Home » Photography: How to Use Summer Light to Your Advantage

Photography: How to Use Summer Light to Your Advantage

by Shawni

I get so excited for photography in the summer time.

It’s when my favorite subjects (my children) are surrounding me all the time doing things I want to document.

Whether it’s just a perfect sunlit afternoon,

a walk on the beach at sunset,
or capturing fireworks on the 4th of July,
  or just the overall fun of summer,

…here are some things I have found that work!

1) Check your lighting and turn off your flash!

Lighting is key in taking good pictures. If you look for beautiful light, you are almost certain to end up with beautiful pictures. In the summer, there is good light everywhere.

When I first started family photography, I did it purely on my driveway in front of my garage. I know, that sounds very picturesque, right? But I got great results. I bought a black, king-sized flat sheet and hooked it up to the bottom of my open garage and shot away. Something about the light bouncing off the pavement with the backdrop created beautiful light:

Porches or garages are great in the shade. This next one was on our back porch. Again, the pavement creates a great reflector of beautiful sunlight to light up faces.

Open doorways, with you outside and your child or children looking out the door, also provides you with great light. This one was just inside our back door.

(Investing in a $9.99 fan creates a pretty cool effect, too.)

Even though shady areas work great, don’t limit yourself to just that. In the early morning or evening when the sun slants just so, there is gorgeous light to be found.

If it’s too hot outside, you don’t need to invest in expensive lighting equipment if you want to get good indoor shots.  You just need to know where to look for the light. Almost every home has got some good lighting somewhere if you just look for it. I utilize beautiful light inside my house wherever I have north-facing windows.

2) Learn your camera and watch tutorials on the internet.

Know which aperture to use when you want to take a portrait (the lower the number the better) and how fast your shutter speed should be for shots like this:

Know your ISO settings and know to adjust them when the sun starts sinking down low.

Some of the best summer shots can be found at night. If you know your camera well enough, you can capture things like this:

and this:

(More sparkler pictures in this post.)

You just have to manually set your camera to a really slow shutter speed setting (meaning the camera takes a long time to click and actually take the picture). This allows the camera to capture all the light you are waving around in front of it, but it also means you have to hold the camera super still (or better yet, use a tripod) so that you can get a crisp shot. In the “Coronado” picture above, I took individual pictures of each letter (one child standing in front of me waving around their glowstick in the shape of each letter) and then made a collage of the letters.

3)Composition: get creative with it.

Get down on the ground.
Look down at the subject from high above. Try standing on a stool or chair.

Get closer. The closer we get, the more we really “see.” Try getting so close you only capture half of the face. Get close up and take pictures of toes, fingers, just a smile. You’ll be so happy with the results.

Look for neat angles or reflections:

Summertime is a perfect time to appreciate all the beautiful nature around as well.  Getting really close to nature makes your jaw drop with how breathtakingly beautiful it is.

I love to set my little point-and-shoot on the “macro” setting and get super close-up.

4) Catch emotions and relationships.

I always ask kids to laugh instead of smile. It seems to produce a much more natural smile than the cheese-ball ones that are easy to get with kids.

But remember, subjects don’t always have to be smiling.

Or looking at the camera.

5) Always have a camera ready.

Although most of the time I feel like my big camera is just an extension of my body, it’s too big to carry around all the time. But I ALWAYS have a point-and-shoot (or even my phone) in my purse that I can pull out when I have an opportune moment. I love having a little camera that also takes video footage so I can capture things on the go. Even my eight-year-old has captured some masterpiece videos with it that we are going to love some day. You don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment.
You just never know when those kids are going to strike a perfect pose for you.

Or when you’re going to capture things like the tongue-hanging-out-run.

Good luck capturing all that summer fun that lies ahead!


likeschocolate May 30, 2012 - 11:48 am

Thanks for the great advice. Love the picture of your dad and his sunglasses reflecting the images of his family.

molarmama May 30, 2012 - 1:34 pm

Can you suggest photo editing software for beginners?

ourdresselfamily May 30, 2012 - 1:41 pm

you have a gerat talent!

I have hardly any pics of myself as a child, so take tens of thousbands, they will never get bored of looking at them when they are older!

Anonymous May 30, 2012 - 2:07 pm

Happy summer! I know you want your kids to read this summer so here is a great list for your grade school girls. Look them up on amazon and you will see grade levels and wonderful reviews. Good luck with the new house!

I've linked all the books from the list in case you're interested:

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
by Bruce Coville
Pictures of Hollis Woods
by Patricia Reilly Giff
Running Out of Time
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
by Cynthia Lord
Battle Two
Chasing Vermeer
by Blue Balliett
by Gary Paulsen
by Avi
Riding Freedom
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Battle Three
Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
Captain Nobody
by Dean Pitchford
City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
Ella Enchanted

Neener May 30, 2012 - 3:35 pm

Very Informative. Thank you so much. Your photos are beautiful.
Have a wonderful summer.


Caleb and Emily May 30, 2012 - 4:32 pm

I just love your blog and I follow it religiously! You actually inspired me to get the 24-70L lens. Your images are great and so crisp. I am really having a hard time with the lens and it makes me sad b/c it costs so much money. I feel like I always turn to my 50 or 85mm b/c I am never happy with the images that my L series produces. Do you notice a certain sweet spot with the lens? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Danelle May 30, 2012 - 6:36 pm

Thanks! Super helpful tutorial leaving me inspired to use my camera rather than overwhelmed with the logistics of how it works. You're a gem.

Sue May 30, 2012 - 8:42 pm

Love, love, love the one of your Dad with his famiy reflected in his sunglasses!

Keith and Courtney May 30, 2012 - 9:44 pm

Just wonderful! Thanks for the great tips. I have been having so much fun experimenting with my first DSLR that I got for Christmas. So much more to learn.
Love your blog! Very inspiring and uplifting. Maybe someday I'll run into at the mall or somewhere and I can say, "Hey! I read your blog!"

Suzanne Scow May 31, 2012 - 11:03 am

This is so generous of you to share! Thank you so much for taking the time to organize these helpful tips! I just love your blog and learn so much from you all the time!! You are so beautiful in every way Shawni!

Laura June 1, 2012 - 2:03 am

You are such a GREAT photographer!
That picture of Lucy kills kills kills me every time I see it! It might be my favorite picture in the whole world!

I don't know if you have already, but if not, someday I would LOVE a good photo editing tutorial type of thing from you! Do you use any certain actions?

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Unknown June 10, 2013 - 4:54 am

I love taking pictures and you are like my idol. PLZ post more of these i love them. I love your photography and i want to be a mom like you when i grow up

xoxo- chloe

Sem Smm March 12, 2016 - 12:12 pm

I love your photography, your hand on taking pictures awesome.
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Just wonderful! Thanks for the great tips.

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Sandy May 13, 2019 - 2:42 am

Photography is always evolving. We can even have photo booths outside. View Thank you for sharing your thoughts on natural lighting


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