Saturday the 21st was summer solstice, the longest day of the year the official start of summer 2014. Canadians really come alive in the summer, and on these long beautiful summer days you can feel all that energy stored up over the winter.

Summer is a great time to dust off that camera that’s been sitting on the shelf and get outside and make some great photos. Today I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for shooting amazing photographs this summer.

Before I get into the juicy stuff, let me start out with a couple of pieces of genreral advice. The first is – bring your camera everywhere. Hang it by the door and grab it every time you leave the house. If you don’t have the camera with you, there’s no way you can get the shot, right? And the best scenes always seem to present themselves when you don’t have your camera with you.

The other thing I want to say is – learn how your camera works. Today’s cameras are amazing machines, with some really cool features and settings, but they’re not always super intuitive to use. I think I’m a pretty typical camera user, in that I can’t be bothered to read the manual before turning on a new camera to try it out. I think the best way to learn is by experiment and experience. But with modern cameras you really do need to put your nose in that manual for at least half an hour to figure out what exactly you have at your disposal. For example, some of the self-timer options on the Canon SX600 that I reviewed recently are really clever, but the only way to understand them is to consult the manual.

I’m a huge advocate for learning how to use your camera in manual mode. In fact in order to really push your photography to the next level, I think it’s an absolute must that you understand the concepts of exposure, aperture and ISO. If you want to start scratching the surface of manual mode photography, you might like to read this post.

Ok, on to the main event…

Tip 1: Find Your Subject
While it’s easy to say ‘Bring your camera everywhere and shoot everything!’ that can actually be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes we need to narrow our focus a bit in order be effective. I’ve written in the past about . I believe the only way to truly appreciate photography is to print it and hang it on our walls and experience it over a period of time. So ask yourself ‘what kind of images do I want to hang on my walls?’. Maybe you love forests and wildflowers and all things related to nature. Maybe you love sunsets and mountain ranges. Maybe you want to take photos of your kids or your pets (you can read about photographing kids , and pets ). Maybe you fancy yourself as street photographer. Whatever it may be, find your subject and zone in on it.

Tip 2: Shoot Into The Sun
Personally, I love to photograph people. That’s my thing. One of the challenges of working under the summer sun is an overabundance of light. A high mid-afternoon sun is pretty hard to work with because it makes our subjects squint and you get dark shadows in the eyes, neither of which translates to good photos. Option 1 is always to look for a shady spot, but failing that my advice is to shoot into the sun. That way your subject has the sun on their back. You might want to overexpose a little bit to increase detail on the face (more about that here). If you want to be adventurous you can experiment with lens flare, where you deliberately allow the sun’s rays to enter the lens and you get some cool distortion effects as a result.

Tip 3: Shoot At Dusk
You’ll often hear photographers talk about ‘the golden hour’ which is the time around dusk when you get the best light for photography. No matter what your trying to photograph, this is the ideal time to do it. If you’re taking a portrait, ask your subject to face west just as the sun has dipped below the horizon and you’ll get this gorgeous, even light on the face and huge catchlights in the eyes. Catchlights are the glints you see in people’s eyes, and they really add vitality to a portrait.

Tip 4: Shoot Action Shots
So often when we photograph our friends and family we ask them to hold still and look at the camera. And while this might result in a perfectly nice photo, it probably won’t result in a great photo. For me the best photos are candids, where the subject is engaged in an activity that allows them to forget about the camera and be themselves. So give your subjects something to do; throw a frisbee, play bocce, ride bikes, whatever works. And then find the continuous shooting mode on your camera and take lots of shots. Candid photography can be hit-and-miss, so it’s good to take lots of photos and sift through them later. Photographers sometimes refer to this as the ‘spray-and-pray’ technique.

Tip 5: Just Add Water
All the best things about summer involve water – trips to the beach or lake, waterfights, waterparks, drinking fountains turned to water jets. So make sure you incorporate some water into your photography this summer. Obviously water and camera equipment don’t always go well together, but if you have a zoom lens you can keep at a safe distance. Also there’s a pile of waterproof cameras available nowadays (some of which I reviewed a while back). Going back to tip number 1, water looks really cool when it’s lit from behind. Face into the sun and photograph a spray of water at high speed so that the droplets are perfectly frozen and you’ll notice some really cool effects. Add one kid who’s just realized that school is closed for two whole months and you’ve got the shot of the summer!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.

All of today’s photos are from my Instagram feed, you can find me @junaphoto, where I post only photos taken with my iPhone.