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13 Tips and Ideas for Amazing Summer Photography

tips and ideas for summer photography

This article was updated in June 2024 with contributions from Jaymes Dempsey.

Well, it’s summer again, that magical time filled with bright light, balmy temperatures, and beautiful skies – not to mention endless photographic opportunities! As someone who lives in the northern(ish) part of the Northern Hemisphere, I spend a lot of time looking forward to summer, and when it finally does come, I try to get out with my camera as frequently as possible!

Of course, summer photography does come with its fair share of challenges. The sun can be too intense, washing out your shots and adding unwanted contrast. The heat can make it difficult to photograph outside during the middle of the day. And coming up with interesting photoshoot ideas that truly capture the essence of summer can be a struggle.

Fortunately, with the right approach, you can overcome all these challenges. That’s where this article comes in handy; I explain how you can capture stunning summer photos, no matter your level of experience and no matter your gear.

Specifically, I share:

  • My favorite type of light for beautiful summer photography
  • An easy mindset change that’ll quickly improve your photos
  • My favorite way to find summer photoshoot locations
  • Plenty of summer photography ideas to get you inspired
  • Much more!

So if you’re ready to create some top-notch shots, then let’s dive right in, starting with:

1. Pay attention to the summer sun

If you want to capture consistently gorgeous summer photos, then you must learn to master lighting – and that starts by paying careful attention to the sun.

When I first get out of the car or leave the house with my camera, I like to ask myself:

  1. Are there clouds? If so, how are they moving, and are they covering the sun?
  2. Where is the sun positioned in the sky?

Clouds will diffuse the light, creating soft, even illumination that’s perfect for portraiture, flower photos, and forest landscapes. Clear skies, on the other hand, will produce hard, high-contrast light that’s great for street photos and architectural shots but bad for pretty much everything else.

(Of course, all of this does depend somewhat on personal preference; I personally think sunny midday landscape photography can be interesting, but that’s not an opinion shared by most of my fellow photographers.)

However, if the skies are clear, you can still get great light by shooting early in the morning or late in the afternoon. These times – known as the golden hours – feature soft, golden light that’ll create long shadows and reveal plenty of subject detail.

summer photography ideas and tips
Photographing during the golden hours can imbue your photos with that wonderful summer feeling!

For that reason, wildlife photographers, bird photographers, portrait photographers, and landscape photographers all love to work during the golden hours, and I’m betting you will, too. Making this one change – that is, committing to working at sunrise and sunset – can dramatically enhance your images! Looking back at my old summer photos, I wish that I had understood the value of golden-hour light sooner; I spent far too much time photographing under the harsh midday sun and not enough time enjoying the soft, warm light of sunset.

Plus, photographing when the sun is low in the sky is a great way to avoid the intense summer heat (though it can also coincide with peak insect activity, especially near water and in forests, so watch out!).

2. Shoot fireflies at night

summer photography ideas and tips

Fireflies are a classic summer insect, but they can be hard to photograph – unless you know a handy little technique.

You see, to photograph fireflies, you shouldn’t try to capture individual insects. Instead, you should use a long exposure to photograph many fireflies over a few minutes (or hours).

So mount your camera on a tripod and point it toward a firefly hangout spot. Set the camera to Bulb mode (if your camera offers it). Then choose a lengthy shutter speed, one that will give the fireflies plenty of time to flit around the area. You might start at five minutes, but you can always increase or decrease the shutter speed depending on your results.

Your first images might be a bit subpar – poorly exposed, or featuring far too few fireflies – but keep trying. It can take a bit of trial and error to get it right, but if you put in the effort, you’ll end up with an absolute masterpiece!

(By the way, if you’re struggling to find fireflies to photograph, look in places with heavy vegetation cover, and restrict your shooting to the hour or two just after sunset.)

3. Do an underwater photoshoot

Summer and water-based fun go hand in hand, so why not put together an underwater photoshoot?

For this summer photography idea, you’ll need an underwater housing (or a waterproof camera). You’ll also need swim gear; if you’re doing a lengthy underwater shoot, then a snorkel or even scuba equipment is a good idea, but you can always start by holding your breath, diving, and shooting.

summer photography ideas and tips
Summer is the perfect time to start photographing underwater. This image features an ocean, but you can always get started photographing in pools!

