The natural landscape of the United States has, in large part, been shaped by photographers. In 1871, William Henry Jackson’s breathtaking large-format photographs of Yellowstone were used by geologists to convince Congress to establish the country’s first national park. Carleton Watkins’s photographs similarly inspired the founding of Yosemite, the grand Northern California park that photographer Ansel Adams would famously come to cherish and protect.

For the last century and a half, nature photographers have played a crucial role in history. Still, it wasn’t until 2005 that “Conservation Photography” became a popular term. In the last decade, as the rest of the world has flocked to cities and industry, photographers have brought us back to nature. They’ve explored and preserved the wild corners of the earth, and every summer, they have delighted us with pictures of wildlife and wildflowers.

In honor of the season, we asked a group of outstanding nature photographers from the Shutterstock Contributor community to tell us about their favorite summertime subjects and give us a glimpse into a world filled with the flora and fauna most of us rarely get to visit. Here, they share tips about where, when, and how to find some of the most magical moments of a brief and beautiful summer.

1. “Shoot during the blue/golden hours after sunrise and before sunset when the light is softer.”

Angela Louwe

Gear: Canon EOS 60D with the Canon 70-200mm. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f6.3; ISO 200. Image by AngelaLouwe.

What’s the story behind this photograph?
Red foxes love sunbathing, especially with their eyes closed, taking in the warmth of the summer sun and not having a care in the world. I’ve walked for hours and hours in the park where these foxes live, and I just love watching them being foxes.

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
My all-time favorite subjects are foxes, all year long. But in the summertime, they can be seen relaxing in the sun, taking a nap. And often the youngsters are playing, which can make for fun photos. There are some subjects that only come out once it’s warm enough for them to warm in the sun, such as sand lizards and tree frogs.

Pictured: [1] Image by Angela Louwe [2] Image by Angela Louwe [3] Image by Angela Louwe

I’ve done some workshops with other photographers during the summer, and the next year I go back around the same time on my own. This helps me keep track of what’s happening in nature. I also see many photos from other photographers on Facebook, so I know what’s out there at a certain time. Often I just go to a new spot to see what can be found there.

Pro Tip 
Practice a lot, and have fun. Watch out for ticks when it gets warmer, and try to wear clothes with long sleeves and closed shoes. Shoot during the blue/golden hours after sunrise and before sunset when the light is softer. In the middle of a sunny day, shadows can be annoying. When I started getting more into photography about five years ago, I went to photograph foxes every week. I learned a lot just by practicing, trying different lenses and settings.

Image by Angela Louwe

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
Sometimes I have images in my mind that I want to take some day, but mostly I get inspired by seeing other photographers’ work. Taking a workshop can also give you some new perspectives and ideas.

2. “A polarizer filter can be used to increase contrast and saturation”

Kan Khampanya

Gear: Canon 6D and a Canon 24-105 f4 L. Settings: Focal length 45mm; exposure 0.5 sec; f16; ISO 100. Image by kan_khampanya

What’s the story behind this photograph?
It was slightly raining and cloudy the whole week during my last visit to the Columbia river gorge area. It might sound bad, but actually, it was the perfect condition to shoot waterfalls. It prevented harsh sunlight and shadow, and it also increased the wet, green foliage. I visited Multnomah falls in late afternoon. I could walk to see the waterfalls up close, but I thought that the view from the distance was more beautiful because I could include this powerful waterfall and iconic man-made bridge in the same frame. I set up my tripod very far and used a telephoto lens to capture this shot. I was soaking wet every day during this trip, but it was more than worth it.

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
I love to visit and photograph waterfalls in the summer, when they are usually in their best condition because they get plenty of water from snow and rain and are surrounded by fresh, green plants. I like the Columbia river gorge area in Oregon not only because of its breathtaking view but also because of its easy-access hiking trails. The area is surrounded by plenty of beautiful wildflowers and waterfalls. My favorites are Farry Falls, Oneonta Falls, and Multnomah Falls. I have visited Oregon many times and spent the whole weekend walking down the river and hiking up the mountains, just to photograph these beautiful waterfalls.

I always check national park service websites for recommendations, such as the best time to visit the location, before I plan a trip. Then, I constantly check the national park social media postings or local photographers’ blogs to see if I need to update my plan.

Pictured: [1] Image by Kan Khampanya [2] Image by Kan Khampanya

Pro Tip 
Check the weather and climate in the area, and prepare yourself accordingly. For some places, the weather can change rapidly from sunny to stormy, so it is nice to carry rain gear to protect both yourself and your camera. On a hot summer day, if you go out for long hikes, you need to bring enough water with you.

Don’t give up and stay indoors when you see a bad weather forecast. The bad weather could be a great opportunity for a natural landscape. Storm clouds and sunbeams breaking through will add great impact to your photo. Soaked mosses, leaves, and rocks are more vibrant and have a richer color in this type of weather. A polarizer filter can be used to increase contrast and saturation, so it is nice to keep one handy in your camera bag.

