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Hot Summer Tips

Shooting Local • Botanical And Commercial Gardens • Falling Water • High-Basin Wildflowers • Up, Up And... • Time-Lapsing • Lightning In The Daytime • On The Water
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Proxy Falls in Oregon is an expansive falls that allows you to key on sections and composite them later for a very high-resolution image. Here, Lepp took four exposures with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon 24-105mm lens set to 50mm with an exposure of ¼ sec. at ƒ/16 and ISO 50 to render the flowing water with detail.

Shooting Local

Q It seems that all my photographer friends are going to Iceland this year, and last year they went to Africa, and sometimes they bring home great photographs that I feel like I’ve seen before. I can’t afford the time and money to take a foreign photo expedition every year. Should I just give up?
S.B. Bryan
Forest Falls, Calif.

A I feel your pain. In these days of the expensive, exotic, fuel-consuming field workshop, it might be a good idea to look more often for photo opportunities near home. As you rightly note, every exotic location is beginning to look familiar because all have been overexposed. Your only hope, and mine, is to look for new approaches to familiar subjects. You can do that anywhere, but the “loca-grapher” has the advantage of working (or playing, depending on what you and/or your partner call your photography) at less cost, and with much less stress, than the world traveler. And becoming familiar with and following a subject offers opportunities to capture unique perspectives and action.

Summer is a great time to explore most everywhere in North America. Ironic note: Photographers from other countries love to come to the U.S. for their own expensive, exotic, fuel-consuming photo safaris! If you don’t believe this, just try to get a place in line among the German photographers waiting at Delicate Arch or The Wave!

Botanical And Commercial Gardens
Yes, every flower photographer wants to work in Holland’s fabulous Keukenhof Gardens at tulip time in early summer. But botanical gardens all over North America have much to offer the local photographer, and they deserve our support and sustenance. Because most local gardens specialize in native plants and well-adapted local species, you’ll find a great deal of variation from one region of the country to another. Gardens usually plan their landscapes to take advantage of a long season of different blooms, from early spring to late fall. Examples of some of my favorite botanical garden subjects are water lilies (Denver Botanic Gardens), azaleas and rhododendrons (Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle ), roses (New York Botanical Garden and Portland Rose Garden) and chrysanthemums (Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens).

Commercial flower growers are increasingly opening their fields to photographers, with festivals and photography contests held at peak bloom. I love the ranunculus in Carlsbad, California, the early tulips and late dahlias in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and more tulips in Michigan, Quebec and Washington’s Skagit Valley.

Look for butterfly pavilions and gardens for combinations of colorful insect and floral subjects, often with a hummingbird bonus. My favorites: Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida, the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the Callaway Gardens Butterfly Center in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

With the money you save on travel, you can invest in more equipment! You’ll need a sturdy tripod for both macro and panoramic renditions of gardens and fields, and a flash bracket system is really critical for butterfly photography. For high-resolution panoramas, consider the GigaPan system, and don’t forget the capabilities of stacking (blending multiple exposures) to achieve maximum depth of field.

Falling Water
I’m partial to waterfalls. The flow is most robust in early summer and tapers off into the fall, but both offer great photography, albeit different experiences, and backdrops or foregrounds changing from wildflowers to lush foliage to autumn leaves. I like to use locally produced websites and books as guides to waterfalls and cascades because that’s a way to support the photographers and writers of the region.

Long exposures or extremely fast shutter speeds are my choice for capturing the feel of flowing water. The idea is to show the water differently than the eye can normally see it. I stay away from the middle shutter speeds like 1/30th to 1/250th because they produce mostly boring results: the water neither flows nor is stopped in detailed mid-fall. Go too long on the shutter speed, and most detail in the falling water is lost. Sometimes that’s okay. My favorite shutter speed for falling water is around 1⁄4 sec., which gives a flowing rendition with detail. Shutter speeds of 1⁄1000 sec. or faster can be revealing and dramatic. Be creative, and don’t forget time-lapse and HDR interpretations for an entirely different view.