Underwater photography offers up lots of subjects and possible shots, including:

  • Underwater landscapes
  • Fish
  • Light-and-water abstracts
  • Underwater portraits

You’ll need to pay careful attention to your camera settings – it’s much darker beneath the water! – and if you find that you enjoy underwater photography, you may want to invest in an underwater flash.

One more note: Before taking your camera underwater in a housing, make sure that all relevant clasps, clips, and dials are locked down tight. I’ve heard scary stories about incorrectly sealed housings that completely ruined the photographer’s camera. You don’t want that to be you!

4. Photograph the same subject for a week

This summer photography idea is a great way to help you improve your photographic skills – especially your understanding of composition and light.

Pick a subject, such as a type of flower, a tree, a car, a landscape, or a person. Then photograph that same subject over and over again, each day for a week.

Try to vary the time and weather so you get plenty of unique opportunities as you head out each day. And don’t use the same compositions, lighting, and settings each day. Mix it up!

summer photography ideas and tips
When you first start with this exercise, you may become bored, but keep at it. If you can push past the initial roadblock, you may discover a new and exciting direction for your photography!

If you shoot at midday on the first day, come back around sunset on the second day. And if you use a shallow depth of field on the third day, then use the fourth day to experiment with deep depth of field effects. Make sense?

Once the week is up, if you’ve enjoyed this challenge, you may wish to continue. Try photographing the same subject for a full month. You’ll be amazed by how much your images improve!

5. Shoot during the evening

Summer photography tips and ideas
I’m an absolute sucker for beautiful evening light, especially when it’s combined with artificial lighting! In the summer, the sun sets late in the day, but if you’re willing to stay out late, the rewards can be tremendous.

While the daytime – and especially the golden hours – offer fantastic opportunities for summer photography, there’s something special about waiting for the sun to dip below the horizon.

You see, just after sunset, we enter the enchanting realm known as the blue hour. During this time, a soft, ethereal light covers the world, creating a captivating atmosphere that can elevate your portraits, landscapes, street photos, and more. If you’ve never shot during the blue hour before, then trust me when I say that you’ve got to try it at least once; the light really is so magical.

Keep in mind, though, that illumination is pretty limited during this period. If you’re handholding, you’ll need to widen your aperture significantly and crank up your ISO to get crisp, well-exposed results. I rarely shoot without a tripod once the sun sets; in fact, it was my desire to photograph during the blue hour that initially led me to purchase a tripod. I’ll also mention that, even if you feel like you won’t enjoy working with a tripod, you might be surprised. I resisted purchasing a tripod for years because I thought I would hate it, and now I absolutely love it. It forces a deliberate, meditative approach that’s really wonderful (at least for me!).

One more tip for photographing summer nights: Try capturing shots that include streetlights. The combination of warm glowing lights and a purple-blue sky looks amazing.

6. Go minimalist

Summer photography tips and ideas
Summer minimalism makes for eye-catching photos, and when you’ve got blue skies stretching in every direction, minimalist compositions are easy to create!

If you’d like to try something new this summer, consider experimenting with a more minimalistic approach to composition. This is all about embracing negative space and leaving areas full of nothingness – empty skies, stretches of water, etc. – in your shots, like the empty blue sky in the image displayed above.

I really do think that summer is an unusually good time to play around with minimalist photography, as many classic summer activities and vacation spots include minimalist elements. Parks, for instance, contain fields of grass that look wonderfully minimalist when juxtaposed underneath a flat blue or white sky. Beaches are even better – they’re a favorite subject of mine, in part due to the simplicity of the sand, water, and sky – and you can create breathtaking minimalist photos along beaches for days. (For instance, you can photograph the water underneath a flat horizon, or a single gull flying through the sky, or a lone boat out at sea…the opportunities are endless!)

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different compositions. While the rule of thirds can be helpful for photography more generally, for minimalist shots, I like to play with the placement of my subject throughout the frame for a fresh and dynamic feel. By placing a lone subject near a corner or edge, for instance, I’m often able to give a minimalist image that extra punch of interest that takes it to the next level.

Also, be sure to shoot in all sorts of light. The golden hours are great for minimalistic summer photography, but you can get great results by working in the evening or around noon on cloudy days. And I’ve found that you can get some nice minimalistic shots at beaches with high-contrast sun, so give that a try, too!

