I don’t know about you, but my absolute favorite time of year to photograph is summer.
The short, cold, dark, and often uninspiring days of winter behind me, I am re-energized by the promise of long, hot, sunny days and the feelings of freedom and ease that summer brings.
I know that the family photographs I make between June and September will be my best of the year.
Days spent outdoors, the perfect mix of adventure and everyday routine, and plenty of family togetherness make for a very good life. And nothing sets the stage for amazing family photographs better than the good life.
Well before the official start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend for those of us in the United States, I start to get excited by the occasional warm days where the thermometer rises a bit, giving us a glimpse of what is to come.
And though I cannot bring myself to seize these days as vigorously as my kids, who prematurely trade in their warm leggings and boots for shorts and flip flops, my enthusiasm grows and I begin to think ahead about what I want from my summer photographs.
For me, preparation is incredibly valuable. Almost all of my personal family photography is in the documentary style. This means that I rarely pose my subjects or set up scenes. I take the action before me as it is and work to capture the moment authentically and in a way that makes a strong photograph.
And though I want my images to appear as if they were captured naturally and with ease, we all know that capturing just the right moment and just the right way is almost never easy, especially where kids are involved.
Taking the time to plan now enables me to seize the abundant opportunities of summer as they arrive. Planning also enables me to produce a more intentional body of work that documents the people, places, and things most important to me and my family.
Without planning, I’m afraid I won’t get lucky. And in documentary photography, lucky is everything!
Regardless of your style, a little preparation can go a long way towards achieving better photographs. Here are a few tips to help you prepare now to capture your best summer ever:
1. Write out your bucket list
Take some time to think about what it is that you want to capture this summer by setting aside some time to brainstorm your bucket list. This is not a casual bucket list downloaded from the internet, rather a very personal bucket list just for you.
Begin the process by closing your eyes and envisioning your summer. Where are you? Who are you with? What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Get in close and look at the details in your mind then step back and take in the entire scene. Write out every idea that comes to mind, censoring nothing.
You can always go back and refine your list later. Be both vague and specific. As you continue to visualize your summer, think about how your everyday routines will change, what special events or milestones will occur, what old traditions will you uphold and what new ones might you start.
Think carefully about what it is about these things that you want to remember. Are there old photographs you want to recreate, perhaps to show growth or change, particular groups of people to capture together, signs, foods, or landscapes that will best tell your story? Write it all down then place this list on your phone, in your car, or somewhere you can see it daily. Refer to your list regularly, cross off items as you go, and continue to add to it as new ideas come to you.
2. Get your gear ready
Now that you know what you want to capture, make sure that you have the equipment you need and that it is ready to go.
Now is a good time to take inventory of your gear and clean it up. Inspect your camera and lenses and give them a good cleaning. Send them off for service if necessary. Then decide if you need any additional gear. Perhaps a particular lens would make all the difference.
Before going all in, consider renting it from a local shop or online retailer for a week or two. Renting lenses is also a great option for travel, either out of necessity – you need a super long lens for your whale watching expedition, or for fun – perhaps renting a tilt-shift to bring along on your week at the beach.
To hold your gear, a lightweight bag is a must! There are a million choices from shoulder bags to backpacks to small cases that fit into your larger purse. Try a few in the store and decide what works best for you.
Stock your bag with essential cleaning supplies like a rubber bulb blower, lens cleaner, and microfiber cloths. Knowing you are prepared to remove sand, dirt, and other icky stuff will help prevent any reluctance to take out your camera in a messy situation.
Depending on where your adventures may take you, you may consider purchasing (or borrowing from a friend) a polarized filter and/or a tripod. Finally, don’t forget to make sure you have an extra battery and plenty of memory cards.
3. Have a personal growth goal
Is there something you have been wanting to learn or improve in your photography? The summer is the perfect time to work on your skills.
Set a goal (or several) and devise a plan to achieve it. Take a class, read some books, or commit to daily practice of skills you want to improve. Be intentional about learning and growing.
Last summer, I seized the opportunity to learn DSLR video by taking an online class that coincided with our beach vacation. It was perfect timing. The more relaxed days afforded me the time to practice and the film I made of our trip is priceless to me.
4. Plan for your final output
Think about what you want to do with all these awesome photographs you will take. I hate the idea of all these memories sitting on an outdated hard drive somewhere 20 years from now.
Without a little planning, the business of life will invariably interfere with the daunting task of printing or otherwise presenting your work. Take the time now to consider what you want to do with your images. Perhaps you plan to blog your images, print them, create a slide show, or even sell them through your stock collection.
Then devise a strategy for organizing and storing your photographs in a way that will enable you to easily export for your final output. I myself love photo albums, especially from Artifact Uprising and Nations Photo Lab, and create an album of our beach vacation every summer. As a Lightroom user, I take full advantage of the tag feature to label my images. For example, after culling and editing my vacation photos, I go through and tag my favorites “beach book.” When I’m ready to create my book, I simply sort out those images, cull a little more if necessary, and then I’m ready to create my album.
With a little advance planning, the photographs you make this summer will be your best ever. Start now, as summertime is just around the corner!