“Summertime and the livin’ is easy”

Summer in the Gorges du Doubs

That’s how the famous tune from George Gershwin’s opera, ‘Porgy and Bess’, would have it and how true this is – unless you’re a landscape photographer!

Summertime really does us no favours at all. The sun rises inconveniently early and sets late and in between the light can be harsh and all but useless. Shadows are shortened, skies are often completely blue with perhaps the occasional wispy cirrus cloud – when they’re not grey and drizzly, that is! Trees are a uniform deep shade of chlorophyll-rich green and even the patches of colour offered by spring blooms are mostly gone, save for a few late-flowering plants. Green and blue are the dominant colours with little variation. Small wonder, then, that photographers flock to the coast in the summer. Not to build sandcastles or to baste themselves under the sun but to record rocky outcrops and deserted beaches early in the morning. But the great North European summer is rarely the warm, lazy idyll that nostalgia demands and those hardy souls who get up at 4am for the dawn are often rewarded with grey cloud and rain.

Of course, summer is the time of year when thunderstorms are most prevalent and there are great image-making opportunities to be had if you happen to be in the right place at the right time but, in general, this really isn’t the landscape photographer’s favourite season. The reason isn’t that hard to understand: summer is a static season with little going on in nature. The transition from the bleakness of winter to the excitement of new life and new growth in spring has passed and the natural world is waiting for the next time of transition: autumn. And it’s transitions that landscape photography is all about: the transition between night and day, the transition from the bleakness of winter to the promise of spring or the transformation that autumn brings when the trees start to lose their leaves. Photographers often find themselves at the point where water meets land; where order meets chaos and where the natural world meets that of mankind. Transitions are our stock-in-trade.

It’s often said that landscape photography doesn’t really have an obvious subject and that all those who seek to depict the landscape must find their own meaning in the multiplicity of forms and textures that surround us. This is why transitions are so important. Transitions define the contrasts which lie at the heart of the best landscape compositions and it’s no wonder that the one season which offers the least contrast, summer, is the one most shunned by photographers. In the main, landscapes are at their best when they are going through a transformation.

Perhaps there is an element of metaphor here? Almost for as long as humanity has been on this planet – at least as long as we could communicate and hold to belief-systems – spring has been associated with renewal, rebirth, awakening whilst autumn is the poetic opposite. Autumn is the time when the harvest of summer is gathered in, a time when we prepare ourselves (or used to) for the rigours of winter. For the photographer, the colours of autumn foliage are irresistible with each tree in a different stage of transition. Winter brings its own interest: there’s no need to dwell on the transformation a covering of snow brings to the landscape. But summer is, well, rather boring.

No, all things considered, in summer “the livin’ is easy” just so long as you’re not out and about with a camera….

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1 Response to “Summertime and the livin’ is easy”

  1. Mike Green says:

    Nice piece, Jools – very poetic – and very true! Bring on the next transition…

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