are ideal for adding impact to any photograph, especially when using contrasting colors such as reds or yellows against blues. White, puffy cumulus clouds that are common during this time of year can also add contrast and interest to a solid blue sky, especially for landscape photos. Warm colors such as reds, oranges and yellows always add excitement and vibrancy to an image, while cool colors such as greens and blues convey a more relaxed feeling.

Try New Things

Bright colors and strong light ratios provide the perfect opportunity to play with some of the new image enhancement apps available for smartphones or computers. It’s the perfect time to explore those new photo apps you’ve installed but haven’t had time to play with yet. Many effects included with apps such as Snapseed, Hipstamatic and Instagram (as well as those included with your native camera app) are ideal for exploring creative new possibilities. Those who are into HDR (high dynamic range) processing will see a virtual carnival of colors explode from the monitor. HDR also has the advantage of being able to render a “natural” looking image by reining in the overly harsh and contrast-filled lighting from a blazing sun.

Summertime gives us more hours in the day to enjoy the outdoors and more opportunities for fun and creative photography. So head out, shoot away, hydrate and don’t forget the sunscreen!

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For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page

 

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