7 Tips for Shooting Portrait Sessions in the Snow

January 23, 2019

One of the biggest changes for us when we moved from Louisiana was adjusting to having seasons again – mainly winter and all of its side-effects (read: snow). I don’t mind the snow so much. As long as you are dressed for it, it’s not so bad! The kids have to put on 10,000 extra items of clothing which one child in particular is not fond of. But for the most part it’s been ok transitioning back into winters for us.

Working in the snow has been an adjustment for my photography as well. I’m used to shooting at plantations or in swamps with horrendous humidity. Learning to shoot in the snow was totally new for me! So, I’m nearly through my first winter in Montana and I’ve picked up a few photography hacks since October. Whether you’re shooting with 3-day old snow or in the middle of an actual blizzard, I’ve come up with a few tips to help your portrait session run a little smoother.

7 Tips for Shooting Portrait Sessions in the Snow

Tip 1: Be Prepared!

Shooting in the snow is a heck of a lot different than shooting on any other day, especially if it’s actually snowing. You’ll need to prepare a little differently than for most shoots.

The first and maybe most obvious thing is that you’ll want to dress appropriately. I like to wear fleece-lined pants and a long-sleeve t-shirt under a tri-climate jacket (lot’s of hyphens there, hey?). i like the tri-climate jacket because I can wear both the fleece and jacket together, or one or the other. That way if the weather changes, as it tends to do, I’m ready for whatever. I always bring a toque/beanie along because I don’t like having cold ears. Lastly, make sure you wear boots! I’ve made the mistake of not wearing appropriate footwear (mainly because I didn’t own snow boots at first) and let me tell you, it is not pleasant to have wet and cold feet in the middle of a shoot. I quickly invested in a pair of Sorel snow boots before I embarrassed myself.

I also bring along extra lens cloths, hand warmers for me and my clients, and a snow/rain cover for my camera. I always bring extra batteries, and during really cold sessions, I keep the batteries in my jacket pocket as close to my body as possible (cold batteries die faster).

Tip 2: White Balance

Nailing white balance can be tough in snowy conditions. If you let the camera decide your white balance, you’ll notice the snow will have a bluish tint to it. Since we don’t want that, I recommend setting the white balance manually. I adjust my white balance using kelvin, and I tend to set it around 6500 or higher when shooting in the snow. I also readjust the white balance every time I switch locations. Here’s a few tips for shooting in kelvin if you never have before.

One other option for manually adjusting your white balance is to use an ExpoDisc. The ExpoDisc is like a grey card that you hold over your lens. While I don’t always use the ExpoDisc, I love that it allows me to get consistent white balance in my images, even if it does take a little longer than just using kelvin. Steps for using the ExpoDisc is beyond the scope of this post but you can check out Step by Step: Using the ExpoDisc.

Tip 3: Exposure

If you’re letting your camera think for you (first rule of the 21st century – never let a machine think for you) it’s going to underexpose when you shoot in the snow. Cameras are usually pretty great at determining settings, but when you’re in the snow, all the reflected light and white ground confuses it (and this is how we will defeat the robots when they rise up against us). Do yourself a favor and slightly overexpose when shooting in the snow. I like to test out my exposure and white balance on the live screen when I have my settings dialed in, so I know what to tweak before I start shooting. That or I take a bunch of test shots until I get it right. The histogram is a helpful tool for nailing exposure as well, use it! The goal is to go back to my computer with as little to do in Lightroom as possible.

Exposure is important when shooting in any condition. When I’m shooting portrait sessions in the snow, I almost always use the spot metering setting on my camera. Spot metering allows me to tell my camera to meter for exposure on just one spot in the frame (my couple).

Tip 4: Avoid Lens Changes

Maybe this is a no brainer too, but please don’t change your lenses in a snow storm. Take one versatile lens that will allow you to capture the whole session (my go-to is the Canon 24-70mm). Depending on where I am and what the weather is like, I’ll sometimes bring two camera bodies with lenses (usually a 35mm on one and a 70-200mm on the other).

Before I start shooting, I like to let my gear adjust to the temperature and humidity (or lack of). I’ll usually just open my bag in the back of my car with the tailgate open. After the session, I put my camera in a dry bag like this one, so that when I get home and bring it inside it doesn’t start sweating aka gathering condensation. A ziplock works great too.

Try to keep the camera and lens from changing temperatures too quickly or frequently. Most cameras can handle the cold. If you’re hiding the camera body under your coat between shots you are warming it up, then cooling it off, and so on. That’s a great way to get your lens all fogged up.

Tip 5: Add Some Color

For those of you who have never seen snow, it is white. Generally when it snows, it makes for lots and lots of white everywhere. When I send out my client guide before a session, I include a special winter tip of ‘Wear Colors!’ I myself am very fond of grays, blacks, and neutrals, but they don’t pop in the snow. I love when my clients show up with clothes, scarves, or hats that give extra pops of color to their photos.

In the mountains, you’ll also have the greens of the trees and grays of the mountaintop. Use those to your advantage when composing your shots. I often have clients wear greens and browns to sessions in the Fall and Winter. I try to put some space in between them and the trees either physically or by using a shallow depth of field.

Tip 6: Be Mindful of Your Footprints

So unless you love that trampled snow look, try not to walk around where you plan on shooting. Sometimes I’ll have my clients approach a spot I want them to be in differently than I would if there wasn’t snow on the ground.

It’s helpful to know your terrain as well. Snow can cover areas unevenly and trick you into thinking the ground is even when it’s not. I’ve found this is especially the case by rivers. Watch where you are walking and be especially careful in deep snow.

Tip 7: Have a Plan for Your Session

Chances are your clients will be a lot colder than you. Have a plan for your session going in and don’t dawdle. My snowy sessions are generally much shorter on shooting time than other sessions. I always bring a couple blankets and try to incorporate them into the shoot. I usually bring along some hot chocolate and a couple mugs too. They do double duty of keeping my client warm and giving them something fun to do for a few shots.

I always incorporate lots of movement into my sessions, but it’s especially important when it’s cold out. The more your clients are moving and keeping active, the less they are thinking about how cold they are or how they look in front of the camera.

Like I said earlier, bring extra hand warmers for your clients to use in between shooting. Keep jackets and blankets close by, and take breaks to warm up in the car as needed. Don’t make your clients freeze their butts off any longer than they have to.

That’s it! I hope these tips were helpful for those of you shooting in the snow. I’d love to hear any tips and tricks you might have for shooting portrait sessions in the snow in the comments!

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l. haddow

elopements | weddings | lifestyle

montana & worldwide

lauren@haddowphotography.com | 406.219.5999 | @haddowphoto