How to Shoot Winter Portraits

How to Shoot winter portraits

How to shoot winter portraits? Lets start with stating that winter is a fantastic season for outdoor portraits. The snow has a majestic quality, it is often overcast (great for portraits) and provides an alternative to capturing winter purely with the landscapes.

As a winter photographer, I usually go out looking for that special location to capture. A tree alone in the middle of nowhere, a frozen waterfall, winter features like icicles or winter sports. But there are people who want nice photos and beloved memories, without going to a studio. This provides us with another opportunity for enjoy winter through the lens.

So how do you shoot winter portraits? Here are some tips to help you through your next winter portrait session.

Ho to shoot Winter portraits
Ho to shoot Winter portraits


  • COMFORTABLE MODELS ARE HAPPY MODELS: It might be an engagement shoot, maternity photos, or a spontaneous idea to have professional portraits to hang on the wall. Whatever the reason for the portrait shoot, I need to sate that It is not a winter sports photo session, and winter by nature is COLD. They should dress comfortable, natural and warm, but don’t forget the stylising of the outfits. Keep this in mind, when you come to wearing wool sweaters, they always look cool, and they’re warm, but they easily get wet by playing with the snow.
  • NATURAL AND SPONTANEOUS: Emphasise to your models that they should try to interact as if no one was watching. Get them to throw a snowball or two. It is easier said then done but let them know they should try to forget their concerns for a while and enjoy the moment. I have found it can help if the model brings along a friend that can stand behind the photographer, to lighten the mood and help the models be themselves.

Usually, people feel a little bit tense at first, looking at the camera constantly, with forced and unnatural smiles. That’s not what we are looking for as photographers. The spontaneity and connection between the photographer and model enhances the enjoyment of the shoot and ensures some funny and beautiful shots. As a result, they become funny and beautiful memories.

Ho to shoot Winter portraits
Ho to shoot Winter portraits

Tips for the photographer shooting winter portraits:

  • LOCATION IS IMPORTANT: Sometimes we go mad looking for the best landscape for a portrait shoot. However, simply taking a walk through a a park or a some woods can offer great back drops and opportunities to frame a gorgeous photo.
  • BE THE CLASS CLOWN: We talked about spontaneity and connectivity. Try your best to break the barrier between yourself and your subject. Have some jokes ready, use some tricks like saying “close your eyes, open your eyes, close, open, close, open…” a few times till your subject gives in and starts laughing,.. then shoot. Natural laughs and smile are what you are aiming for.
  • KEEP SHOOTING AFTER “THE MOMENT”: It’s the second after your subject thinks you have taken the photo that they relax, flash a smile and become themselves, so take a few shots, wait a second and then shoot a few more.
  • BE CAREFUL WITH THE WINTER CONDITIONS: Cameras and lenses are made of metallic alloys, magnesium alloy or metal points. At the end of the session, just keep the camera in the backpack and do not take out for a while. Once you get home, leave the camera inside the backpack with the zipper opened far from a heating source. The change in temperature from cold to hot will cause condensation to form on your gear and potentially damage your equipment. Just let your gear climatise and you can check and edit the images after a coffee and some food.
  • EXTRA BATTERIES: Batteries suffer in the winter and empty fast with the cold temperatures. Always keep one a spare batterin a pocket inside your jacket.
  • WINTER EXPOSURE: Snow can confuse the camera’s meter into thinking things are overexposed leaving you with an underexposed image. Either manually overexpose your images or dial in +1 or +2 on the exposure compensation so the snow is white and not grey. I like to start at ISO 200 with a wide (low value) F stop, to ensure high shutter speed. Then adjust your shutter speed to get the correct exposure or alternatively place your camera in aperature priority so you have control on the depth of field and your camera chooses the shutter speed.
  • EXPOSE FOR THE FACES: Use the spot metering to correctly expose the face, even if the rest of the scene is over or underexposed, you can ensure that the face will always be ok. Blown out checks or a white forehead is impossible to recover in post. You may need to move into a brighter or darker area depending on the ambiant light and how much under or over exposed the background is. This is where your creativity comes into play.
  • FOCUS ON THE EYES. Focused eyes will attract the attention of the viewer. Creating a blurry background with super sharp eyes, achieved by opening up your aperature (a low value F stop) is always a winner.
  • THE CORRECT LENS: It is often said that a 50mm lens creates a look that is similar to what we see through our eyes. That is debatable, just know that a wide angle lens will distort your subjects face and make whatever is closer to the lens bigger. A massive nose is not the most attractive. A longer lens will have the opposite effect so just mix it up between 50 and 200mm and decide yourself what look you like best.
  • ENLARGE THE MOUNTAINS: When shooting with a dramatic backdrop like a mountain range, use a long lens 70-200mm, stand far back and zoom in. The mountains will now fill your frame instead of being a dot on the horrizon.
  • STAY WARM: Make sure to keep your hands comfortable and warm, don’t forget your Vallerret photography gloves.
Ho to shoot Winter portraits
Ho to shoot Winter portraits

I hope those tips help you to create some amazing winter portraits. Maybe you will not become the winter photographer of the year, but with with inspiration, creativity and some tips, you can enjoy your photography during the winter.

My final words, just enjoy, practice as much as you can which means taking your gear with you every time  you go out. Explore and good luck with taking some awesome pics.

– Joshua Miravalles Gómez

Joshua Miravalles Vallerret Ambassador

Joshua Miravalles is a social, lifestyle, travel and landscape photographer based in Bilbao, Basque Country. Joshua works specially with natural light, and loves to travel with a focus on winter destinations. Josh takes great pleasure in planning the journey and imagining the final picture which can been realised with projects such as “Etxebarri, along the time”, a small project about the changes of a town over the years. 


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