Image by kan Khampanya

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
Photo sharing and social media websites are my source of inspiration. All the big-name landscape photographers are now sharing their best photos and tips online every day. I use them to find my next destination and scout for the best spot to photograph.

3. “be prepared for any and all types of weather, especially when shooting above treeline.”

Steven Boice

Gear: Canon 6D, a Canon 17-40mm with a B+W Slim Circular Polarizer, and ProMaster XC522 tripod. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f8.0; ISO 100. Image by Steve Boice

What’s the story behind this photograph?
I had to hike nearly eight miles round-trip to get this photograph. Due to the grizzly activity, I didn’t leave the trailhead until about 7:00 AM. In fact, I had a very startling encounter with a grizzly on the trail about a mile into the hike. I was alone, singing and making noise, as you are supposed to do in grizzly country. I heard a rustling in the trees about five feet away from me when I noticed a grizzly bear eating some huckleberries. The bear actually followed me back down the trail for about a quarter mile, and I waited at a boat dock for about twenty minutes until a family of hikers from Vermont came by. I told them what happened and kindly asked them if I could hike with them up to Grinnell Glacier, my destination for the day.

Image by Steve Boice

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
In the Rocky Mountains, the summer window can be short. Many of the trails remain snow-packed through early to middle July, and the wildflowers will have bloomed by early August.

Glacier National Park, in particular, has a very short window of “prime” summer season in the high country that only lasts three weeks. The park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road does not typically open until around July 4th, and much of Logan Pass will remain covered in deep snow for the next couple of weeks before the vibrant, lush green meadows open up toward the second or third week of July. I have also photographed Logan Pass as late as the middle of August to find that the many of the meadows have already started to turn brown and yellow. Many of the peaks have lost the majority of their snowfields by late August, which also tends to be less than ideal for grand alpine landscapes photographs.

Logan Pass. Image by Steve Boice

One of the best Rocky Mountain photographers I know has a spreadsheet that he updates every year with the day that certain locations are peak in terms of when wildflowers bloom or when hiking trails become clear of snow. Success in nature photography entails visiting and revisiting the same locations at different times of the same season to photograph it during the most optimum day.

Pro Tip
In the Rockies, the lighting will typically be too flat by 10:00 in the morning, and thunderstorms will typically develop by the late afternoon. The best advice I can give someone is to be prepared for any and all types of weather, especially when shooting above treeline. Weather can change rapidly, even in July. Bring an emergency poncho. They can be found for around a dollar and weigh next to nothing in your backpack. I have been out shooting secluded peaks six miles in the backcountry in sunny, 88 degree weather, only to find myself covered in hail within twenty minutes.

Image by Steve Boice

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
Most of my inspiration comes from the sheer beauty of the Rocky Mountain West. I have always been in awe of large panoramic landscape prints from photographers like Tom Mangelsen or Gary Soles. Their work has taught me to view the landscape in this format, and I often find myself intentionally eliminating a foreground for the sake of the more dramatic peaks in the distance.

4. “The best time for photography is early morning for two main reasons: Firstly, the animals are more active, … and the light is warm and soft in the golden hour.”

Jakub Mrocek

Gear: Canon EOS 450D and a Canon EF 400/5.6L USM. Settings: Focal length 400mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f5.6; ISO 400. Image by Jakub Mrocek

What’s the story behind this photograph?
In a rutting season, the roe deer buck searches for does, and when he finds one, he stays with her for a few days. He wants to mate, but at the beginning, she is not ready yet, and she runs away from him. It’s like ritual. One morning, I was well-hidden, waiting in area I knew a buck with a doe used to come out quite often. I spotted them chasing in the middle of the field, but they were too far away. I got lucky, and in the next hour, they were slowly coming closer. When they were close enough, they took a break, as they were obviously quite exhausted. After a while, the buck started to chase the doe again. I was waiting for the perfect moment, when suddenly she changed her direction so dramatically she almost fell over. I saw the moment in the viewfinder and hoped I was fast enough to capture it.

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
Summertime is full of unique photographic opportunities, and I personally can’t wait for the roe deer rut. Bucks are more active while searching for a mate, and it is easier to meet them. The rutting season lasts for a few weeks in the end of July and beginning of August.

Pictured: Image by Jakub Mrocek

I prefer to go out as often as possible and observe what is happening around me. It has happened to me many times that I was waiting for some picture I dreamed about and suddenly witnessed a completely different phenomenon. I guess that’s what I love about wildlife photography. It’s full of surprises, and you can go to the very same place a thousand times and always see something new and interesting.

It also helps me to take notes about interesting things or simply look back at dates when I took certain pictures in past. This is particularly important for events that don’t happen every day.

Pro Tip 
Summer is great time for nature photography, as it is possible to combine it with vacations, and the weather is generally much better compared to winter months. My advice would be to get most of it. Just go out; enjoy the time with camera in hands, and perhaps finally take the picture you always have dreamed about. There is nothing to stop you except yourself.

