Summer is both a blessing and a curse for landscape photographers. You get warmth and late sunsets, so you can head out after work and shoot. But the higher position of the sun, and our planet’s proximity to it, means harsher light and fewer clouds. What little colour variety our foliage has also disappears.
Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t try. And you can still get spectacular results.
The number one tip is to get extreme. As in, shoot at the extremes of daylight. This sounds obvious - dawn and sunset are favourites no matter what time of year you shoot - but this advice is doubly important in summer.
The generally higher sun position means that morning and evening are the way to get flattering light in summer. Scientifically-speaking, the sun hits the horizon at oblique angles, meaning softer light and a greater chance of interesting reflections off the ground or clouds.
There is a higher likelihood of clouds and even fog in the morning, as temperatures are lower and the sun has yet to burn off the water vapour. This water vapour means the sun’s light is diffused further, flattering the landscape.
Finally, and this is important if you have a compact cameras, or you haven't invested in a slot-in filter kit for a DSLR (explained below), all this diffusion means less likelihood of blowouts from extreme brightness.
Get a slot-in filter
When shooting landscapes, a major concern is dynamic range: the variance between light and dark. Most cameras do not have enough range to adequately expose both sky (lighter) and ground (darker). To get around this, pro and semi-pro photographers invest in Neutral Density (ND) graduated filters, which darken the sky to match the ground.
Hit the beach
I also recommend simply heading to the beach. I am lucky to live very close to several, but summer and the beach go together no matter where you are. Not only can you get some great silhouettes of people and dogs walking along at sunset, you are also close to the water. This is again important if you do not have a compact camera or a slot-in filter kit.
By shooting at the water’s edge, the reflections mean the ‘ground’ element is lighter, so you have a better chance of getting great shots even without filters. The shots below are examples. Two required a little extra foreground lightening in Photoshop, but the pier shot is almost as it was out of the camera. In all three, you can see how the water reflects the light and balances out the shot, while the clouds also stop almost all blowouts.
Click to view full-size version. This shot has had the foreground lightened using Photoshop Elements.
Click to view full-size version.
Click to view full-size version. The foreground in this shot has been lightened using Photoshop Elements.
Block the sun for great effects
If you don’t live around a beach, then you can still make the most of what’s around you to get a great shot. For example, if you are unlucky enough to get a morning or evening without fog or clouds, aim for the trees. By placing a tree or few in front of the sun, you can block the worst of its harsh light and get interesting effects as the light bursts around it/them. You can also get amazing shadows or, depending on how far back you are standing, brilliant silhouettes.
Look for colour
The last tip is to familiarise yourself with the foliage around you. Summer in most parts of Australia may be a sea of green, but there are patches of colour if you look. Examples include fields of wild flowers/weeds or even a flower show or two. If you can’t get to those, remember that in the right light, golden fields of straw or wheat can make amazing foreground subjects. Look around and visit a few to avoid all your shots becoming beachscapes.
Spend a little, get more flexibility
I suggest two things that will cost you a little money – purchasing a polarising filter (difficult on compacts, I know), as these will add punch to early morning blue skies, and downloading The Photographer’s Ephemeris.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a great free app for Mac, Windows and Linux and costs $11.99 for iOS devices. It’s worth paying, though, as it tells you where the sun and moon will rise and set relative to any location, and on any date. It even tells you the light’s direction. I can tell you, when shooting a new location, or at an unfamiliar time (dawn for me), it is invaluable to know where the sun (or moon) will be.
Anyway, hope these tips help out. Let me know how you go in the comments section.