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When the snow starts falling, that all white winter wonderland is an exciting opportunity for snow portraits!
Think sparkling eyes, apple cheeks pink with cold, beautiful texture in the form of warm woolies. Add pops of vibrant colour, and it’s easy to create really eye catching, dynamic portraits with big wow factor!
But when it comes to shooting in the snow, there are a few things to consider which are unique to any other location.
Click Love Grow Advanced Photography Course graduate Melanie Nebbeling took her daughters out for some snow portraits last month, and together we came up with 7 essential tips to nail it…
Not wanting to state the obvious… but it’s cold out there! You should assume your subjects will have a shorter window than any other time. Also, if the sun comes out, snow will start melting quickly!
So before you leave the warmth of the indoors, make a plan of the shots you want to get. Even if it’s just a mental list. That way you can get out, get the shots, and get back inside to some hot chocolate!
Try to head out after a recent fall, when the snow is fresh and pure white. Nothing will ruin your magical snow portraits more than dirty, slushy snow!
Snow acts as a natural reflector, bouncing light all around. That’s a big reflector, and a lot of light! For that reason, avoid harsh unflattering light falling on your subject by shooting in soft light.
Overcast skies will give you soft light, and in instances where you have clear skies and full sun, aim instead to shoot during the golden hours.
Generally speaking, your settings for shooting in the snow will be no different from any other location. By that I mean you’ll still choose them based on the look you’re after, and the speed of motion you want to freeze or capture.
For action shots like this, use a shutter speed of no slower than 1/500.
You can also create different effects with the snow fall using your shutter speed. Even if your subject is not in motion, use a fast shutter speed to capture sharply defined snow flakes.
To capture the motion of snow falling as in the shot below, use a slower shutter speed. Try 1/100 as a starting point, review and zoom in on your image and decide if you need to adjust.
You can create a streaky effect with the snowfall by using an even slower shutter speed. Just remember in doing this, you’ll also capture blur of your subject if they’re in the shot and they’re in motion. So you’ll need to ask them to freeze, then experiment to see what works best.
Create gorgeous snow bokeh by using a wide aperture. The wider the aperture, the better your bokeh… start with around f/3.5 and focus on your subject, review and adjust if needed.
If you want lots of snow flakes in focus, use a narrow aperture of say f/11.
With all that white around, your camera will be tricked into thinking it needs to expose darker to get a correct exposure. The result will be an underexposed subject.
If you think your meter is underexposing, don’t be afraid to push it lighter to properly expose your subject. You can do this by simply using your eye to overexpose a touch. Use spot metering, aiming at your subject’s skin for the best chance at correct exposure. Take a test shot and review your image.
Alternatively, if you like to rely on your in-camera metering, you can use exposure compensation. I much prefer the eye method, because (as I always say) the meter is just a guide.
Related: What is Metering?
Melanie uses a Canon 5D Mk3 with an 85mm f1.2, 135mm f/2 and a 200mm f/2.0. She says she loves using the longer focal lengths to shoot snow portraits in her own driveway, as the compression makes it look like a snow filled forest!
Battery life is noticeably affected when shooting in such extreme cold temperatures. So keep a spare on hand, and keep it warm in your pocket until you need it.
Anything for the shot? Well, almost anything. Expensive camera gear + moisture is asking for trouble!
If you want to shoot during a snowfall, you need to protect your gear. Ideally, you’d have someone holding an umbrella over you whilst you shoot. If you don’t have a handy assistant, you’ll need to try to shoot one handed, to keep your other hand free to hold your own umbrella!
Alternatively, if your car is nearby, sit inside and shoot out the open window. As you can see in the image above, Melanie shoots down her own driveway, from her open garage doorway. This provides relative warmth and better protection for her gear. It also means she can shoot whilst it’s snowing, without fear her gear will get wet.
Exposing your gear to extreme temperature changes can cause condensation inside your camera and lenses. Over time, this can damage their inner workings… an expensive mistake!
Avoid this by placing it in a plastic bag the second you return, ensuring it’s airtight so that condensation can’t form. A properly sealed zip lock bag works well. Leave it stored inside the bag until it’s had a chance to return to room temperature.
It’s not always possible, but ideally you should try to store the bag for a time in a cooler indoor area… placing it next to a roaring log fire is not a great idea!
Including vibrant colour adds a really dynamic element to snow portraits. Red and pink look amazing in the snow, especially during the Christmas season.
That said… black & white is not to be disregarded! Look at the way these conversions really highlight texture, isolates the snow fall, and renders the background a beautiful canvas from which her subject can pop!
We hope these tips help you get out and take some gorgeous snow portraits! If you’re heading to more extreme temperatures and weather conditions, try our post about shooting winter landscapes.
Related: Winter Landscapes