7. Photograph deliberately

Given the incredibly cheap cost of storage, it’s often tempting to hold down that shutter button and shoot constantly.

But this “spray and pray” approach will simply result in hundreds – or even thousands – of photos, most of them bad. To find the good ones, you’ll need to wade through all of your files, which can be a huge chore.

summer photography ideas and tips
When you find an interesting scene or subject, don’t take too many photos. It’s a good idea to work the scene, of course – many of the most successful photographers do this, too – but make sure that each of your images is driven by a conscious purpose, not just spraying and praying.

So instead of constantly tapping that shutter button, once you find a potential subject, take a deep breath. Ask yourself: Is my subject really worth photographing? Am I genuinely interested in this shot? Have I used the light and the composition to get the best possible results?

I’m not saying that you should never use your camera’s burst mode. (In fact, as I explain in a later tip, fast shooting is highly useful if you’re photographing birds, wildlife, sports, or even street subjects.)

But you should learn to work your burst mode sparingly. Only use it when absolutely necessary.

summer photography ideas and tips

8. Play around with different focal lengths

The summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, and it’s also a great time to explore different lenses.

Start by thinking about the lenses you used most frequently over the previous year. Then – and I know that this will be hard to do! – make a conscious effort to leave them at home. Instead, bring out your neglected lenses, the ones that sit on the shelf and rarely get much camera time.

Challenge yourself to take great photos with these neglected lenses. Put them in your bag, mount them on your camera, and see what you can come up with.

summer photography ideas and tips

Working with different focal lengths is a great way to get out of your comfort zone, and it can help you produce highly creative images.

One tip, however: If you have a lot of unused lenses, just pick two or three and stick to those. Working with too many lenses will prevent you from really getting to know their specific focal lengths – and that will hold back your photos.

Some photographers even advocate using a single prime lens until you really get to know its field of view and how it renders the scene. I’m not so stringent, myself (I enjoy the flexibility of my standard zoom lens a little too much), but I can definitely see how such an approach would be beneficial. If it’s of interest you to, then by all means, give it a try!

9. Enjoy some silhouette photography

Summer photography tips and ideas
Silhouettes never fail to grab the viewer’s attention – and if you can learn how to combine a silhouette effect with careful composition, your images will be breathtaking.

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of summer? For me, it’s the beauty of a clear blue sky – but an orange-hued silhouette is probably second. So why not take advantage of the gorgeous weather and have a silhouette photoshoot or two?

If you’ve never captured deliberate silhouette shots before, I’m happy to share that it’s pretty easy. The secret is to time it just right; specifically, make the most of the early mornings or late evenings when the sun is low on the horizon. Position yourself strategically, with your subject between you and the bright sky.

Also, when shooting silhouettes, make sure you expose for the background. That way, your foreground subject will turn out ultra-dark, while the sky will look wonderfully vibrant. And don’t hesitate to click away, experimenting with different angles and adjusting the brightness levels until you achieve that magical balance. If you’re shooting in RAW, you’ll have even more flexibility in post-processing, allowing you to recover or remove details as needed.

You can start by capturing stunning silhouette portraits, but don’t limit yourself. Let your creativity run wild! Try creating enchanting silhouettes of buildings, wildlife, people strolling down the streets, and more.

10. Explore your local area

summer photography ideas and tips

Summer weather is perfect for walking, jogging, hiking, biking, boating, and so much more. In other words, summer is the best time to head outside, have fun under the sun, and appreciate the power of nature.

I think, however, that many photographers feel that, to capture amazing photos, they need to head to classic photographic locations: Yosemite National Park, the Swiss Alps, Icelandic waterfalls, etc.

But I’m a firm believer that you can capture beautiful shots of pretty much anything, even your everyday surroundings. You just have to really keep those eyes open!

That’s why I recommend you spend at least half an hour every day exploring the area around your house. You might start by going on a walk or a bike ride. Then see where you end up!

If you have good parks in your area, consider taking a weekend camping trip. Be sure to take plenty of photos, and dedicate some time to getting off the beaten path.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for places to photograph near your house, check Flickr, 500PX, or Instagram. You can simply search for your location, then scroll through the photos until you find something interesting. (If the location isn’t fully disclosed in the image caption, you can always try messaging the photographer.)

