Seasonal photography tips for year-round photos

The seasons drive constant change. They give photographers the greatest gifts and challenges. Every season has it’s advantages and drawbacks. Learning to overcome the challenges is important to photographing all year round.

I’m Simon Osbaldeston, a professional animal and nature photographer from Lancashire, UK. In this guide I will share my experiences of photographing subjects all year round. I’ll cover the advantages, and the drawbacks of each season, and give you some tips to make the most of the whole year.

Spring - A season of greens and delicate pops of colour.

Springtime is the first of the changeable months. As the winter starts to fade into memory the leaves begin to return and seasonal flowers start to show. The spring season offers ever-changing opportunities for photography.

Early in the season the light is still low and soft, and many aspects of the winter remain. Find a woodland spot for your photography and look for little hints of life returning. Scenes like these look great with muted browns, greens, and pops of colour. Use colour to direct attention to the subject. Shoot during the mid mornings or afternoons for the best light. Look for opportunities after the rain when the colours are at their richest. Be prepared for any weather as the spring time can be unpredictable and wet.

Later in the season the days are longer, offering more daylight photography time. As the colour returns, liven up your pallet with more greens. Top tip: Boosting the yellows a little in the grasses will make the light pop. Take advantage of the available colours with a greater depth of field, for more in focus. Look for swathes of uniform colour to contrast with your subject to keep the viewers eye where you want it.

Advantages of springtime photography

  • Early spring sunlight is soft and low in the sky for longer in the day.

  • New flowers in bloom will be pristine at the start of the season.

  • Wildlife becomes more active in the spring offering more opportunities.

  • Cloud cover is available for softer lit subjects in open areas.

  • Night photographers in the northern hemisphere can see the Milky way until the end of the summer. Learn how to photograph the Milky way with our guide.

Challenges of springtime photography

  • Deciduous trees are still bare in the early springtime. It will be harder to avoid direct sunlight and shadows. Look for dense wooded areas for a more uniform light, or seek evergreen forests. Shoot on semi cloudy days or when the sun is lower for softer, warmer light.

  • The weather is very unpredictable throughout the springtime. Always check the weather forecast and look for opportunities. Grasses and flowers look the most vibrant after rain. Dress for the weather and bring waterproofs.

Springtime photography ideas

  • Portraits in meadows. Look for meadows of golden buttercups or spring flowers for your portraits. Using a wide aperture (f/2.8 - f/4) the background will look soft and pleasing with a wash of bright colours.

  • Take advantage of the low sun at the start of spring. Low sunlight gives a pleasing look to portraits and makes colours appear warmer. Go for woody, earthy tones and capture the spirit of the early spring.

  • Photograph the new wildlife. Springtime is also the time of lambs, ducklings, cygnets (baby swans), and many more animals. Head to ponds, wild life reserves, and canals for a great photo opportunity.

  • Get in close to the flowers and bugs. If you own a macro lens, the springtime offers many close-up opportunities. Capture floral macro’s while the flowers are still pristine and vibrant.

  • Get out at night. From the start of the spring the Milky way is visible in the northern hemisphere. You’ll find it in the southern sky.

 Try setting your subject in a field of spring flowers for pops of colour.

Try setting your subject in a field of spring flowers for pops of colour.

 Look for seasonal touches like dandelions in a field.

Look for seasonal touches like dandelions in a field.

 Spring time is a great time for macro photography

Spring time is a great time for macro photography

Summer - The most challenging season for many photographers.

Summer offers many opportunities, but bright sunny days challenge photographers. Modern cameras don’t have the ability to capture the incredible dynamic range that our eyes can see. On a bright sunny day, we must drop the exposure to avoid over exposing the highlights in our photographs. This causes the shadow areas to darken, often beyond the point of recovery. High contrast light and shadow can work for black and white photography but will some images. The hot weather creates storms, and skies are most interesting after stormy weather. For even better light, photograph your best images close to sunrise and sunset.

Summer days are much longer and hotter. This forces photographers to shoot in the early mornings and late evenings. This isn’t always convenient, but it’s important to sell the advantages of a golden-hour session.

In the summer daytime, seek shade, use lighting or reflectors to fill the shadows, and be safe in the sun. When photographing dogs in the summer, be mindful of the dog’s condition, use the shade, and bring water. Keeping photo shoots to an hour or less is advisable.

Advantages of summertime photography

  • The warm summer weather requires less protective clothing, making getting out more pleasant.

