Winter White Photography: How to Get Amazing Portraits in the Snow
This was a popular tutorial from a few years ago that I know will help new photographers this winter too. So I hope you enjoy this re-release.
Early on in my career as a photographer I focused primarily on studio shooting. It was a great fit for a long time, and I learned a lot about lighting. However, I often found myself frustrated trying to photograph larger groups or small, busy children in a limited space. Eventually I started shooting outdoors and quickly found my groove. Clients started responding more strongly to my work, and I was thrilled with the freedom to explore new places. I could see immediately that children AND parents felt much more comfortable outdoors. My shooting style and work changed immensely.
Then winter came. Here in Minnesota, one of the coldest and snowiest states in the U.S., winter can mean temperatures well below zero for more than a month out of the year, and snow on the ground stays FOREVER. I would stop shooting outside after the fall color was gone and head back indoors for the holiday season but really wanted to be outside. I realized that we Minnesotans are a pretty hearty bunch, so if I could figure out how to make snow work for portraits than I was pretty sure clients would enjoy having portraits during such a beautiful time of the year. Additionally, not many photographers are outside during the coldest months which meant a new business opportunity.
The learning curve was a little steeper when shooting outdoors in winter, so it did take me a little longer to figure out what works and how to take great pictures outside in the midst of all that WHITE. I’m excited to be writing a series of articles for MCP Actions about shooting in the snow. In all, we’ll cover topics like exposure, white balance, lighting and caring for your equipment in the elements, but in this first post I’m going to focus on creative ways to use snow (and winter in general) for great portraits. I hope that you both learn some new tips and get inspired to put on your boots on and get out there and start shooting!
CREATIVE TIPS FOR SHOOTING IN THE SNOW:
1. Forget the white seamless paper – use snow to create an amazing high key portrait. Snow can serve as a great backdrop for this, but it must be evenly lit and most importantly, WHITE. We’ll talk about how to properly expose for snow and some easy lighting tips in the second article of this series.
2. Couples get married all year round. If you have an adventurous bride and groom who will get out in it on their big day, you can create truly one of a kind images that will draw people in. Add some unexpected elements like snow boots with a bridal gown or a stocking hat on a groom and have some fun with it. I shot a wedding last month during Minnesota’s first snowfall of the year (which also happened to be a blizzard). We couldn’t spend much time outside, but the time we did resulted in some wonderful photographs that they will cherish for a very long time.
3. With such a simple background (mostly white) focus on using vibrant colors in clothing and props. When shooting with lush foliage you don’t want the client’s clothing to overwhelm the scenery or the portrait can be too busy. Think just the opposite when photographing people outside in the snow. The white canvas can be a great backdrop for some beautiful winter coats, hats and boots. Hats are a great way to frame faces and showcase eyes as well, especially in children.
4. Photographing snowmen, snow ball fights, children playing or sledding are great ways to capture memories during this time of year. Shooting in the late afternoon sun will result in warmer images with a color cast on the snow. While not always ideal, when used correctly it can help tell the story. Here is my son on a late snowy afternoon going sledding on a “steep” hill for the very first time.
5. Create the unexpected. Find ways to incorporate something that is unexpected in your winter portraits to create something meaningful for your clients or family. I have many clients who return year after year, and it’s my job to continue to create unique settings for them so that each time they come they feel like their images are special and don’t have the same “look” to them or soon they will be able to justify skipping a year or two, or going somewhere else. I’ve been photographing this family in particular for a couple of years. Last year, when their youngest was born, we did a lovely family session in their home, but this year I wanted to do something different that they would love. So, we created a session around the family getting their Christmas tree, which turned into a great card!
In general, think of snow as an extension of your existing outdoor palettes, recognizing that you have to treat it a little bit differently than you do the other seasons. Here are a few other tricks of the trade to use to ensure successful sessions:
1. Prepare your clients! There’s nothing that will prematurely end a winter session faster than a cold child. Make sure parents understand that when it’s 15 degrees outside, it’s unlikely that you can shoot a session without jackets. Mittens and hats are always a plus, too!
2. Try to help them use their coats as their “wardrobe”. Most moms, for example, have a nice dress or wool coat (typically in a solid color). Work around her outfit first, as usual. Encourage her to tie in a fun pair of boots and then plan the rest of the family around her.
3. Your reaction time will slow as you get cold. I use the fingerless mittens with the flap that I can pull over the tops so that my hands and fingers stay nimble. You’d be surprised at how slow your hands get when they are cold. You don’t want to miss the shot!
4. Overcast days are great for shooting in the snow, mostly because of the light reflecting off of the surface. That can be really harsh on people’s eyes, causing a lot of squinting. Use a reflector or diffuser if need be to control the light and get it where you want it (and get it away from where you don’t).
Maris is a professional photographer located in the Twin Cities area. Specializing in outdoor portraiture, Maris is known for her intimate style and timeless images. If you have any questions about this post, please leave a comment in the blog post. You can visit her website and find her on Facebook.