Is summer photography a waste of time?

Home » wildlife photography

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.

Back to top

Seasonal Springtime Photography

What to point your camera at this spring

My first free online talk of 2023 went ahead on 22nd March, entitled Seasonal Springtime Photography. This talk covered the kinds of subject matter you might want to point your camera at during this season of rebirth and new growth.

A recording of the talk is now on You Tube, and you can watch it by clicking on the link below.

Photographing the reawakening of the natural world

Not surprisingly, much of our seasonal springtime photography consists of the natural world, and the processes by which it reawakens at this time of year. This is particularly important for plants, and most especially a succession of wild flowers that burst into colour in our woodlands and grasslands.

Among the earliest are the much-loved snowdrops, followed by the much less well-known but equally beautiful wood anemones, a characteristic flower of our ancient woodlands. Most famous of all the early spring flowers, of course, are the daffodils, ranging from showy garden varieties through to the much rarer and more restrained original wild variety. Flowering from mid-March onwards, garden varieties are of course ubiquitous across UK parks and gardens, and indeed have spread to become wild. The true wild daffodil, can only be found in a few ancient woodland sites, such as on Dartmoor, in Devon.

Most of these wild flowers are of course very small, and so require some patient macro photography techniques, either a dedicated macro lens or an extension tube fitted between lens and camera body. Daffodils are of course the exception, being rather large and hence easily photographed with an ordinary standard or short telephoto lens.

Wood anemones: seasonal springtime photography

Lighting is also hugely important, particularly for white flowers (such as wood anemones), the petals of which frequently burn out and lose detail in bright sunlight. Also an issue for all flowers, particularly small ones, is the comparatively large patches of bright highlight and deep shadow that can be created by bright sunlight, resulting in a contrast range across even just a single flower that is too great for the camera’s sensor to manage.

For these two reasons, it is often better to photograph flowers in softer light, either on a cloudy day, or in the shade, thereby reducing contrast and the risk of bright highlights burning out, or deep shadows becoming too dark. This is often the case even for flowers that look great to the eye in sunlight: the eye can cope much more effectively with a high contrast range than a sensor can manage.

The one time that flower photography can work very well in sunlight is when translucent petals are backlit, resulting in light shining through them, creating quite a magical effect.

Beyond photography of flowers, there is then of course leaves bursting into life to consider, and particularly the stunningly vibrant greens they have in the first few weeks of life. This can be quite magnificent for photography of individual leaves, single trees or entire forests.

Daffodil: seasonal springtime photography

Animals in spring

Many animals also tend to become much more active in spring, associated of course with new breeding activities and the birth of offspring. Birds in particular can look their best at this time of year, especially the males as they put on their best breeding show.

Once offspring start to appear, then there is the annual opportunity for some oh-so-cute photography of youngsters scampering or paddling around close to their parents. Photography of young chicks is perhaps one of the most popular forms of seasonal springtime photography, but always remember that there are laws governing the disturbance of certain species of nesting birds. Always check before getting close to nests.

Then of course there are the migratory species, birds that visit the UK only for a relatively short time to breed during the spring and early summer. These include a number of our marine birds, such as puffins and guillemots, plus also a number of more terrestrial species. Perhaps the most famous of the latter is the cuckoo, arriving in the UK in April or May.

Swan chicks: seasonal springtime photography

Architecture and landscapes in spring

Both architectural and landscape photography can of course be done very successfully at any time of the year, provided the right light is available: they are not photo genres unique to seasonal springtime photography.

That said, certain things are possible in spring that may not be feasible in the winter months. This revolves around the angle of the sun during the spring. Once past the spring equinox (mid- or late March), a time when the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west, the sun starts to move into the northern sky at the beginning and end of each day. This opens up the possibility for photography of north-facing surfaces, whether they be landscapes or building facades, with sunlight shining on them. For each subject you will need to work out whether early morning or evening light is best, and then photograph accordingly.

North-facing landscape.

The human world

Finally, lets not forget the human world. After months of spending time mostly indoors, now things finally start to venture outside. Firstly there’s general outdoor life, such as sport and picnics. In addition, one of the most important things to consider is the series of springtime festivals that appear. In England’s southwest, for example, spring really gets into gear with two annual festivals in Cornwall, namely Padstow’s Obby Oss Festival at the start of May, followed closely by Helston’s Floral Dance. Both are great opportunities to home in on a bit of human action.

The difficulty with photography of street festivals (as the two above examples are), is that the activities can be against a backdrop of both distracting shop and street signage and very unattractve tarmac. Both can seriously mar otherwise perfectly good shots of the event, so consider zooming in very closely on vignettes of the action in order to minimise or even totally cut out these problems. This of course entails using a telephoto lens, and if the action is moving quickly you’ll need a telephoto with fast shutter speeds and whose focussing is fast and accurate.

Inevitably, photography in a crowded place must be handheld – no one will thank you for setting up a tripod, and anyway it will slow you down. So, especially if you’re using a moderately strong telephoto lens, if light levels fall away you may well need to increase the camera’s ISO (ie sensor sensitivity), and put up with the small loss of image quality that this may entail.

