How to Take Magical Snow Portraits

8 min read

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Snow can either be a photographer’s dream or a photographer’s nightmare. However, if you are willing to brave the cold and are ready to get creative with your photography. Taking snow portraits can transform the way you shoot in the winter elements.

A snowy scene generally creates a very flattering light for portrait photography. The natural white light that bounces off the ground and surroundings means that there are very few nasty or harsh shadows. It’s like the whole world has turned into your personal reflector. Capturing the magical elements of falling snow and icy trees helps give your photos a dreamy feeling.

But there are a few tips you need to know before you head out to capture your stunning snowy portraits.

Unlike shooting in warm weather, you will need to be prepared in advance with your gear and have a good grasp of your manual settings. This way, you will have maximum time and efficiency while keeping yourself warm and safe.

Tips for Taking Portraits In The Snow

Before you grab your camera and run out the door, there are things to consider and plan for. Here are a few of our top tips to help you create beautiful snow photography.

woman stands in snow filled scene for winte photoshoot.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Photos in the snow after dark can add an extra bit of drama to your images. With the right lighting, they can also really help the whiteness of the snow stand out against a black background.

Look out for a location with street lamps. Alternatively, bring a torch or some cool artificial lighting to get creative with your shoot. One extra light (and knowing how to use it) can make a big difference to the impact of your shot.

Snow portrait photography at night for a mystical feel.

Think About Your Background

A snowy portrait of a person with a stunning landscape in the background will instantly up the wow factor of your photo.

Pay attention to your composition so that one element of your scene does not overtake the other. For example, use the rule of thirds to create a good balance in your winter photos.

Wide aperture for snow portrait photo shoots.

Add A Pop Of Color

Shooting with a mostly white background means you are almost given a blank canvas to work with. Plan ahead with your model so that they are wearing a bright color. Adding a bit of red to your shot will really help your subject stand out against the snow.

Using color to help your winter photos pop.

Use Professional Lightroom Presets

One of the best tips for post-processing your digital images is to use premade Lightroom Presets. Lightroom presets are the easiest way to get the results you desire when editing your snow portrait images. Presets automatically adjust things like white balance, contrast, and clarity to give your photos an instant boost. With one click, you can have a whole variety of images to work with.

Our Winter Preset Pack is the perfect set for transforming images with stunning snowy looks.

couple portrait in snow

Pay Attention To The Weather

A blizzard or bad weather can certainly make for an incredible winter photoshoot. However, it is not much fun or very safe to be stuck in. Check the weather forecast regularly to make sure you don’t get stuck out shooting, and remember that winter weather can change very quickly.

A gray, foggy day can create a dreamy or mystical feeling in your photos. Whereas a spot of the sun can add a touch of sunny golden light to your photo.

If you are going to be photographing in bad or cold weather, make sure you are extremely well prepared and not too far from a safe shelter.

Weather conditions for photographing snow. Be prepared.

Dress For The Cold

If you are going to take photos in the snow, this should be fairly obvious; however, it should never be overlooked. Make sure you have several layers of warm and protective clothing on to prevent you from exposure.

Don’t forget waterproof and stable footwear. There is not much worse than having freezing cold, wet feet when you are trying to work your photographer magic.

The same goes for your models. If you are planning to shoot with a beautiful gown or suit, make sure they have a large, long coat to throw on in between shots. Nobody will be having much fun if your teeth are chattering on camera!

keeping energized and comfortable during snow photo shoots.

Take Breaks And Stay Warm

It’s easy to get fatigued when shooting in the snow. Make sure you and your model are taking regular breaks and checking in to make sure you are both warm enough. Ideally, you should be planning to finish your snow shoot as fast as possible so that neither of you is in the chill for too long.

Man with cap and coat in the snow

Move Around And Stay Playful

Not only will movement in your images look fantastic. It will have the added benefit of keeping you warm! Try to capture candid images with lots of movement in your photography shoot.

Encourage your model to really play with the falling snow, throw snowballs or even create snow angels. This will allow you to capture a range of emotions and angels and add a natural, candid feel to your photography.

Couple run through snow forest on a shoot.

Look After Your Gear

Cold weather can have catastrophic effects on your camera if you don’t look after it.

Cameras have lubricants in them, which make the moving parts glide and move a little easier. However, if the temperature is too low, these lubricants could freeze, and the camera could break. To keep it safe, put your camera in its bag or hide it under your coat when you are not using it. This way, it is protected from the worst of the winter elements. Be sure to read your camera manual for more tips on care and temperature functioning.

Low temperatures will also very likely drain your battery faster. Keep your spare batteries in your pocket to protect them, and make sure you bring backups.

Portrait of woman with snow falling around.

Camera Settings for Snow Portraits

If you plan on creating beautiful snow-filled portrait photography, you will need to have a good understanding of how to use your manual settings.

