with Courtney Slazinik
8 Tips for Creating Magical Winter Portraits
8 Tips for Creating Magical Winter Portraits

Winter is absolutely magical and one of my favorite times of the year to shoot outdoors. Up here in the Northern hemisphere we encounter cooler temperatures, beautiful filtered and buttery light, an early golden hour, atmospheric weather and big fluffy snow flakes, all elements I embrace and love to incorporate into my winter images.

Great tips for taking pictures in the snow! Read - "How to  Photograph Magical Winter Portraits"

Read more: How to Take Amazing Photos in the Winter

However, before I head out into winter wonderland there are always a few considerations I need to remember when it comes to my gear, technical camera set up and subject preparation.

  • No.

    Shooting outdoors during the winter can be wet and cold. If it’s snowing, or in some climates raining, I suggest using a rain sleeve, a plastic bag, or even a towel secured by an elastic band over your gear to keep snow and water off your camera. It’s also a good idea to keep a lens cleaning cloth in your pocket or easily accessibly to wipe off any snow or water droplets that hit your lens.

    Lens choice is important during questionable winter weather because changing lenses is not a good idea when there’s the potential for moisture to hit the interior of your camera. I suggest choosing a zoom lens or your favorite fixed focal and shooting with just that one lens for each outing.

    I shoot in a very cold climate so temperature can be a factor at times. When it’s really cold outside I like to give my camera a little time to acclimatize before using it outdoors in the colder weather. I do this simply by placing my camera bag in my garage or the trunk of my vehicle, for about an hour, before I head outside.

    Battery life can also be an issue in cold weather as camera batteries can and do drain quickly when cold. I keep my batteries inside my inner coat pocket, close to my body, to help keep them warm and charged when I am not using them. I also tend to head out with at least three fully charged batteries.

  • No.
    Exposure settings

    Snow is beautiful but super bright and can blow out quickly losing it’s pretty detail. When I’m out shooting in snow I exposure for the snow pushing my highlights up as far as possible while being careful to watch for any signs of blowing that snow.

    I like my snow to be very bright but not lose detail. I can pull back on snow exposure and tweak exposure on my subject as needed in post processing.

  • No.
    White balance

    Snow will take on color casts but I am very careful to ensure that snow doesn’t take on unnatural color casts. On an overcast day snow should be white. On a sunny day snow might appear a little warmer where the sun is hitting it and shaded snow a little cooler but overall snow should remain white.

    If shooting a sunrise or sunset, snow can take on the colored glow from the sky. Just be aware of the colors in your environment and how the snow is absorbing and reflecting the colored light.

  • No.
    Subject preparation

    This probably goes without saying but ensuring my subjects are dressed properly for winter weather is of most importance to me. I keep a constant eye out for cute jackets, hats, mittens, scarves and boots that I can pick up and incorporate into my winter images.

    Warmth and comfort is something I’m always looking for. I love adding color into my subject’s wardrobes to help them pop off that wintery white background.

    Once I’ve considered all the gear, the technical necessities of shooting during the winter and wardrobe I’m now ready to start capturing my winter images and creating that true magic that I crave in my images.

  • No.

    Light is incredibly important in photography. I’m always very conscious of where the sun is or where is should be and use light as I would in any other environment. I look for how the light and sometimes bold or soft shadows are falling across my subject and watch for beautiful catchlights in the eyes before I snap my camera shutter.

    Overcast days are gorgeous because the light is softly filtered. I really love how snow naturally reflects light back up and onto my subject.

    Snow and sun is pure magic in my opinion. Snow sparkles and glitters and I love to play with snow and light. I’ll often have my subject toss some snow up in the air or backlight my subject to enhance that magical light as it hits the snow.

  • No.

    Winter mood is often tied into light for me. I tend to shoot more energetic and smiling winter portrait images when the sun is shining and more quiet and contemplative subject images when it’s overcast.

    Don’t be afraid to try and show cold and be conscious of your subject’s body language and how that infuses mood into your winter captures.

    Also don’t be afraid to think about how different atmospheric elements can impact the winter mood within your images.

  • No.

    Winter can range from a dull brown to pure white. I really like to find locations where I can use compositional elements such a leading lines, framing, and environmental depth to add interest and layers within my winter images.

    I like to shoot through tree branches and snow covered shrubs to add another layer of magic.

    When it’s snowing I love placing my subject against a darker background like a forest or line of evergreen trees. This helps the snow and my subject pop off the background.

  • No.
    Have fun

    I absolutely adore embracing nature in her cold and frozen state. Breathing in the fresh air and taking time to enjoy and find beauty in the simple moments and expressions of a playful child emerged in winter such as those rosy cheeks, catching snowflakes on the tongue and throwing snowballs are all memories I want to capture in a fun way!

  • Sophie Callahan
    January 16, 2018 at 10:23 AM

    Love this. These portraits are absolutely breathtaking! Is it common that your camera might be a little slow in colder temperatures? I was shooting a horse in the cold this morning and my shutter just didn’t seem as responsive as usual.

    • Gina
      January 28, 2018 at 5:24 PM

      Thank you! I haven’t noticed that my camera is slower in cold weather but it’s possible. What I do notice is that sometimes it’s harder for my camera to grab focus in the snow because of all the white and low contrast in some situations. This slows down shutter release at times because my focus release is set to focus and release mode.

  • KM
    January 18, 2018 at 2:17 PM

    Your tips are awesome and then some!

    • Gina
      January 28, 2018 at 5:25 PM

      Thank you very much!

  • Dixie
    January 18, 2018 at 4:15 PM

    Thank you. I have soooo much to learn…

    • Gina
      January 28, 2018 at 5:25 PM

      You’re welcome! Enjoy shooting in the snow!

  • Lisa Fitts Photography
    February 5, 2018 at 1:14 AM

    We don’t get much of weather change in southern California but these tips are spot on thank you for sharing!

  • Notcy
    February 5, 2018 at 9:08 AM

    Thank you for the useful tips and the nice photos!

  • Steve Herwig
    January 17, 2019 at 5:02 PM

    I enjoy the photographs but what really makes the photographs “pop” is the colorful attire and winter wear on the subjects! Great contrast with the white of the snow.

  • Kelli
    January 18, 2019 at 9:21 AM

    Fantastic article, thank you! I’ve notieced that the light is too soft at golden hour here in the northeast unless you have a direct line to the sunset. Should I try earlier in the afternoon for better light or learn to deal with the gray/low light?

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