How to take portraits in the snow

How to take portraits in the snow

I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada or Winterpeg as we are affectionately called. It snows. A lot. It’s also cold. Like REALLY cold. For 5 months of the year we are surrounded by white and ice. If I wanted to take pictures I needed to learn how to shoot in the cold and snow fast!

The 3 main problems I found shooting in the snow are flat lighting, exposure issues, (blown out or grey looking snow), white balance issues (blue snow). This image has all three issues:

Now, because I work with kids and it is cold, I don’t take the time to custom white balance. It’s more important to get the shots and get them warm so I auto white balance knowing that Lightroom will fix that with just a click. Clicking on the snow with my eyedropper tool in LR warms it right up.

Exposure +.65 , recovery +3 ,  temp +414

editing snow images in Lightroom

If snow is in more than 50% of my frame I expose for the snow at +2 and it usually gives me a pretty decent sooc image. The Zone system was a game changer for me in how I understood and use exposure.

Because of snow’s reflective properties it can be difficult to get nice shadows on your subjects. Often I embrace it but to get some depth and drama into some images I use my environment to block some light and create shadows. For instance, putting my subject beside trees or buildings can do that. In this image I used a tree to get some shadows (SOOC image just a crop and size & sharpen for web done).

getting good shadows when taking photographs in the snow

If the subject fills most of my frame then I expose based on skin tone and I don’t worry about a bit of blown out snow behind them. Sarah Wilkerson‘s Flawless Skin Seminar was one of the most comprehensive learning resources on this subject  I have found and am still soaking up the knowledge. The following image is SOOC with just a crop and size and sharpen for web done.

photographing and editing snow

Being prepared will help make your shoot successful. Consider a few of these items for your next snow session:

  • Recommend to your clients to dress in thin warm layers…and don’t forget to dress warm yourself!
  • These fingerless gloves.
  • If it’s snowing while you are shooting you may want to get a rain guard.
  • Extra batteries. The charge runs out much sooner in the cold.
  • Hand warmers, for you and your clients!
  • Let your camera acclimate itself before using indoors and out. When you take it out don’t start using it until it’s cooled off a bit.
  • Shut it off before you bring it back indoors and let it warm up before use. Condensation could occur and damage your equipment or images.

Now, if you have some snow, go out and take some photos!

About the Author:

Carol lives just outside of Winnipeg, MB, Canada with her husband of 14 years and their 3 gorgeous girls – 4 if you count their free spirited (read:crazy) dog Ruby. With a love of babies and photography that goes back decades – her mom used to call her Anne Geddes as a teenager – it is fitting that her favourite subjects are newborns. A lover of coffee and earl grey tea lattes, chocolate and wine…well anything unhealthy actually…she often indulges while her nose is stuck in the latest fiction top seller. Carol’s simple equipment line up includes her Canon 5d mark II, the nifty fifty and the 24-70mmL. Visit Carol Swaitkewich online.


  1. Carla Bagley Dec 19 2012 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Wonderful tips!!! I am here in NB and we get a ton of snow too:)

  2. KatieW Dec 19 2012 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much Carol!

  3. Colie Dec 19 2012 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    I already took pictures this morning but good tips for next time.

  4. Amy Dec 19 2012 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips! No snow yet, but I live in Canada too, so it’s likely inevitable hehe

  5. Kerri Dec 19 2012 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you! I’m hoping we will get some snow down here soon! 🙂

  6. Bianca Dec 19 2012 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you Carol! I have been searching and searching for a tutorial like this! And so well timed…we just got a foot in the last week here in Wyoming! Think SNOW!

  7. Adeena Dec 20 2012 at 12:56 am - Reply

    Great tips! 🙂 Never thought about creating shadows, so thanks!

    I’m in Ontario, and we haven’t gotten any snow yet… still hoping for a White Christmas, though!

  8. Abbeygail Dec 20 2012 at 7:17 am - Reply

    Great post! I actually live in Winnipeg too and I’ve been struggling with winter shooting so this post came at a great time. 🙂

  9. Novella G Dec 20 2012 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Thanks for the great tutorial! Also from Winnipeg so I found this really helpful.

  10. Kira Dec 20 2012 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Holy cow awesome SOOCs! Thanks for the tutorial, perfect timing, we just got our first real snow of the season. Thanks!

  11. Heather Dec 22 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Love that you did this! I found it very helpful. I love taking pictures of the kids playing outside in our wonderful winterpeg, but often am disappointed with the results, thanks for writing this, great tips!

  12. Carol Dec 23 2012 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    You are all so welcome!! Thanks so much for all the feedback! Hope the tips help!!

  13. Nancy Young Dec 25 2012 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Winter is famous for its extreme contrasts and highly reflective surfaces. It can be a quite difficult task to take pictures in these conditions, but your photos look great! 🙂

  14. Susie lib Dec 28 2012 at 10:42 am - Reply

    I’m going to try this out tomorrow when I do my sister in law engagement pictures in the snow! I’m so excited thanks for sharing

  15. danielle foster Dec 29 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Just stepped outside after reading this after our first snow in 2 years so my little one never saw it before… Thanks!!!!

  16. Carol Jan 03 2013 at 10:31 am - Reply

    That is lovely Danielle! So glad you got some snow! I couldn’t imagine winter without it:)

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