Image by Jakub Mrocek

For both wildlife and landscape photography in summertime, I find it important to plan on photographing just after the dawn and before dusk. From my experience, the best time for photography is early morning for two main reasons. Firstly, the animals are more active, as it is not so hot yet, and secondly, the light is warm and soft in the golden hour.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
The beautiful thing about nature photography is that you don’t have to go far to find an inspiration. I just try to have my eyes open and observe. The inspiration then usually comes by itself.

5. “When photographing landscapes in the summer (or any season)… be on location at sunrise and sunset.”

Mark Baldwin

Gear: Nikon D800E dslr with a Nikkor 16-35 f4 lens, a Feisol tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head, a Singh-Ray circular polarizer, and a Hitech graduated neutral density filter. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 4 sec; f16; ISO 200. Image by Mark Baldwin

What’s the story behind this photograph?
This image was taken at sunset on July 25, 2016 at the Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois. Sunrise and sunset usually provide the best opportunities here.

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
My favorite summertime subject would have to be the remnant prairies of the Midwest. These small parcels of protected and restored prairie have native wildflowers that bloom in waves throughout the summer season. One of the most dramatic of these wildflowers is the prairie blazing star. There is a short window of time when the blazing star are at peak bloom, so you have to be prepared to visit a location several times if need be. You also need calm conditions, since the slightest breeze will cause the tall flower stalks to sway back and forth like a pendulum.

As I visit different locations, I keep notes on what I find there. I often make notes to return if I see something that I think could be worth photographing in a different season. The metadata in my library of past images is also a valuable resource when trying to determine the best times to revisit favorite spots. Just remember: blooms can easily vary a week or two due to natural variations from year to year. Global climate change is also having the effect of pushing things just a little earlier each year.

Pictured: [1] Image by Mark Baldwin [2] Image by Mark Baldwin

Pro Tip 
The best tip I can offer for photographing landscapes in the summer (or any season) is to be on location at sunrise and sunset. Not only do you get better light, but the wind is generally much calmer at those times of day. A little scouting also goes a long way. Finding the best possible foreground in the dark is not easy. Knowing ahead of time exactly where you want to set up can mean the difference between a mediocre image that you end up deleting and a stunning landscape image that can be rewarding both personally and monetarily. One last thing: shoot in RAW if at all possible.

Two pieces of equipment I think are worth mentioning, especially for sunrise shoots in the summer, are a pair of lightweight waterproof pants and inspect repellent. I never leave home without them. Beyond that, I don’t believe I could photograph landscapes without a tripod, shutter release, and circular polarizing filter. The polarizing filter not only cuts down reflected glare on water surfaces; it deepens skies and takes the “shine” off of vegetation so colors come through.

Image by Mark Baldwin

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
With the proliferation of digital images, there is no shortage of inspirational landscape photographs out there. I get some of my best inspiration from photographers like Ansel Adams, David Muench, Guy Tal, Charlie Waite, Jack Dykinga, Tom Murphy, William Neill, Linde Waidhofer, and Elizabeth Carmel, just to name a few. But nothing inspires me like being out in nature in all seasons.

6. “As with all wildlife photography, an intimate knowledge of the subject’s behavior is key to obtaining high quality, publishable images.”

Brian Lasenby

Gear: Canon EOS 30D and a Canon 300mm f/4 lens. Settings: Focal length 300mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f8; ISO 400. Image by Brian Lasenby

What’s the story behind this photograph? This image was obtained the day after the single chick hatched. At this stage, the chick will spend much of its time riding on the parent’s back, although it’s quite capable of taking to the water to exercise its swimming legs.

What is your favorite summer subject to photograph?
As a nature photographer, I enjoy shooting a wide variety of subjects, including wildlife, landscapes, and underwater scenes. My main passion, however, is birds, and my favorite subject is the Common Loon, especially during the months of July and August, when they’re busy raising their young.

Loon chicks usually hatch in early to mid-July on our cottage lake. After locating a nest two or three weeks in advance, I’ll begin making daily visits in my canoe, being sure to keep a safe distance from the nest, so the adults will grow accustomed to me and my camera.

Loon chicks grow up in a hurry, so I try to document as much of their growth and learning behavior as I can. I look at the entire project as something akin to a family photo album.

Pictured: Image by Brian Lasenby

Pro Tip 
I prefer the soft light of early mornings, especially when a light mist is rising from the lake. As with all wildlife photography, an intimate knowledge of the subject’s behavior is key to obtaining high quality, publishable images. In order to avoid disturbing the birds, I prefer to use either a handheld 300mm lens, or a 500mm lens, sometimes paired with a 1.4x extender, mounted to a tripod. All of my loon photography is done from a canoe, as it allows me to get close to the subject and take advantage of the best light.

Image by Brian Lasenby

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?
It was the eerie, haunting call of the loon that first inspired me to take up nature photography. Many years later, that same sound still takes me back to the canoe trips of my youth in northern Ontario.