10 Winter Portrait Photography Tips for a More Enjoyable Shoot

[Updated] Winter is an exciting time to get outside and shoot eerie snowy landscapes. But what about portraits? While some photographers like to focus more on studio shooting in the cold months, you may miss out on some great opportunities to shoot amazing portraits if you choose likewise. Don’t be afraid to endure a little bit of cold. These winter portrait photography tips will make it easier on you to know what to do before and during your outdoor cold season shooting.

1. Choose Your Location Beforehand

In the summer it’s nice to walk around, shooting in several places. In the winter, the cold can get to you quickly. Have places picked out ahead of time, and walk your clients there quickly. Keep them bundled in coats or close to the car until the shoot, then move quickly. While rosy cheeks add a cute touch to your winter portrait photography, avoid red noses if possible.

2. Pick the Best Time of the Day

Since the time spent outside is limited, especially if you’re photographing children, it’s vital you pick the best time of the day to get good lighting. The best time of the day to shoot outdoors is almost always during the golden hours – early morning and late afternoon. This is also true for winter, when the sun casts long shadows, adding contrast and a delicate, glowing color to your pictures.

3. Bring Your Snow Gear

Your clients will be in a fairly comfortable place. But to get the best shot, you may need to head into a snow bank, lay down on the snow. Make sure you have boots, gloves and a warm hat, and maybe even snow pants to keep you warm and dry. A pair of fingerless mittens with flap cover is also a must. You need to keep your hands warm as your reaction time will slow the colder you get. You don’t want to miss a stunning shot, don’t you?

And speaking of keeping warm, your batteries need warmth too. Batteries lose their power if kept in freezing temperatures. Keep your spare batteries warm by placing them in an inner pocket of your jacket close to your body.

4. Have Your Clients Dress for the Snow

It may seem silly to remind your clients to dress for the snow. But the last thing you want them to do is show up with a 3 year old in a holiday dress and shoes, crying because she’s freezing. Give them a clothing consultation, and have them dress similarly and appropriately.

Winter scenery offers a great opportunity to play with contrasts which is why it would be an excellent idea to have your clients dress in colorful outfits. Red, bright purple, and warm colors contrast stunningly with snow. And don’t forget to bring hot beverages to keep warm!

5. Look for Interesting Backdrops

You don’t need a lot of snow to obtain a stunning background for your portraits. In fact, if your clients are already freezing and wet from all that snow, it may be a good idea to look for a sheltered, drier location. Look for interesting viewpoints – tunnels, pathways, anything that can act as a great backdrop. Then move your subjects into the scene to complete the image.

6. Use Snow as a Prop

Snow can add dimension to your portraits, and can give you a soft glow. To capture snowfall, the best thing to use would be a telephoto lens. Look for anything with a focal length of at least 70mm. Shoot at shallow aperture and use the fastest shutter speed possible.

This way the snowflakes will appear larger and blurred while your subject will remain sharp. It adds a magical touch to the picture! But make sure you use a lens hood to prevent the snow from falling onto your lens. If your camera gets wet, wrap it in a towel and let it sit for a few hours. Don’t try to wipe off the water as you may risk pushing it inside where the electronic components are.

7. Have the Family Bring along Props

While you may not see this as an innovative idea for your winter portrait photography, props can make a huge difference in the way your pictures turn out! If your clients want an outdoor winter portrait, chances are they like to play in the snow too. Do they have skis, snowshoes or a snowmobile? Incorporate that into the image for something personal to the family.

8. Overexpose Your Images

One of the most challenging tasks in terms of camera setting is to achieve the correct exposure. You can’t rely solely on the camera’s meter to set the exposure otherwise chances are all your photographs will will turn out underexposed and dull-looking.

With the majority of your background being white, you’ll need to overexpose your images by a stop or two. With digital, you can play around with your settings and see your results before you place your subjects into the image. You will most likely need to overexpose by +1 stop or +2 stop. Try not to go over +2 stop as you may lose some of the detail in your frame.

9. Have a Call List for Snow Days

Many areas can go weeks without a snow storm, then be hit by several inches of beautiful snow. Create a reserve list, and give them a call early in the morning to head out and shoot. If it’s cloudy and snowy all day, you may be able to get several clients in per day.

10. Price Your Snow Day Sessions Higher

Moving on to the last of our winter portrait photography tips, let’s discuss money. It would be a good idea to price winter sessions slightly higher than you would normally. These are limited editions – they can only take place when it snows. With your reserve list, they will quickly become an in demand item. Take the session fee up front in order to be placed on the reserve list. That will make them more motivated to keep the session.

Final Thoughts

Winter’s no time for a photographer to be hibernating! While snow can create a few problems that may be hard to anticipate, as long as you keep in mind these winter portrait photography tips you can enjoy a pleasant photoshoot even in the cold season. We hope you now know how to use snow to your advantage and are ready to update your portfolio with winter portraits.

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7 thoughts on “10 Winter Portrait Photography Tips for a More Enjoyable Shoot”

  1. Thanks for the great tips for using the cold weather for your advantage in outdoor portraits. I just moved to a cold climate from Florida. I don’t think my blood has thickened up enough to take your advice right now, but once it does I’ll start taking some nice snowy portraits.

  2. This is great! Thanks. But I did have LOL at the “make sure your clients are dressed for the cold”. Here in Quebec, that is never a danger. 🙂

    • I understand – I’ve been to the midwest enough to know the true meaning of cold. Here in Denver we’re spoiled. It never stays super cold long, and you can often have 60 degree days even in the heart of winter. A lot of people here are used to running around with out coats, and they really get cold if they’re outside for more than a few minutes.

  3. I second the comment about bringing extra batteries. Cold batteries don’t last too long. I would also suggest giving your equipment a little time in the cold to adjust rather than waiting in the warm car for your clients to arrive. Otherwise you’ll be asking your clients to wait while the condensation on your optics evaporates.


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