In the 1950s, Slim Aarons photographed the sun-drenched beaches of Capri. In the 1970s, Michael Dweck captured bathers and surfers luxuriating on the sandy shores of Montauk. In the 1980s, Gay Block told the stories of residents of Miami’s South Beach, who sat on their porches or brought chairs to sit on the beach in the afternoon sun.
Photography and summer go hand-in-hand, and following two years of uncertainty, perhaps this year gives us all the more reason to celebrate and step outside of our comfort zones. To help you get started and encourage you to make the most of this time of year, here are some of our favorite summer photography ideas; use them as a point of departure, and feel free to add your own.
Play with shadows
In summer, the days are longer, so you have more hours to experiment with natural light. Head outside during the golden hour for those long, soft shadows, or dare to brave the harsh mid-day light for deep, graphic shadows. Or move indoors for some tabletop still lives, using sheer white curtains to diffuse that lovely window light. You can browse 500px for photography inspiration.
If you’re shooting outdoors, and the light’s too bright, try a circular polarizer filter. These can be a lifesaver on sunny days; use them to reduce glare or distracting reflections.
Embrace silhouettes at sunset
Speaking of the golden hour, it’s the perfect time to create dramatic silhouettes against the warm sky. Bring a model, and expose for the highlights (using spot metering) to cast their shape into shadow. You want to keep all those rich details in the sky and lose detail on your model. Make sure to choose a clear and recognizable pose to help them stand out. If you’re patient, you might be lucky enough to spot wildlife at sunset and photograph them using that dreamy backlight, as Georg Scharf did with these grey herons.
From condensation on beverages to melted ice cream and popsicles, nothing captures the heat of summertime quite like a food shoot. Add some fresh fruit for a pop of color; make your own sorbet using natural ingredients, or embrace some of the plant-based ice cream alternatives making a splash this year.
While studio lighting means you have longer to shoot before everything melts, natural light works well for these kinds of shoots too, so keep that window open (or shoot outside). Your photos don’t have to be picture-perfect; a little bit of drizzle or messiness can bring out the spontaneity of the season.
Hit the field (or the skatepark)
With skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing having made their Olympic debut—and breakdancing on the way—the options for summer sports are endless. From surf legends like LeRoy Grannis to skate icons like Craig Stecyk, photographers have been documenting sports culture for generations, often capturing emerging movements and scenes before they go mainstream. Check out your local beaches or skateparks, and get to know the athletes in your neighborhood; you might uncover a story waiting to be told.
Get in the water
Speaking of surfing, now’s the time to the beach, whether you’re shooting ethereal, long-exposure seascapes or crowded shores filled with colorful umbrellas. You can also hop in the water and shoot beneath the surface using underwater housing; master nature photographer Chun Chau, for example, uses housings by Aquatech. Take extra care if documenting or interacting with wildlife, whether you’re on shore or practicing underwater photography.
Celebrate the natural world
From the magical bioluminescence of Puerto Rico’s Mosquito Bay to the spellbinding view of the Perseid meteor shower over Tenerife, summer plays host to some of our planet’s most extraordinary natural wonders. Meanwhile, the night-blooming cereus flower only blossoms once a year, typically in June or July; the Tohono Chul gardens in Arizona has a magnificent collection.
Even if you don’t live in one of these coveted destinations, chances are you have treasures waiting in your own backyard, like twinkling fireflies dancing at dusk. (If you use a long exposure, you’ll turn them into streaks of light, as Junya Hasegawa did above, using a shutter speed of 15 seconds.)
Finally, be prepared. Summer shoots mean long, hot days, so pack plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and water. We also recommend some eco-friendly insect repellent (you can even make your own using essential oils).
Brave “bad” weather
While summer might be known for its sunshine, warm days also mean more storms, so feel free to embrace those moody shots as well. Just remember to protect yourself and your gear. Ryan Dyar captured this breathtaking scene one August as a storm rolled in (above). “Shortly after, the storm fully engulfed me, and the light faded, which I took as my cue to get the hell outta there,” he shared at the time.
Attend a festival
Summer music festivals have officially made their comeback; according to Twitter, there were more than 32 million tweets about them in the last year, signaling growing anticipation leading up to festival season. From Lollapalooza in Chicago to Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, consider attending an event near you with some friends for some summertime photography inspo; remember to capture scenes from the crowd as well as the bands themselves.
Note: If you plan to submit your photos for commercial Licensing, just make sure you have model releases for all identifiable people. You’ll also need to avoid any trademarked content, such as branded images, signs, or logos.
Bring your camera on vacation
In June, Airbnb and Vrbo saw their highest numbers of short-term vaca rentals, signaling the long-awaited return of summer travel. Following the pandemic, some long for faraway places, while others might have established new “staycation” or family camping traditions; this summer will look different for everyone, so show us what it means to you, from #vanlife to #sandbetweenmytoes.
On the Licensing side of things, just remember to avoid recognizable buildings and private properties (unless you have a property release); there’s plenty to discover outside of protected locations and off the beaten path.
Document the everyday
Ever since Sally Mann photographed her family at her summer cabin in Shenandoah Valley in the 1980s-90s, artists have been drawn to the magic of everyday life at home. Some of the most beautiful moments might already be happening in the background of your daily schedule; consider the things you take for granted, from getting ready for camp in the morning to eating smores at night. Jennifer Kapala photographs her boys underwater in the magical summer light, while Adrian C. Murray documented his child’s adventures with their dog. These are the memories you’ll hold onto, so make them last.
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