Many photographers consider winter to be exclusively a “studio” season, but even in cold weather, you can continue to shoot outdoors. Winter is not only cold and snowfalls. It is also a beautiful light, the “golden hour” at 9, not 5 in the morning, and a magical atmosphere around. All of these can be used to create beautiful winter portraits. But first you need to prepare yourself and the equipment — we tell you how.
General Winter Shooting Tips
First of all, it is very important that your hands and fingers are warm, because you need to press the buttons and turn the knobs! This will require comfortable gloves. An excellent option would be with removable fingertips. Gloves that can use the touchscreen are also good (especially if you’re adjusting settings and focus point using the display).
Secondly, you need a reliable backpack or camera bag. In it, the camera and other equipment will be reliably protected during transportation to the location and after the photoset.
And since we are talking about the location (thirdly), think about the shooting location in advance. It will be cold during the photoset, and you will no longer have time to look for a suitable place or a beautiful background. It is also desirable that there is somewhere near the shooting location to pause and warm up (cafe, car, etc.).
Winter is cold and damp. And technology does not like such conditions very much. Therefore, you should try to keep your camera, flash, and extra batteries (more on that in a moment) under your outerwear. Take them out for direct use only.
In heavy snow, it is better to protect the camera with a special rain cover. Alternatively, shoot under an umbrella. In any case, using the camera without weather protection in snow or rain is at your own risk. Sure, you can shoot with a rugged “compact” (Fujifilm FinePix XP140, Olympus TG‑6), but these cameras aren’t great for professional portraits.
In winter weather, it is very important to choose the right lens right away, because changing it outdoors at this time is not the best idea: snow and moisture can easily get inside the camera. It is reasonable to take a more or less universal zoom or your favorite portrait lens and shoot the entire photo shoot with only this lens. We also recommend keeping a cleaning cloth in an easily accessible place to quickly wipe off snow or water drops.
Take the lens hood
Be sure to take a lens hood with you when shooting in the “frost and sun” — the snow works like a giant reflector, so ambient light can reach the lens and create unwanted glare.
To eliminate the “haze”, which is typical for shooting in the cold and in winter in particular, there is a great tool — ultraviolet filters. Raylab UV filters are available for a wide range of lens diameters. The RayLab UV MC Slim Pro ultraviolet protective filter is available in diameters from 49 to 82 mm, has multi-layer coating and a thin frame. Another advantage of using UV filters is that the front element of the lens is protected from snow and rain.
Another problem in cold weather can be the rapid draining of the battery. Prepare two or three spare batteries in advance and, as we said above, keep them under your outerwear while shooting. If you don’t want to spend money on your original batteries, Raylab has a wide range of replacement batteries for all major makes and types of cameras: Sony and Panasonic mirrorless cameras, Canon and Nikon DSLRs, and more.
If you decide to take a tripod with you, there are a few things to consider. In the cold, tripods have the unfortunate feature of getting VERY cold. In the worst case, your hands will simply stick to the metal part of the tripod, like in the famous children’s horror story (based on real events) about swings and tongues.
Therefore, you will need special pads on the legs, which will protect both the tripod itself and your hands. In some models, such overlays are already available. It is also handy if the tripod has a plastic carrying handle, like the Raylab Travel 63. Carbon tripods can be used as an alternative, but they are significantly more expensive than aluminum tripods. If you suddenly decide to shoot on ice, then Manfrotto and a number of other manufacturers have special suction cup legs with spikes.
Snow sometimes tricks the exposure meter and can be one of the most difficult subjects to get properly exposed. A picture can easily be underexposed, and sometimes, on the contrary, overexposed and lose details. A general rule of thumb is to expose for the brightest parts of the scene and make sure the highlights don’t turn into solid white.
If you’re shooting in RAW, it’s best to underexpose the frame a bit and then “pull out” the shadow detail in post-processing (whereas overexposed highlights will be very difficult to recover).
If you’re shooting directly in JPEG (and don’t intend to process the photo), and the snow is too gray, you can try to slightly overexpose the frame — the snow will be whiter. At the same time, make sure that the skin of the model looks natural.
Snow easily “catches” shades from the sun and surrounding objects, so try to make sure that it does not take on an unnatural color: the snow must be white, otherwise change the white balance.
On cloudy days, you can change the white balance to “Cloudy” (Cloudy) to add “warmth” to photos and minimize the blue tint.
On a sunny day, snow may appear a little “warmer” where the sun hits it and a little “cooler” in the shade, but it should generally remain white throughout the frame. When shooting sunrise or sunset, the snow can also take on bright hues from the sky. Keep this in mind and look for harmonious combinations with other colors in the frame (for example, with the clothes of the model).
Bokeh in winter is just as good, if not better, than in any other season (beautiful light and snowflakes!), so feel free to open your aperture, but watch your exposure.
The good news for “winter” photographers is that due to the lower angle of incidence of the sun, the light quality in winter is very good, and the shadows are long, which creates an interesting effect. Study how the light falls on your model and try to catch beautiful highlights in the eyes.
In the sun, the snow sparkles and shimmers, creating a special fairy-tale atmosphere. Have your model toss snow into the air and use burst shooting to capture every detail. Also try to photograph the model with the sun shining on her from behind — this will enhance that magical effect of the snow illuminated by the sun.
But cloudy days are also quite good: you will get soft diffused light, and the snow will work as a natural reflector, directing additional lighting to the model.
Mood and atmosphere
The atmosphere of a winter portrait is strongly “tied” to lighting. When the sun is shining, more energetic winter portraits with smiles and laughter are excellent, and in cloudy weather — more thoughtful and calm.
A winter photo shoot in the woods can be especially atmospheric — bright and cheerful when the sun shines through the trees, or mystical and gloomy on a cloudy day.
The hues of the environment in winter can range from dull brown to dazzling white. To create good “environment” portraits, try to find places where you can use various compositional elements — leading lines from paths and buildings, framing (framing) from trees, etc. Use the depth of the environment to add layers and interesting details, that complete the portrait.
Tree branches and snow-covered bushes will create an extra dimension and can be “rhymed” with the model in the foreground. When it snows, the person can be placed against a darker background, such as a forest, to effectively highlight both the model and the surrounding snow.
If the camera gets wet while shooting, bring it indoors and then wrap a dry towel around it. Leave it like that for a couple of hours. If you try to wipe off snow or water, you risk pushing moisture into the seams where the electronic components are. So just leave the camera in a towel to absorb moisture.
Some people advise placing the camera and lens in a sealed plastic bag for a couple of hours — this way the equipment will gradually warm up, and moisture will condense outside the bag. To be honest, we did not use this recommendation, but it sounds convincing.
So, dress warmly, protect your equipment from cold and moisture, and most importantly — take great winter pictures!
* In preparing the article, materials from the resources clickitupanotch.com and bhphotovideo.com were used.