Use A Wide Aperture For Portraits

Using a wide aperture to isolate your subject means that your subject stands out against its background.  Use an F-stop like f/1.8- f/2.8 for a shallow depth of field and an interesting image. If you focus it right, your subject will be sharp, while the white, soft snow in the background will be slightly blurred. This way, you can also make a stunning bokeh effect with the snowflakes in your image.

Woman looking towards camera wearing winter clothes.

Or A More Narrow Aperture For Environmental Portraits

If you want the rest of your winter wonderland background to be in focus. Try using a slightly higher aperture like f/8. This means you can get more detail of the scene and your subject in focus. For a creative tip- Use a slow shutter speed to get a cool blur effect with the falling snow for a creative environmental portrait.

Woman in coat dances in snow with sunshine at the back.

Use Burst Mode & A Fast Shutter Speed

To get multiple exposures and some great action shots, use a fast shutter speed and set your digital camera to burst mode. If you plan to capture the action in your snow photography. Like, throwing a snowball or blowing snowflakes, you may need a slightly larger aperture like f/6 so that both the snow and your subject are in focus. Don’t forget to adjust your ISO to compensate for any changes in your camera settings.

Couple blowing snowflakes towards camera.

Take Care Of Your Exposure Settings & White Balance

As there is a lot of bright white in your frame, it can be easy to overexpose your image if you are not paying careful attention. In this case, it is usually better to use manual settings to make sure your camera is exposing your subject to the correct levels.

Your white balance may also be affected by the cold, bright light. Sometimes it will try to overcompensate, and you will end up with a blue or gray image. Many photographers will compensate for this blue by using a flash when they take their photos.

Be sure to take a few test shots before you start shooting to make sure your exposure is correct. And be sure to continue to test your settings when the sun and light change.

Person standing with a view of snowy mountains.

Shoot In RAW

As always, if you are a photographer, we advise you to take your photos in RAW. When you take your photos in RAW, you retain more data in your photos than in JPEG. This makes post-processing your photography much easier and allows you more options when you edit your images.

Woman laying on ground in snow for fun portrait.

Best Gear for Snow Portraits

Photographing the snow takes a little more preparation than just throwing your lenses in a bag and hitting the road. Here are a few essential items you should consider bringing along for your shoot.


Cold temperatures mean your fingers and extremities need extra protection. However, you still need to be able to operate your camera buttons and dials.  We recommend purchasing gloves that have a special grip at the fingertips so that you can still grip and change your settings. Alternatively, you can purchase gloves that have removable finger holes.

Small Towel & Lens Cloth

Snow = Ice, and ice = water. To protect your gear from the melting ice, you may need to be consistently wiping down your equipment so that the water does not sit & damage it. For this, a small towel will be useful.

For the same reason, you may need to be consistently wiping your lens. Therefore a good quality and durable lens cloth will be needed to reduce smudges and spots on your lens.

Black and white image of woman with snowflakes falling.

A Sharp Lens

This lens has a wide aperture allowing you to get that dreamy bokeh effect in your photos. A small F-stop also means it will be great for low light in the rest of winter.

A sharp lens can either be a zoom lens or a prime. However, primes will generally have a smaller F-Stop.

Wet Weather Protection

Sometimes a plastic bag may be enough to give your gear light protection. However, in heavy snowfalls, you will want to invest in something a little more sturdy. A waterproof cover will help protect your camera and equipment.

Camera Bag

Invest in a comfortable and durable camera bag to keep your gear safe from all weather conditions. Ideally, you should look for something that has good seals and zips. And should also come with extra wet weather protection.

Spare Batteries

Cold temperatures are said to drain your batteries faster, so it’s advised to bring a backup or two if you are heading out for a long shoot.

Portable Hand Warmers

My saviors when shooting in winter are these portable and reusable hand warmers that are perfect for getting the feeling back into your fingers in between shots. You can also stick them inside your coat for a bit of extra warmth on your body.

Snacks And Hot Drinks

Taking a thermos is a great idea if you are shooting in a location without any cafes nearby. Being able to stop and recharge with a hot coffee or chocolate will help you stay energized and ready to continue facing the cold.

Model Staying warm with hot drinks on a photoshoot.


You don’t need the sun to have fun! A snow landscape can provide you with a stunning background for an incredible portrait photo. And there are so many ways to get creative with your photoshoot. We hope these tips have been helpful in encouraging you to get out there and start capturing magical snow photography!

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Ainsley DS is a photographer and writer based in between Auckland, NZ and Paris France. She specializes in travel, portrait and documentary photography and has a passion for all creative pursuits. With an addiction to travel, she has lived on three continents and photographed over 40 countries along the way. You can purchase travel prints directly from her website or follow along on the journey!
Ainsley DS is a photographer and writer based in between Auckland, NZ and Paris France. She specializes in travel, portrait and documentary photography and has a passion for all creative pursuits. With an addiction to travel, she has lived on three continents and photographed over 40 countries along the way. You can purchase travel prints directly from her website or follow along on the journey!

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