A tripod is essential, along with a remote release, for the sharpest images. Telephotos offer a chance to take extracts from the falls, and I sometimes stitch these together to make a high-resolution image that works as a design piece.

High-Basin Wildflowers
In midsummer, wildflowers are abundant in the high-elevation (10,000 to 12,000 feet) Rocky Mountain basins, where spring arrives in July, summer in August and fall (and first snows) in September. The rest of the time, it’s winter. Working out of Ouray, Colorado, follow four-wheel-drive roads to fields of flowers occupied by hummingbirds, marmots and pikas. If grazing domestic sheep get there first, then, well, never mind. Typically, the wind is minimal in the early mornings and the critters are active; be prepared for afternoon thundershowers, and take it easy at these altitudes where oxygen is in short supply. Bring your long lens and your landscape rig.

Up, Up And…
As the weather warms, it’s great fun to find a location away from city lights to capture astro-landscapes; the Milky Way can add great interest to night captures that include star trails and long moonlit exposures. You need that tripod again, and a fast wide-angle lens and ISO capability from 2500 to 5000. The best apertures are ƒ/1.4 to ƒ/2.8 and exposures no longer than 30 seconds to add the Milky Way into your night shots. Your best bet for star trails encircling the North Star is to capture many 30- to 120-second exposures from one position and assemble them later in Photoshop.

Summer days and nights offer good subjects for time-lapse techniques. Building thunderstorms, moving animals in a meadow or tidal action are examples of time-lapse stories you can later post on Vimeo and YouTube. All you need is an idea, some time and an inter-valometer to capture the hundreds, or even thousands, of frames that will make up the time-lapse that lasts only a minute or two. I bring my captures into Lightroom 4, where I optimize all of them at once using the sync function, and then I assemble them using QuickTime Pro 7. Use a program such as iMovie or Premiere Elements to combine several QuickTime segments.

My favorite shutter speed for falling water is around ¼ sec., which gives a flowing rendition with detail. Shutter speeds of 1⁄1000 sec. or faster can be revealing and dramatic. Be creative, and don’t forget time-lapse and HDR interpretations for an entirely different view.

Capture Lightning Storms In The Daytime
Speaking of thunderstorms, there was a time when we could only photograph lightning at night, opening the shutter and letting the strikes fall where they might. With lightning sensors, we can capture individual strikes at any time of day or night because pre-strike changes in atmospheric conditions set off the camera. Two systems I’ve used with great success are the Lightning Trigger from Stepping Stone Products, LLC ( and the Lightning Bug ( A sequence of strikes with the camera in the same position can be composited into one image in post-capture processing. Caution: Lightning is attracted to metal golf clubs, baseball bats and tripods (aka lightning rods). All the more reason to have a lightning trigger that takes the pictures while you stay safely under cover, preferably in your vehicle or in a building. Don’t sit under a nearby tree.

On The Water
Take your camera out with you in a canoe or kayak—a floating approach that birds and sea mammals find more tolerable than the shore-bound human form. Place the camera and a few lenses in a “dry bag” to protect them in case of a spill or splashes from the paddling. Be sure to take along a polarizing filter to control the reflections off the water; if it’s clear and shallow enough, you may even be able to see through the water and include the lake bottom in your composition. Marshes and bays offer great opportunities to photograph birds in beautiful natural settings. I prefer a stable flat-bottomed kayak rather than a canoe or sleek ocean kayak. Remember to factor the movement of the boat into your photographic technique, especially critical when handholding telephoto lenses for wildlife subjects. Place your elbows on the gunnels (sides) of the watercraft to brace the camera/lens and use expanded ISOs to shorten exposures, especially in low light. I can use a 500mm with a 2X tele-extender (1000mm) in this position if the water is calm and my paddling partner cooperates!

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: And Lepp is now a part of the OP Blog on our website,

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.