Tips for Taking Winter Portraits in the Snow

by Kristen Duke

Don’t pack away your photography gear just because it’s winter. Snow scenes offer a chance for fabulous portraits with great texture and light.

But before you drag your camera out in the cold and snow, here are a few tips for shooting portraits in the snow:

1) Get outside and shoot. While it can seem intimidating to shooting in the snow and cold, it is worth the trouble. White snow provides a natural reflector that gives a gorgeous glow to your pictures. Winter snow also means lots of fun outdoor activities for action shots; sledding, building snowmen and snowball fights.

2) Bundle up. On your body, you’ll need the usual warm clothes and plenty of layers. But photographers should also invest in a pair of fingerless gloves to keep your hands warm while your fingers work the camera. And plan ahead. Often, after you’re outside for a while, your trigger finger will start responding more slowly.

2) Protect your gear. If the snow is really coming down, cover your camera in some kind of waterproof casing. If it’s just lightly snowing, it’s not as critical. For light snow, I just tape a plastic bag to my lens hood for a make-shift cover.

When you come in from the cold weather to a warm building, your camera and lens will fog up. Unless it’s really, REALLY cold, your equipment will be fine to use again in about 30 minutes. If you’re dealing with extreme temperatures, put your camera and lenses inside a plastic bag that zips shut while you are outside to avoid condensation problems.

3) Set your exposure manually. If you shoot in Auto mode, the camera will view the scene as very bright and try to compensate. The resulting images will be dark and the snow will look gray. By setting your exposure manually, you will be able to make the snow look the way it should – bright and white.

4) Set your white balance manually. Just like with the exposure, your camera can be tricked by having much of the frame filled with white. If you shoot with the Auto White Balance setting, the snow may look blue/ gray or yellow/orange. To prevent this, set your white balance manually by using the Kelvin settings in your camera or by shooting in RAW and tweaking your white balance in Lightroom.

5) Look out for chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberrations are those pesky magenta or green lines that you get in pictures in areas of high-contrast. You see them often in snow pictures, especially where dark tree branches meet bright white snow. To prevent chromatic aberration, shoot at an aperture of 2.8 or higher. Chromatic aberration can also be corrected in a program like Lightroom with the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” dropper in the “Lens Correction” tab.

Hopefully these tips will help you to embrace the snow, and take some beautiful pictures this season. It can be really fun if you remember these 5 tips, and bundle up!

Photo Credit: Liz Hansen and Kristen Duke