Is summer photography a waste of time?

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I have often heard people complain that photography in summer is a waste of time. At first glance, you can see what they mean: the sun is too high most of the time, the daytime light can be quite blue, the sky is often rather hazy, and the vegetation is unbearably and vibrantly green. And even if you do decide to head out to do some photography, the roads are jammed with holiday traffic, and your chosen location is likely to be overwhelmed with people. It’s not really a good start, is it?

My counter to those complaints is that you just have to work differently to how you might at other times of the year. Critically, you have to head out super early and/or stay out super late. What’s more, you should concentrate on those subjects that can only be shot in summer. Read on to find out more, and/or watch the video of the online talk I gave on this very subject on 19th June 2024. Just click on the You Tube link below.

To ensure that your summer photography is not a waste of time, adapt your subject matter and mode of operation – oh, and your perspective too! Let’s start with those crowded locations. For many photo subjects, a crowded is scene really isn’t what you want. But suppose you’re a travel photographer tasked with capturing summer beaches. Crowded is exactly what you want (even if you personally may not like it!). You’re going to turn up at the region’s most popular beach at about 2 or 3pm, just when the beach is at its busiest. You’ll get some superb photo opportunities.

Furthermore, there are all those summer events that take place only in summer. Anyone wanting to photograph these will just have to soak up the crowd if they’re going to get those event shots. On top of that, for most events they’ll just have to put up with the sun being oh-so high in the sky, just as that crowded beach photographer will. It’s a price that the photographer will have to pay to capture the right moments at a daytime event.

Of course, if you’re photographing at a music festival then you’ll probably be in luck, because in general they don’t even get going until into the evening, initally allowing you to make use of the golden evening sunlight, and then the soft, even lighting of dusk. Things then of course plunge into darkness and you may be dependent on the stage lights for shootability.

Is summer photography a waste of time?
You may have to put up with crowds initially in order to get the events photography you need.

Then there is the nature photography that can be done only in summer. Firstly, that means insects, particularly butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. Of course, some of these can also be seen in spring and autumn, but for the vast majority its strictly summer, and often only in the middle of a sunny summer’s day at that. So have your macro gear to hand, and be ready to get stuck in at a moment’s notice!

On top of that, there is the migratory wildlife that visits the UK for just the few summer months in order to breed. In the UK that means almost entirely birds. Inland these include such birds as the cuckoo, the nightjar and a host of smaller birds, including warblers, swifts and swallows. Some of these can be quite a challenge, but set to work and see what you can come up with.

On the coast, there is a number of breeding colonies of marine birds, which can make for some fantastic photography. These birds include the gannet, guillemot, razorbill and of course the charismatic puffin. They nest in vast colonies consisting of thousands of birds, sometimes on mainland coastal cliffs, often on offshore islands. They make for some fantastic photography, with main challenge consisting of how to get to the sites. The conservation bodies quite rightly keep a tight rein on access to these breeding sites, with most off-limits entirely, and just a handful open for a few hours a day to a limited number of visitors. That means having to put up with the travel photographer’s problem of having little choice but to photograph when the sun is far too high in the sky. However, it is worth it: the stunning images you’ll end up with will make it so.

Is summer photography a waste of time?
A charismatic puffin: the ultimate summer-only wildlife photography

I think it’s photographers’ attempts to shoot landscapes in summer that are mostly responsible for the lament ‘Is summer photography a waste of time?’ Certainly, for those that insist on photographing landscapes during the middle of the day, it is quite true: they are wasting their time. The sun is too high, the light is rather blue, the sky is hazy, and it all just looks horribly washed out. And then there are those jammed roads.

There is no alternative but to shoot when the light is right, namely for about two hours after dawn and for about two-three hours before dusk. In mid-summer, of course, that means heading out awfully early – perhaps as early as 3am if you include the time to get to your photo location – or staying out quite late. Clearly, staying out late is the more comfortable option, but early morning and late evening don’t always give you the same conditions. Even in summer, a landscape that contains plenty of water (eg lakes, ponds, marshes, drainage channels, lots of dew, or the after-effects of rain) can generate some very atmospheric ground mist at dawn. It doesn’t last long, so you really have to be on-site well before the sun comes over the horizon, but the photographic results can be stunning. Once the sun starts warming the air that mist will evaporate very quickly. You very rarely see this in the evening.

Is summer photography a waste of time?
For successful summer landscape photography there is no alternative but to head out really early.

So I hope you can see from the above that summer photography is anything but a waste of time. You just have to tailor what you shoot and how you shoot it to the time of year. It can be pretty painful for a landscape photographer to have to head out at 3am or even earlier, but if you genuinely want to pull off the best photographic images possible that’s the price. Either that, or you concentrate on events and busy travel scenes, or of course those wonderful insects that oblingingly come out in the middle of the day.

Whichever you choose, make the most of your summer photography!

My next online talk will be about long exposure photography, and will take place live on Zoom on 25th September 2024. As always, it’s free to attend. Just click on the appropriate link below to sign up to receive the link. I’ll look forward to seeing you.

Is summer photography a waste of time?
Summer insect photography is just a wonderful way to spend some photographic time.

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