After speaking with many photography clients about the conditions throughout the seasons in Calgary, I thought it would be helpful to write a guide on what to expect. Many years of outdoor, on-location photography bring an awareness of the seasons and the weather they bring throughout the year. If you’re envisioning a certain look and have a time of year in mind, I hope this helps you narrow down dates!
Some people like to do their engagement photos during a season different from when their wedding is — if their wedding is in July, for example, they might want to do their engagement photos during the fall leaves, or snowy winter landscape. The following is meant to help you plan when that might be.
The heart of winter. Usually very cold, with the occasional chinook blowing in to melt everything before it re-freezes. The best time of year for reliable snow on the ground. If you time it just right, you can shoot on a warm chinook day with snow for your photos (if there is too much accumulated to melt quickly). Even when the snow is beautifully blanketing the landscape, however, the blowing wind and very cold temperatures can make this a less than ideal time to photograph outside. It’s hit and miss.
This is what I would consider, unfortunately, the worst time of year for outdoor photography. The snow has usually receded, but all of the plants and grass have a really awful yellowy-brown-gray colour to them, and are often dirty, and covered in dust and mud that the snow left behind. There can be sudden snowstorms, but absolutely nothing is growing or green yet.
Spring starts, at last! Grass will be green, especially near the end of the month, but the branches on trees will still be bare. Despite the fact that the lilac festival is near the end of the month, there are very rarely any lilacs in bloom, or even leaves on the trees. It’s a vast improvement over March-April.
Springtime gets in full swing. Grass is green, and the trees get leaves, finally. Sometimes it is a few days or a week into June before the leaves appear, but by mid to late June, you can expect everything to have finally greened up. Usually in late June (sometimes it is early July), the lilacs and other flowers are in bloom. Shoots often have to be rescheduled during this rainy month. Expect rain. Lots of regular rain. Some Junes, in Calgary and the surrounding area, it rains nearly this entire month. Which makes the grass beautifully green… and a bit soggy. With all this rain and spring growth comes mosquitos, so if heading outside for shoots this time of year, make sure you have insect repellent.
Summer time! It’s hot, everything is green, and the days are long (the best sunset light is late, often at 8pm or 9pm). Perfect for outdoor photography, just avoid mid-day if you can (from 1-3ish), because that bright, in-your-eyes glaring sun isn’t at all ideal. Later in summer a lot of the grass can start to turn gold and dry rather than green. The sunset light in August usually has a lovely golden quality, I think from the haze of forest fire smoke in the air. Some trees’ leaves will start to change in July and continue through August. Sometimes shoots can be interrupted by thunderstorms, sudden torrential downpours, and even hailstorms.
Beautiful autumn! Possibly the best time of year to take photos outside. Temperatures cool a bit, the air gets a bite, and the leaves start to change in earnest. The absolute best time for the fall foliage is the last week of September, between the 22-30. This is a very popular time for outdoor photos: family, engagement, and wedding. The temperature of the air makes it very comfortable to be outside, and the grass is still green. The weather can be very cooperative this time of year as well.
With the exception of early (sometimes to mid) October, I’d consider this the second-worst time of year for outdoor photography. There aren’t any leaves on the trees, all of the grass is dead and brown, and the snow isn’t reliably on the ground. You’ll get a few dustings of snow here and there, especially in later November, but it’s very difficult to plan for these. It can be windy, as well, and feels colder than it is, since everyone is getting used to the cold once again.
This is when the temperature really starts to plummet, during the holiday season. The snow still isn’t reliably on the ground (there have been many brown Christmases in Calgary), but it can be a pretty good time of year for outdoor, snowy photos, if conditions are right. Probably the more difficult thing to do is work around everyone’s busy holiday schedules!