5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow!

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a “winter person”. Unfortunately I’ve fallen in love with the frosty city where I live, so 6+ months of snow on the ground every year is just a part of life. By February, I’m always really starting to miss the sight of grass and blue skies. But you know what helps? Getting outside and appreciating this beautiful season for what it is.

Whether you’re just trying to see the beauty in a snow-sprinkled landscape, taking advantage of a warmer-than-usual day to take some family portraits, or just trying to capture the fun side of winter as your kids play outside, here are some tips for winter photos that aren’t drab and depressing.

1. Don’t Miss the Light

This is the simplest but often the toughest part of getting great photos in the winter. If you’re at work all day, the sun might already be setting by the time you get home. Taking outdoor photos after dark isn’t impossible, but it’s sure a lot more difficult, especially if you are photographing people or pets (who have a tendency to not hold completely still while you try to grab a shot) rather than just landscapes. So if you’re wanting to take your little ones out to build a snowman and are hoping for some magical photos, plan for a specific time when the sun will still be up to get out there. And pack snacks, because you might need to go out before you have a chance to eat dinner!

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
This photo of my rosy-cheeked 7-month-old daughter was taken early afternoon on a cloudy November day. I put down a white fuzzy blanket to protect her bum from getting too wet without taking away too much from the appearance of the snow.

Also, don’t shy away from sunrise and sunset hours. The light might be a little more dim, but a winter sunset can really be magical. Landscapes or cityscapes at these hours can be particularly stunning.

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
A stunning winter sunset landscape by photographer Christopher Mills

2. Dress appropriately (and make sure your subjects do, too)

Nothing kills a good time like being too cold to think about anything else. Make sure you bring a warm enough coat (when in doubt, wear lots of layers so you can shed 1 or 2 if you get hot), a hat, scarf, gloves, etc. Fingerless gloves can be your friend when you’re trying to operate a camera but need to keep your hands as warm as possible. You’ll also want to make sure you have good warm boots that will allow you to trudge into deep snow if necessary to get the perfect shot.

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
Here’s me taking some photographs at Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park in the dead of winter. Note the super-warm parka and thin but cozy gloves!

Just as importantly, make sure your subjects are cozy! Dress everyone in warm clothes so they won’t be miserable and shivering in front of the camera. If your subject would rather not be in a bulky parka for the shot, you can always have them shed a layer or two just before you snap the photo, then bundle back up before they freeze.

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
My daughter at 11 months old on a cold March day, proving that warm can be adorable

3. Look for pops of colour

There’s a certain beauty in the endless white expanse of a fresh snowfall, but it can look a little boring in a photograph. For winter photos with impact and visual appeal, look for bright pops of colour that will really stand out on all that white.

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
The family (and the snowman!) in this shot are dressed brightly and colourfully enough to add some life to the snowy backdrop
5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
Evergreen plants, frozen berries on trees, or even spring flowers that came out a little too early can make a brilliant contrast to the snow, such as in this shot by flickr user Jörg Schubert

4. Increase your exposure

If you’re using any kind of automatic setting on your camera, it will do its best to compensate for the light available to give you the best possible image quality. However, when the entire landscape is white with snow, your camera may think there is too much light and compensate by making your images darker. This can make snow look a drab gray, blue, or purple rather than the brilliant white you see with your eyes. Check your camera’s manual for how to manually increase the exposure compensation, and ensure the snow is the brilliant white that you want it to be.

5 Simple Winter Photography Tips to Make the Most of the Snow! | PixPortal Blog
A brilliantly bright winter shot from flickr user Filippo C

Helpful links: Exposure Compensation on a Nikon camera or on a Canon camera

5. Protect your camera from the elements

If it’s extremely cold or snowing when you’re out shooting, take care to protect your camera. Keep the lens cap on when you’re not shooting, and carry a small soft cloth to dry the lens off if it gets wet to avoid gray blotches or blurred areas on your photos.

To avoid your lens fogging up at inconvenient times, allow your camera time to acclimatize to the cold before you begin. When you’re done, let it warm up slowly inside. You may also find your battery capacity is seriously reduced by the cold. If you’ll be out for a while, carry a spare fully-charged battery, and ideally keep it warm (like in an inner pocket on your jacket) to make sure you get the most out of it.

How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits

While I admit that summer is and always will be my very favourite season, fall is arguably the most photogenic one. The light is beautiful but rarely too intense for portraits, the sunsets are early and stunning, and the rich golden colours make the perfect backdrop to any photograph.

Whether you’re just snapping a few candids with your phone on a laid back fall walk, or taking your DSLR out for some family portraits, here are some tips to make the most of photographing this beautiful season.

1. Take advantage of fall fashion

We might not all want to be caught on film in our bikinis in July, but we’re all comfortable and picture-perfect in our sweaters, jeans, and scarves in October. Make sure everyone is wearing enough layers not to freeze, and opt for simple, comfortable outfits, livened up with accessories like bold scarves, cute hats, and tall boots.

How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo credit: Jack Fussell on flickr
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo credit: Shandi-Lee Cox on flickr
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo courtesy Emily MacKenzie

2. Catch the best light

With the quick changing of the seasons (at least way up north where we live), sunset always seems to take me by surprise this time of year. When planning an evening shoot, you can always check the Farmer’s Almanac for when sunset will happen in your area on your chosen day. Then I like to head out an hour earlier to catch the gradually fading light and, eventually, the beautiful colours of the sky. Unless you’re taking photos on a cloudy day, you may find the intense sunlight of earlier hours causes faces to be blown out or your subjects to be squinting.

How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo credit: antonio on flickr
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
Photo credit: Lina Hayes on flickr
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo credit: Vandan Desai on flickr

3. Have fun!

Carefully posed photos can look great, be flattering for everyone, and if done well, look surprisingly natural. But sometimes you just can’t beat a great candid photo. Run through the fallen leaves, jump in a pile of them, or just relax and watch the sunset. These little moments can create the best memories.

How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo source: stocksnap.io
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo source freeimages.com
How to take stunning outdoor fall portraits
photo credit: Giacomo Carena on flickr

Got any other great tips to add? What are your all-time favourite autumn shots? Share below!