5 Simple Summer Photo Tips

When shooting in the great outdoors, especially during the summer months, skilled photographers don't just look at their subjects. They also note the quality of the light.

Ideally, they like to snap pictures in the early morning or early evening—the golden hours when the sunlight is soft and warm. In between, they hope for some cloud cover to diffuse the blinding mid-day rays. But warm weather brings with it unique opportunities to shoot in low-light, too. For Fourth of July photo tips, learn how to capture the magic of fireworks.

In many instances, it helps to have an advanced camera that lets you change shutter speed and exposure settings. But, with the right touch (and perhaps an add-on lens), you can get professional-looking shots with a smartphone. Here are five photo tips to help you raise your game on land and sea this summer, even from the bleacher seats at your local baseball stadium.

1. Capturing Subjects in Bright Light

As odd as it sounds, a sun-drenched summer day is a lousy time to shoot candid portraits of your family and friends. Not only do the conditions force your loved ones to squint into the lens, but the harsh light also creates dark, distracting shadows on their faces.

To make those shadows less prominent, try using a flash. You've probably got the camera set to "auto flash" mode, which means the built-in unit will fire only when the light is dim. But by shifting to "forced flash," you can get the device to fire each time you hit the shutter button.

If you're using an advanced camera, such as an SLR, a mirrorless, or a high-end point-and-shoot, and the flash is too intense, look for the setting called "flash compensation." That setting lets you increase or decrease the amount of light.

2. Photographing Images in Low Light

At sunrise or sunset, you might want to capture the ambiance of the scene without introducing artificial light. In this image of my son skipping a stone across the surface of the Long Island Sound, I turned off the flash and let the natural light do the work. The result is a striking silhouette.

Note that his throwing arm is a bit blurred, even though my iPhone set the shutter speed to 1/120th of a second. In good light, that's usually enough to eliminate motion blur, but in this case, I think it creates an interesting detail.

3. Stopping the Action

One benefit to shooting on bright sunny days? It's much easier to freeze the action on a baseball field, as I was able to do here. I used a superzoom camera, the Nikon P900, and a fast (1/500th of a second) shutter speed, which even brings the seams of a fastball into view. The quicker snapshot also helps to tame the blur that results from a photographer with a shaky hand.

4. Understanding Composition

While the light and the exposure settings are crucial considerations in the creation of a captivating photo, it's also important to think about where in the frame to place your subjects. Here's a tip: Avoid the dead center of the composition.

If you move your model to the side, you end up with a far more interesting image. That's what I did in this shot of my wife in an apple orchard. In fact, I advise you to fire off multiple shots, positioning your subject in various areas of the image. Once you've downloaded the pictures to your computer, you can decide which one makes the best holiday greeting card portrait.

5. Producing Panoramas

When you’re taking photos in the great outdoors, it's easy to feel like you're neglecting huge chunks of the landscape. The Grand Canyon, for instance, never seems bigger than when you're trying to squeeze it into a picture frame.

One way to literally expand your horizon is to create a panoramic picture. It's pretty simple to do on most digital cameras and smartphones too. Just choose the panorama scene mode in settings (some cameras even have two—a wide and an extra-wide option), press down on the shutter button, and, while holding the button down, steer the lens from side to side to capture the scene.

In this image from a Philadelphia Phillies game, the camera snared not only a nice candid portrait of my son but also the colorful scene at Citizens Bank Park. In effect, the picture is one part portrait and two parts landscape. Needless to say, it's an awesome souvenir from a great father-son outing.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.