Another factor to consider is crowd control. Festivals where this occurs, whether through crash barriers or the presence of police and/or security guards, can result in your photography being seriously cramped. So concentrate of those festivals where this is not an issue. Even then, crowds of spectactors can still restrict your photography. If this occurs, I can only recommend a pair of sharp, though polite, elbows to ensure that you always reach the front and with a good field of view!

Obby Oss Festival, Padstow.

The next talk

I really hope you’ve enjoyed this talk and blog on Seasonal Springtime Photography.

My next free online talk will be on 21st June 2023, and will be Using a Wide-angle Lens. To join this talk you just need to register so I know to send you the link. You can do so by clicking on the link below and then filling in and submitting the simple form.

You can also find out about my photography workshops by clicking on the workshops link below.

I’ll look forward to seeing you!

Back to top

Autumn photography: capturing the season

What to point your camera at this coming season

My autumn photography talk went ahead on Zoom on 21st September, this season’s subject entitled Autumn Photography: Capturing the Season. Predictably, it was all about the kinds of things you could be photographing during the autumn, many photographers’ favourite photography season.

The full talk can be watched below. Just click on the image to start the video.

Autumn colours, one of the season’s top subjects

When getting stuck into some autumn photography to capture the season, inevitably one of the top choices of subject matter is going to be autumn colours among the trees. In the UK’s natural woodlands that generally means golden colours among beech, birch and larch trees. Oaks, which make up a large proportion of our forests, unfortunately rarely produce good autumn colours. Another tree native to the UK that produces great golden colours is the Field Maple, a tree commonly found in hedgerows.

Unfortunately, the stunning reds we see in maples in the forests of North America and Japan don’t occur in our woodlands. To see and photograph these in the UK, head for almost any public garden or park.

Autumn colours are not always as straightforward to photograph as you might expect, the complexity of trees mingling together in a woodland making it hard to create a strong composition.

I often find myself just concentrating on a part of a tree, and in particular with a composition that has clear space behind it, such as an opening created by a river or stream. This helps to simplify the background, reducing clutter and increasing the possibility of being able to put the background out of focus.

If coming in close to leaves it is best to use only compositions where there is a single layer of leaves. Multiple layers usually result in a bit too much complexity, in which the leaves become confusing and rather start to merge with one another.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Mist and fog

Autumn is a perfect time for fogs and mists, particularly early on a still clear and damp morning. Ground mist at dawn can be a stunningly beautiful sight across a wet meadow or in a shallow river valley. However, in many parts of the UK you have to be very early as once the sun is up the mist will burn off quickly. Only if temperatures are really quite low will the mist linger very long after the sun has risen.

Hill fog is of course also very common in autumn, and can easily hang around all day long, particularly in windless, rainy conditions. This can be fantastic for moody, ethereal woodland photography.

River or lake fog is also stunningly beautiful, and again can hang around for many hours in the right conditions. However, more often than not, it does last only for a short time during the early morning, so once again you have to be very early.

Mist and fog have the wonderful effect of reducing clutter and detail, restricting subject matter to simple outlines and silhouettes. The results are hugely evocative, generating images that really could not be caught under any other conditions.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn wildlife photography

Autumn can be a fantastic time for wildlife photography. Firstly, there is the autumn deer rut, most famously among the herds of Red Deer. What’s more, the numbers of wading birds in our marshes and estuaries are greatly swollen by over-wintering birds. This can provide some fantastic photo opportunities with both flocks and individual birds, provided you have a good telephoto reach with your equipment.

One final aspect of autumnal wildlife photography is that this is the time of year when Grey Seals give birth to their oh-so-cute white pups around our coasts. This mostly takes place in inaccessible coves, though there are a few sites where it is possible to obtain reasonable photographable views.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

The human world

Don’t forget the human world during the autumn, whether this be photography of people involved in autumnal activities such as the harvest, or festivals, most often associated with Guy Fawkes’ Night.

There are always plenty of opportunities for seasonal people photography, and it’s really worth trying to grab a few of these. In southwest England these can include such things as the grape harvest at the growing number of vineyards, plus the dramatic spectacles of such events as Bridgwater Carnival (in Somerset) and Ottery Tar Barrels (in Devon), both held in early November.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn photography: capturing the season

As this brief introduction shows, there is a huge amount to photograph out there during the autumn. I hope you’ll get stuck in and enjoy the season.

You can get plenty more ideas in the above video: there is a lot more material covered there that than I’ve been able to in this article.

Future talks

My next online Zoom talk will be on Wednesday 7th December at 8pm GMT, and will cover coastal photography. If you’d like to attend, just register using the link below, so I know to send you the link. It’s all free!

Autumn photography: capturing a rainbow

Back to top

Underwater coral reef life: a relaxing video

A few minutes that will help you to feel better about the world!

No long-winded explanations of photographic technique in this blog, just a relaxing four-minute video of underwater coral reef life.

So just put your feet up, chill out with a glass of something nice and swim along with the turtles and fish.

All footage here was shot by Nigel Hicks, on location in the Maldives and the Philippines.

