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How to Photograph the Summer Solstice

A family in a large field with the sun directly behind them | Motif

Reading Time: 7 minutes read

Summer is finally here. Early dawns followed by sunny days that culminate in serene, lazy evenings. The long days of summer are some of our favorites, and for us, this photography season kicks off with the summer solstice. Also called the June or northern solstice, it’s the longest day of the year.*

Those extra hours of brilliant light offer a once-in-a-year chance to get out and take some truly outstanding summer solstice photos. Let’s start summer right!

When is the summer solstice?

The summer solstice varies year to year. It falls between the 20th and 22nd of June, when the Earth tilts toward the sun at roughly 23 degrees. Technically, the true solstice occurs at the moment of Earth’s maximum tilt—though most people think of the solstice as the entire day.

In 2019, the solstice officially happens on June 21, 2019, at 15:54 Coordinated Universal Time. Visit EarthSky to see how your local time zone lines up with UTC time.

With this information, you can capture your official summer solstice shot. Alternatively, you can photograph the day at your leisure. The choice is yours.

Plan your day

The first step to summer solstice photography is to prepare. Check the weather and set out an appropriate outfit. Pack your gear the night before. Since you can’t predict exact light conditions, we recommend a tripod to steady the camera or phone and reduce blur.

Also, plan where you’ll shoot and when. Getting up early for that perfect sunrise shot will do you no good if your chosen location doesn’t face east.

Give the image a sense of place

When we think of summer solstice photos, we think of glorious suns pinned to the horizon. Yet, the best shots aren’t about the sun. Not really. They’re about how we relate to it.

One way to show that relationship is to include recognizable buildings and landscapes in your shots. This will give the image a sense of place.
Famous landmarks like Stonehenge, Yosemite Falls, and the Space Needle dazzle in sunsets. If you’re enjoying a getaway nearby, go for it. But wherever you call home, there will be locations that provide a sense of community and individuality. When framed in the summer sun, they provide stunning shots that show your hometown in new, refreshing light.

Draw landscapes with the sky

Pairing landscapes with a sunset or sunrise make both more vibrant. Oceans reflect and fold into the ruddy wisps of clouds. Mountains and hills cut through purple-blue backdrops. The ways to mix and match these two are endless, so have fun.

One such option is leading lines. Find a location where natural landscapes or manmade structures create lines that draw the viewer’s attention to the summer sun.

Another option is to add negative space. Negative space is the part of the image that surrounds your subject and other noteworthy details. The subject, in turn, can also be called the positive space.

For example, the sky can serve as negative space when surrounding a single positive feature, like an oak tree. The combination will make the oak come alive for the viewer in new and interesting ways.

Capture the golden hour

The golden hour is a nickname for the period after sunrise and before sunset. During this time, the sun sits near the horizon, so its light must travel through more atmosphere than during midday. This scatters the blues of the light’s spectrum into the atmosphere, allowing the reds, yellows, and oranges to shine through.

The sun setting behind a mountain range | Motif

Summer’s golden hours are breathtaking. Since the solstice is the longest day of the year, you’ll enjoy more time to explore the way it paints the world in warm hues.

It’s worth noting that the “hour” is figurative. Some days have shorter golden hours, others longer. The time will vary by location, too. Visit this website to find out when the golden hour is where you are.

Golden hour selfies and portraits

The golden hour pairs sunsets well with nature and cityscapes because it creates warm, diffused light. Not coincidently, this light is perfect for selfies and portraits, too.

Have your subject face the sun and bask in its soft glow. Golden hour light bounces evenly off faces, hair, and clothing. It gives skin a healthy glow, illuminates personality, and gives the scene a sense of vibrancy.

Using the golden hour to backlight a selfie or portrait can be tricky. The low sun and bright light will make everything dark, which muddles details and masks  your subject’s face in shadows .

Avoid this unless you’re going for a silhouette effect. If you are, angle your shot until the light brushes out all details except your subject’s outline. Silhouettes are better in profile, and we recommend having your subject perform an action—from running to pensive reflection—to give the composition some personality.

Long shadows

Evening sunlight stretches out shadows. Use them to add perspective to your images and bring a sense of depth to the two-dimensional shot. They can create leading lines to your subject and an extra layer of playfulness to a child’s activities—or the shadows can be the subject themselves.

Midday sun bursts

Midday is a notoriously difficult time to capture quality images. The high, bright sun can overexpose shots, add distracting shadows, and wash out skin tones. The summer solstice is no exception.

To utilize this uncompromising light, try adding a sunburst. Line up your subject so the sun hangs directly behind. This will create a halo effect that frames the subject in brilliant light while keeping details visible.

Try a summer solstice collection

We were struck by this experiment at PetaPixel. The photographer took the same shot every hour of the summer solstice to create an eye-opening, 24-photo collection.

Consider crafting your own collection to survey how the longest day of the year evolves during the sun’s journey. Explore the cool morning pinks. The afternoon swelter. The tender glow of the evening.

You can follow the above experiment, but feel free to create your own. Travel the town to see how the buildings’ characters shifts throughout the day. Focus on friends and family. The only prerequisite is to have a series of shots that tell your story of this year’s summer solstice.

Create custom cards with your beautiful shots

With the summer solstice behind you, you should have a collection of photographs displaying your personal journey. Like the golden hour that inspired them, these images have a huge amount of potential.

You can add them to next year’s calendar to represent the summer months. You can tuck them into a photo book that celebrates this year.

One of our favorite ways to use summer solstice shots is custom cards. Adorn cards with your photographs to make invitations to your next summer event. These images perfectly encapsulate summer picnics, birthday parties, or mid-year festivities. With Motif, you can create a custom card for any occasion to share your summer with friends and family.

*Of course, in the southern hemisphere, shutterbugs will be welcoming winter. If you’re looking to take advantage of the shorter days and colder weather, we have you covered with our winter photography tips.