  • Dry days allows us to use more equipment for lighting and photographic options.

  • Our clients are happier to be out with us. Many customers save their bookings for the summer.

  • Longer days give us much more time for bookings and photography - we can be more productive.

  • Trees will be in full leaf, creating many more areas for shade with creative options.

Challenges of summer photography

  • The light is going to be very hard for the majority of a bright summers day. This light creates unflattering hard, dark shadows throughout our images. Seek shade and use lighting and reflectors to beat the shadows.

  • Sunrise and sunset occur very early and very late in the day. People aren’t happy to be out at 05:00 or 22:00 for a photo shoot, yet you'll find the best conditions at these times. Finding the motivation arrive early and leave late makes a difference. Convincing your customers to do the same may be more difficult.

  • The spring flowers are usually gone by summer. Summertime often gives a green, yellow, and blue pallet of colour. Use a wide aperture on your lens for beautiful washes of colour and light behind your subject. You can also find more wild areas where there will be many more colours available.

Summer photography ideas

  • Golden meadows. Through the summer the spring colours start to fade and the tall grasses turn golden in colour. Capture vintage style portraits with golden hues and warm whites.

  • Sunsets. While sunsets look amazing at any time of year, the summer offers longer more vibrant skies. You’ll have lots of time to compose a great shot with vibrant oranges, contrasted against deep blues.

  • Beaches. Do something different and take advantage of the early sunrise by going to the beach before it gets busy. Capture a minimalist landscape and try some long exposure shots.

 Golden meadows offer beautiful summer scenes, but you’ll need to use a flash to lighten the harsh shadows.

Golden meadows offer beautiful summer scenes, but you’ll need to use a flash to lighten the harsh shadows.

 Long sunsets allow more time to experiment and perfect your composition. Take advantage of the blues and oranges for great colour coordination.

Long sunsets allow more time to experiment and perfect your composition. Take advantage of the blues and oranges for great colour coordination.

 Beaches in the early morning make great minimalist landscapes. These are great all year round, but the summer makes these more pleasant to shoot.

Beaches in the early morning make great minimalist landscapes. These are great all year round, but the summer makes these more pleasant to shoot.

Autumn - a photographic delight of colour and change

Here is an article about autumn dog photography, and why it is my favourite season. Autumn is about change. Colours transform from greens, through to yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Finally everything turns to more earthy browns and greens. The sunlight dim and low in the sky during the later autumn months. This provides perfect soft light for portraiture and boosts the autumn colours. The fallen leaves changes the landscape, offering fun opportunities.

With the days growing shorter, the golden hours of sunrise and sunset are more accessible. Booking photo shoots for sunrise or sunset increases your chance of great photographs. For the rest of the day, the trees will provide enough cover from direct sunlight. With the added advantage of their vibrant colours warming the light.

Advantages of autumn for photography

  • A bright and vibrant colour pallet of warm hues offers creative opportunities. These are only ever found during a few weeks of the year in the autumn.

  • The sun is low in the sky. You'll have pleasant light for most of the day. Trees still provide enough shade for the brighter moments.

  • Leaves on the ground give pops of colour to low lying scenes, it pays to shoot high and low in the autumn.

  • The weather is still warm enough to spend long sessions outdoors.

  • Autumn is the season for migratory birds and wildlife preparing for the winter.

Challenges of autumn photography

  • As the season progresses the days become much shorter. This limits the opportunities for daytime photography. Plan your days to avoid wasted time.

  • The weather becomes more unpredictable and hostile. Check the weather forecast and dress for the conditions. Protect your camera gear and leave unsuitable gear at home.

  • The Milky way is no longer in it’s best position for the northern hemisphere.

  • Autumn is at its most vibrant for only 2-3 weeks. The time this change happens varies by location. Be observant and plan your trips around the change.

Autumn photography ideas

  • Get among the leaves - Fallen leaves make fun props for your portraits. Use the golden and brown hues to add some warm pop to your photographs.

  • Try back or side lighting your subject. The softer autumn sunlight looks amazing when filtered through the golden leaves. Side or back lighting your subject will create a pop of colour and light your subject in a pleasing way.

  • Look for seasonal flowers. Wherever you are, look for seasonal plants that will stand out against the landscape. Heather for example turns deep and vibrant in the autumn.

  • Catch the first autumnal changes. Autumn marks a period of change in nature, the leaves change colour, then fall (why Americans call it ‘fall’). Get out early to capture the first changes. A lone autumn leaf on a green tree makes a stunning subject.

