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With more hours of sunshine and the benefit of warm weather, summer photo shoots can be some of the most fun and the most flexible that you’ll get to do all year. This time of year also just brings out an innate sense of fun and adventure. The problem isn’t a lack of options, but how to sort through your summer photo shoot ideas and pick the very best ones.
Picking a great location is one of the most important (and most fun decisions) that you’ll get to make regarding your summer shoot.
A winery is a great location a photo shoot regardless of the season. Even in the winter, the bare vines make a nice background for a holiday shoot. However, the best season is clearly early summer. (Although fall is a pretty close second.) In the beginning of summer, the vines generally have grapes on them and everything else is in full bloom. A winery gives everything an elevated and elegant look, plus you have built in props in glasses or bottles of wine.
Wineries usually have two different areas and you can utilize both for different looks. (Obviously this is assuming the winery is alright with shooting, see the paragraph below for tips on that.) The tasting/seating area gives you a place to take more casual photos. Photos in the actual vines have a more refined and fancier feel. I recommend bringing an outfit change to accommodate the change in vibe.
Before shooting at a winery, I always visit first, just to get the feel of the place. You can usually tell which wineries will be alright with shooting and which ones will be more difficult about it. (Some even charge for it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid to shoot at a winery.) Sometimes when I’m scouting, I will directly ask if they would be ok with a photo shoot. Other times, I’ve shown up with a client and just asked before we started. I’ve had success both ways. A bonus of shooting at a winery is that you get the opportunity to support a local business. You never know, they may even be inclined to share your photos on their feed or to their followers.
A garden, field, park, etc. all make great options for the background of summer photos. Everything is in bloom and looks lush and beautiful. Plus, these types of locations are generally big with mixed terrain, so you can get a bunch of different background options all in one place.
When I am scoping out one of these types of locations, I always try to consider if there are things that will help create shade and also give my pictures different aesthetic options. I don’t want a park that is just trees or a field that is only just grass. I want to turn around and see different photo spots. A bonus is if the site has a historic building/house/etc. that not only will create shade, but also serve as a great background.
A tip for making a field look larger: These stalks of lavender weren’t very tall and the rows looked a little sparse. In order to make it look like Z was frolicking in a huge field, I got a few rows away from her and crouched down until the lavender stalks were level with camera. This made it look like she was surrounded by really tall lavender plants, when really she was standing between two aisles of low level plants. You can see what the rows actually looked like in the photo below.
When you think of shooting in the summer, a beach location is probably one of the first spots that comes to mind. A beach background is fun, summery, and the perfect place to show off a bunch of warm weather outfits. However, there are two challenges with shooting at the beach: lighting and people.
Lighting – At the beach, shade is hard to come by, so you might find yourself in a situation with very harsh light that is also reflecting off the water. There are a few things you can do to mitigate this. One is to make sure your camera settings are helping to compensate for the harsh light (lower exposure, low ISO, high shutter speed) and do some work in post processing. You can also follow my #1 rule of shooting in bright light: make sure the subject is standing with their shadow in front of them. This will help create some shade on their body and put them in somewhat consistent, softer light. You can also get creative with location. In the photo of Tinsaye above, we went under the dock. It provided shade and made for a more consistent lighting situation.
People – No matter which beach you pick, it will most likely be crowded. (That is, unless you live near a quieter beach, which, if that’s true, please invite me out for a shoot.) Tinsaye and I shot in Ocean City, NJ the weekend before Memorial Day weekend and it was still overflowing with people. (It was also the first weekend of really warm weather, so that didn’t help.) Getting photos without a ton of people in the background also takes some creativity. Don’t be afraid to put the camera lower than the subject and make the background look bigger and block out unwanted distractions. Shooting in portrait mode (or with a lower aperture, if you are using a camera) will somewhat blur the background and help compensate for distractions in the background. The dock also created a space without people, but it was a very popular photo spot, so we had to wait our turn.
Similar to the beach location, shooting on a waterfront (a lake, the bay, etc.) adds a level of playfulness and fun. The waterfront is also good if you’re looking for a slightly preppier or more nautical vibe. Unlike a beach location, you will probably have fewer issues with crowds and somewhat fewer issues with light. Whereas the beach is wide open with very little areas of shade, you may have better luck finding shade along the lake, bay, etc. The photo of Darby above was taken in Havre de Grace, MD along the Chesapeake Bay. The wooden walkway was definitely out in the open, but we also found trees and other structures that gave us some places to shoot out of the harsh light.
Waterfall shoots are the absolute coolest, there’s no question about that. You can make them dreamy or spooky or any other myriad of aesthetic options. However, the one thing to keep in mind is how you want to interact with it. Do you want to get into a pool of water, like Sarah is above? Do you want to get behind it? Do you just want to pose with it? Not all waterfalls are created equal in terms of photo options, so figure out what you want and make sure you pick a waterfall that has it. In the photo above, Sarah and I were at Kilgore Falls in Jarrettsville, MD. We picked it partially based on geography, but also because Sarah wanted to get into the waterfall and everything we read about Kilgore said specifically that it has a swimming hole. (It also was used as a filming location in Disney’s Tuck Everlasting, in case that matters to you as much as it did to me.)
Some waterfalls are too shallow to get in the water and swim around. Some don’t have a path behind the falls. Some don’t have good rocks or other things to stand on if you want to pose in front of the waterfall. It is also worth considering how popular any given waterfall might be. Sarah and I got to Kilgore right when the parking lot opened because we had read that there are only something like twelve spots and once the parking lot is full, you’re out of luck. When we started shooting, the falls were pretty empty, however, by the time we left, it was getting crowded.
A bonus note on any potentially crowded space: If the crowds are minimal when you arrive, use that time to take wider shots. As it gets more crowded, you can focus on tight shots. It is a lot easier to crop someone out of a portrait than to try to get rid of them in a wide, landscape shot. In the photo of Sarah above, there was someone in the right hand part of the photo. Cropping them out was super easy and didn’t ruin the photo.
There are so many amazing options for photo shoot ideas and locations in the summer. The above list should get you started, but there are plenty of places outside of the suggestions above. With long days and warm temperatures, summer is the perfect time for you to take a risk and try out a new location! Sometimes the most unexpected places give you the most incredible results.
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Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..