I hope you’ll enjoy the next few minutes, and that it’ll help you feel so much better about the world!

Back to top

The Techniques of Underwater Photography

Photography of tropical coral reefs in the Maldives and the Philippines

In my summer online photography talk, given live on 22nd June, I showcased the techniques of underwater photography. Though a relatively small part of my photographic work, it is one that I hugely enjoy. So I thought I would introduce some of the work I’ve done photographing the marine wildlife of coral reefs in the Philippines and the Maldives.

A recording of the talk can now be watched any time. Just click on the image below.

The challenges and techniques of underwater photography

The most obvious initial challenge to underwater photography is of course the very fact that it is under water! Inevitably, a first prerequisite is to be able to scuba dive, or at least snorkel, before any photography is possible. Once that is sorted, then you can start to face the challenges of underwater photography, which include:

  • Light levels rapidly fall away as you go deeper, even in the most sunlit conditions;
  • The colour balance of the light rapidly changes, with red light being absorbed in the first few metres, leaving only blue light by the time you reach a depth of about 10 metres;
  • This loss of white light makes it important to use flash lighting to provide white light, and hence to show up the true colours of any subject;
  • No seawater is completely clear: there are always at least some suspended particles able to block and reflect flash lighting back to the camera;
  • It is usually necessary to come as close as possible to the subject, often using a very wide-angle lens, to minimise the camera-to-subject distance and hence the amount of suspended matter between the two;
  • Two flashguns (or strobes as they’re called for underwater photography) are commonly used, each mounted some distance on either side of the camera, increasing the angle of the flash, and helping to reduce the amount of light bounced back to the camera from suspended particles;
  • High pressures encountered while diving mean that all equipment – especially the camera’s housing – must be highly water- and pressure-resistant, making them rather cumbersome and heavy (at least when on land), especially when coupled with two widely-mounted flashguns;
  • Despite measures to reduce problems caused by suspended particles, most underwater images require considerable amounts of post-photography cleaning up in order to remove specks and make the images appear at their best.

These are just the main photography-specific challenges to the techniques of underwater photography, and are quite apart from the general challenges of scuba diving. The latter include limited dive time due to a restricted air supply, safety limits on the maximum depth of any dive, as well as the speed at which one can ascend or descend, and restrictions on the frequency with which you’re allowed to dive.

Techniques of underwater photography

Photography of corals

Corals are among the most beautiful living structures on Earth, consisting of colonies of thousands of coral polyps that together build complex forms. These can vary from huge 2-metre fans (such as in the image above) or rounded boulder-like solid structures, down to tiny tree-like organisms.

Many are the most important building blocks of the coral reef environment, and to me are a joy to photograph. And yet, they are often overlooked by photographers in search of the more high profile charismatic and mobile animals, such as turtles and sharks.

Corals deserve far more photographic attention. Being immobile, they aren’t going to swim away just when you’re trying to line up a shot. But corals can be fragile and require significant care when being photographed: one badly timed kick of a fin can destroy several years of coral growth. So it is critical for a photographer to have close and exact control of their movements when under water, something that is not always easy.

Techniques of underwater photography

Photography of mobile reef animals

The techniques of underwater photography of course encompass both those of immobile corals and of the more mobile animals, such as turtles and fish, to name just the most obvious.

This of course includes the hundreds of commonly seen reef fish, many of which are extremely colourful and beautiful, but also rather small and shy. The latter points can make them rather tricky to photograph as they will almost always swim off and/or hide in a reef crevass the moment you approach. My usual technique is to zoom in a little with a short telephoto lens. Although this then suffers from the problem of increased amounts of suspended particles between me and the subject, it is a worthwhile compromise that helps me get the shot.

Other animals are rather less of a problem, either being much larger than most reef fish, or not at all bothered by the human presence, or both. When I first started diving in the Philippines 20-plus years ago, turtles were very shy and hard to photograph, but today they’re largely at ease with the diver’s presence. This makes it possible to swim alongside them for some distance, shooting more or less at ease, with or without a flashgun.

Sharks too are generally undisturbed by the presence of divers, and can readily be photographed. Obviously, they do have a fearsome reputation, something enhanced by their aggressive appearance, but the great majority of species are quite safe to be around.

Techniques of underwater photography

Scuba diving versus snorkelling

Scuba diving requires some rigorous training and then certification before you can even consider starting underwater photography via this route. So there is some temptation to give it a try while simply snorkelling, since this is unregulated and equipment-free.

While some forms of underwater photography can be done while snorkelling (such as swimming with whale sharks, as in the image above), it is not at all easy, requiring some tricky control of your buoyancy in order to be able to dive, even for a few seconds, below the surface.

Furthermore, many of the most varied, interesting and photogenic forms of coral and fish can’t be found close to the surface, and so can only be photographed while scuba diving.

So, although photography while snorkelling does have its uses, it is rather limited in what can be achieved. Scuba diving, though presenting more of a challenge initially, does offer a much more versatile and effective way of carrying out the techniques of underwater photography.

Techniques of underwater photography

Back to top