 Use fallen leaves as a prop for your photography with children and dogs.

Use fallen leaves as a prop for your photography with children and dogs.

 Look for seasonal flowers. Thistles and Heather make amazing subjects in the autumn.

Look for seasonal flowers. Thistles and Heather make amazing subjects in the autumn.

 Capture early changes with pops of colour contrast like this one red leaf among a green plant.

Capture early changes with pops of colour contrast like this one red leaf among a green plant.

Winter - dependant on where you are

Winter can be very hit and miss for photographers. Those who travel will likely have the most success. The typical winter conditions for snow and ice don’t occur everywhere. So, for those who are lucky enough to see snow, frost, or ice during the winter, there are many opportunities.

Frost and mist is pure gold for landscape photographers. Unfortunately, finding frost and mist requires an early morning commitment. It’s important to reach your location before the sunlight hits the ground. Sunlight will immediately burn away frost and mist. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast, and prepare to leave when the conditions look right. Top tip: A cold and clear still night is a good indicator that there will be frost and mist in the morning.

Snow changes a landscape completely and can turn a dull area into a photographer's dream. For those who can travel, or lucky enough to live where it snows, look for contrast. White snow reduces distractions, making your subject stronger in the frame. Snow also brings out texture in a landscape.

Advantages of winter for photography

  • Winter brings temporary transformation to landscapes. The fragile structures in ice and frost will be gone with the sun and are ever changing.

  • Sunrise is much later in the morning, and sunset is very early, allowing golden hour shoots with ease.

  • The sun is much lower in the sky all day, providing portrait-worthy light at any time.

  • Little to no haze on a clear day. This gives a much deeper view across bodies of water, or through the night sky. This can also be a negative.

  • Earthy looking images are everywhere when you look smaller. For pet photos we love looking for wooded areas where the scene can provide a perfect woody frame for our pets.

Challenges of winter photography

  • It’s cold. Wear protective clothing and take extra care with your camera. Avoid sudden temperature changes with your camera. Moving from the cold to a hot room can cause condensation in your equipment. Allow your camera to acclimatise inside your bag before taking it out.

  • If it’s not frosty, snowy, or misty, the landscape can be very bland. Travelling out to wild areas could offer interesting alternatives.

  • Very short days can limit your bookings potential if you work with clients outdoors.
    Customers are also less likely to book an outdoor shoot in the winter. Provide some examples of the work you can achieve in the winter months.

  • Low light levels can limit the speed of your camera. Action photographs may need a higher ISO. Lower light levels will are better suited to portraits. What you can achieve will depend on how far you can push your camera’s ISO and aperture.

Winter photography ideas

  • The remnants of autumn - Look for the last leaves of autumn, brown and dry but clinging on to their branches. These make great close-up subjects.

  • Frosty photos. Get outside before sunrise on a frosty morning for the amazing changes the frosts can bring. Don’t forget to get in close with a macro lens if you have one. The fine structures of the frost make beautiful little scenes. Beware that the sun can melt the frost fast so don’t hang about too long.

  • Look for winter wildlife. As with the spring, winter offers new opportunities for wildlife photography.

  • Colour pops on a white landscape. Snow will blanket a landscape, covering almost everything with white. The areas that don’t catch the snow will stand out. Snow brings out the texture and structure of the landscape. Look for pops of colour and contrast and compose around what you find.

 Capture the last remaining leaves on trees in the winter after they’ve begun to dry out and decay.

Capture the last remaining leaves on trees in the winter after they’ve begun to dry out and decay.

 Frost makes amazing structures for close-up photography as well as transforming entire landscapes.

Frost makes amazing structures for close-up photography as well as transforming entire landscapes.

 Look for seasonal wildlife like this red breasted robin. A classic icon of the winter.

Look for seasonal wildlife like this red breasted robin. A classic icon of the winter.

Photography all year round, no matter the season

Understanding how to shoot to the conditions will help you to get the most out of every photo session of the year. Every seasons offers unique and wonderful opportunities if you know where to look. Being limited to a small range of locations doesn't have to be a problem. Use the seasons to give variety to your images, enriching your portfolio. Encourage your customers to book during the golden hours and set their expectations. Book the best jobs for the right times of day. If you photograph for yourself, the best thing you can do is to get out and shoot, whatever the conditions.

We would love to add many more ideas to this guide. So please leave your suggestions in the comments below and we’ll add the best.