11. Photograph in bad weather

summer photography ideas and tips
Is the weather rainy? Instead of putting away your camera, see if you can capture something unique!

Bad weather can be a bummer for most photographers. I myself have a big problem with this: If I have a photography outing planned, I’ll check the weather obsessively while wishing for clear skies.

But while I’ve never managed to completely get over my frustration with bad weather, I have found that gloomy skies and intense rain come with significant advantages.

For one, bad weather causes the crowds to disperse, which means you can visit places that are normally bustling with people. It’s a great way to get tourist-free shots of national-park classics, plus it can make for a more enjoyable experience. And if you like street photography, rain causes pedestrians to bring out their umbrellas, which in turn allows you to capture all sorts of interesting images!

Bad weather can also create puddles, plenty of cloud drama, powerful light, and more – so the next time you sense bad weather, see if you can brave the unpleasantness and head outside with your camera.

I’ve done a lot of shooting in less-than-ideal conditions (including one memorable trip where I experienced clouds and rain for the entire week), and I do have a couple of additional items I want to mention.

First, if you’re used to photographing in relatively strong light, you’ll need to bear in mind that stormy skies will require very different exposure settings. If you shoot handheld, I recommend widening your aperture substantially and boosting your ISO if you can’t get the shutter speed you want. Photographing with a tripod in these darker conditions can be a good idea, but watch out for heavy winds, which can shake your setup and result in camera blur (or, in really bad situations, blow over your entire setup).

Second, rain can damage your equipment, especially if it’s not weatherproof. I like to carry a waterproof camera cover at all times, and if the forecast is looking grim, I’ll be extra careful to include it in my bag.

Third, whatever you do, don’t change lenses in sandy, windy, or wet conditions! You don’t want to end up with debris inside your camera or lens.

12. Shoot the action

Summer photography tips and ideas

Summer is all about energy and adventure, with sports, swimming, and outdoor fun taking the stage. So why not have some fun capturing those thrilling events?

To achieve the best results, it’s crucial to get your camera settings just right. Start by using a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of your subjects. And shoot in burst mode; it’ll let you fire off a rapid succession of shots.

With burst mode, you’ll be able to capture those split-second instances that make your heart race. But don’t go crazy and spray shots indiscriminately. Time your bursts carefully to capture the perfect compositions.

Keep in mind that while modern cameras are impressive, they have limits, and your unit probably can’t capture an unlimited number of photos in a single burst; therefore, it’s important to make sure you don’t go overboard!

13. Do summer-themed portrait photoshoots

Summer photography tips and ideas

If you’re into portrait photography, why not kick it up a notch and dive into the world of summer-themed photoshoots? You’ll need to find a willing model – like a family member or a close friend – and I’d recommend thinking carefully about your location to really hone in on that summer theme.

I’ve talked about my love of beaches elsewhere in this article, and they’re a great choice for summer portraiture, but don’t worry if you don’t have any nearby. Parks are another good location – or, if you don’t mind working in a more chaotic environment, head into the city with your subject.

If you’re focused on conveying that sense of summer, bring along a handful of props that scream summer vibes. Think sunglasses, flowers, colorful umbrellas, or even everyone’s favorite treat: ice cream! These props will give your photos that extra oomph and help you capture the summer feeling.

(Imagine your model rocking a stylish pair of shades, playfully twirling an umbrella, or taking a delicious bite out of an ice cream cone…)

Of course, always be mindful of the sun and heat. Make sure that both you and your subject stay hydrated, photograph during the cooler parts of the day if you can, and if the temperatures are too extreme, try shooting inside instead.

Summer photography tips and ideas: final words

Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to have plenty of summer photography fun! It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out with a camera in hand; these tips should help anyone who wants to capture the essence of summer through their lens.

Remember that good light is your best friend. Pay attention to the sun, the clouds, and those magical golden hours. Don’t be afraid to stay out late, and if you really want to push yourself, try to get out with your camera before sunrise.

So grab your camera, chase the light, and let your creativity run wild. Explore new locations, experiment with different techniques, and don’t be afraid to push your boundaries.

Follow the tips and ideas I’ve shared. Appreciate the weather. And good luck!

Now over to you:

What do you plan to photograph this summer? Do you have any summer photography ideas of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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