Summer is here, and so are the summer ad campaigns. This year, Coca-Cola released limited-edition packaging featuring short poems in honor of summer memories, from beach days to backyard barbecues to movie nights. In May, Extra Gum launched a viral commercial featuring people leaving their homes for the first time to enjoy a sunny day of romping and mischief in the park. Meanwhile, Starbucks announced their first limited-time Frappuccino flavor in years, created in honor of nostalgic summertime experiences, like amusement parks and fairs.

This summer, brands are sharing stories that tap into our collective seasonal nostalgia as well as our optimism for the future amid global reopenings. As brands look to revamp their marketing for summer, this season offers a wealth of potential photoshoot opportunities for commercial photographers. Below, we’ll share our top six tips for planning and shooting summertime photos for your Licensing portfolio.

Tip #1: Mix lifestyle and still life

In commercial Licensing, variety is the name of the game. The more diverse your portfolio, the better your chances of standing out to different buyers across industries and niches. Every brand has a different style and voice. While American Eagle celebrated the Summer Solstice with fun photos of their team at Coney Island, for instance, Pepsi has been showcasing refreshing visuals of their products illuminated by rays of summer sunshine. One buyer might look for one genre of photography, and another might prefer something else.

Lifestyle and still life photography are both evergreen subjects in advertising photography, and there’s no need to limit yourself to one genre or another. Get together with friends for a model-released lifestyle session in the backyard, and then set up some tabletop shoots featuring your favorite seasonal recipes. You can even combine both genres in a single shoot; for example, while documenting a family barbecue, grab some candids of people hanging by the pool or sipping drinks, and then get some detail shots featuring the drinks on the table covered in condensation.

Tip #2: Research your vacation destination

Summer vacations are back. According to a survey of American parents conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Juicy Juice, 58% of respondents said they have very high expectations of summer 2021, with 68% planning to make up for lost time. What’s more, 63% said that a second spent indoors this summer is a second wasted, and almost three in four said they’re looking forward to feel-good summer activities to make up for the last year, from beach days to picnics.

With a little preparation, your summer vacation with family or friends poses the perfect opportunity to shoot photos for your Licensing portfolio. Do some research on your destination to see what kinds of photos are already selling, and think of ways to put your own twist on it. Read travel blogs and chat with locals for shoot ideas; you might discover a seasonal event or hangout that others have overlooked. Some locations require property releases, so check it out before you go.

Tip #3: Think local

This year’s summer vacations need not take place in exotic locales and faraway destinations. In fact, many will be tapping into the “backyard vacation” trend that started in 2020. Think inflatable pools, outdoor seating, lush gardens, fire pits, twinkling lights, and stay-at-home camping tents. These photos don’t need to be staged; instead, look for authentic moments in your own yard, capturing the candid reactions of friends enjoying a summer evening together.

Last year, polling from Morning Consult revealed that 58% of US adults are planning to take a staycation post-pandemic, so even if you’re staying home, consider looking for travel photography topics to shoot in your neighborhood. As tourism ramps back up, travel brands will be looking for photos that capture the unique experiences to be found in cities around the world. Check out our article on local travel photography for tips on how to approach a staycation-themed shoot.

Tip #4: Chase the light

As noted by the Creative Insights team at Getty Images, warm tones and warm light—from pops of yellow to subtle lens flares—are topping this year’s design trends. Plus, nothing conveys the warmth of summertime like the golden glow around sunrise and sunset. Use an app like PhotoPills or the Photographer’s Ephemeris to track the “magic hour” in your location.

When the sun is low on the horizon, you’ll get that soft, diffused light that’s perfect for everything from landscapes with vibrant skies to portraits with a gorgeous glow. If you’re shooting portraits, remember to bring a reflector to help bounce that light back onto your subject’s face. Gold reflectors often work best for conveying that warmth.

Tip #5: Get outside

In 2021, brands are more committed than ever to showing appreciation for the natural world and doing their part to protect it for future generations. This May, Vans, in collaboration with Parks Project, launched a capsule collection in celebration of our National Parks, inspired by the theme “Leave It Better Than You Found It.” In June, Starbucks reintroduced personal reusable cups, with the goal of reducing waste by 50% by 2030.

Outdoor travel is trending this season, with research from Airbnb showing that warm-weather destinations, smaller beach towns, and national parks are topping many wishlists this year. An Airbnb survey also indicated that 84% of respondents were open to exploring unique and remote lodgings in the future, from cabins to barns to treehouses. This summer poses the opportunity to combine the global movement for sustainability with a booming interest in outdoor adventures, so consider local parks and trails for your next seasonal photoshoot.

Photos of people interacting with nature have been in demand throughout the last year, but you can also explore this concept with traditional landscape photos or lifestyle sessions featuring people living sustainably. It can be as simple as photographing a hiker using a reusable water bottle or metal straw, or as imaginative as contacting and documenting local volunteers during a beach cleanup.

Tip #6: Think ahead

Marketers start searching for images to use in their summer campaigns months in advance. For that reason, it’s important to upload your photos early to catch the majority of buyers at the right moment. Aim to shoot a variety of different photos and submit as many images as possible. Photos sometimes take time to build momentum and surface in buyer search results, so be patient, and always shoot ahead of the calendar.

For example, the photos you shoot in summer this year might start to sell in the spring of next year, as brands build their seasonal campaigns. One way to give your photos an edge is by adding descriptive titles and keywords to your metadata. Combine literal terms like “summer”, “sunshine”, “family vacation”, or “Coney Island” with conceptual terms like “togetherness”, “carefree”, or “getting away from it all.”

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