Winter in Minnesota is inevitable. Cold temperatures, snow and hockey season. It happens every year. I’m a traveling photographer in the Minneapolis area who specializes in outdoor and location portraits. Each year people ask me if I quit scheduling portraits when winter comes. They’re always surprised by my answer.
I do photography all year long, including in the snow. This includes outdoor winter portraits for families and engagements. I shoot winter weddings too. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to have a successful portrait session outdoors in the winter. I really look forward to going outside in the winter, because the landscape is beautiful and so different.
Here are the tips I use every time I photograph winter portraits.
10 tips for outdoor winter portraits from a Minneapolis Photographer
1. What to wear for winter portraits? Dress in Layers.
Start getting dressed with a base layer. This can be a tank top, t-shirt or thermals. This layer is the key to keeping warm for portraits. You can even double up and do 2 base layers if you know you won’t wear a jacket in your pictures. Next, add your outfit on top. A sweater, a flannel, or other cozy long sleeved short. Then you can add a vest or jacket for extra warmth, and accessories like hats and scarves. Very important: wear warm socks and shoes. If you want to go off trail and play in the snow boots are a must to keep your feet dry.
2. Short portrait sessions are great for winter.
When planning outdoor winter portraits I like to plan for your comfort level. Photographing two adults in the winter is very different than photographing children. Adults can be outside longer and tolerate the cold. For things like engagement pictures I do a full hour or more of portraits if we can.
For families with young children in the toddler to early grade school range, an hour is too long in winter. A short session is ideal, because after 20 minutes or so your children’s patience will run out anyway, so that’s what I recommend.
3. Shoot at the right time of day.
Golden hour is usually the best time for portraits. In the winter it can also be the coldest time outdoors. At sunrise or sunset the sun is low on the horizon and the temperature is also low.
For evening golden hour portraits, plan to start your portraits before sunset, in late afternoon. This will give you a golden glow to portraits and the session will wrap up just about the time the air starts to get cold.
For morning golden hour portraits wait about 90 minutes after the sun rises to begin your session. You’ll have sparkling morning light that’s not too harsh, and the air will be a little warmer than it was at sunrise.
4. Overcast days are beautiful days for outdoor winter portraits.
On an overcast day the muted tones of golden grass, grey stone and a white snowy landscape add mood. They also allow the colors in your wardrobe to pop. Plus the clouds act like a blanket and hold heat in the atmosphere, so an overcast day will be a little warmer than a clear sunny day during a Minnesota winter.
5. Plan an activity to do for portraits.
Instead of posing in the cold, play in the snow. Build a snowman, play hockey, go ice skating, get a bonfire going, go snowshoeing, bring hot beverages. All of these things will keep you warm and make great outdoor winter portraits.
6. Keep your car warm.
This is another thing I do for portraits with toddlers outside in the late fall and winter. For outdoor winter portraits at a park, we can find a good spot close to the car. You can keep your car warm to take breaks. Combined with a short portrait session it works great.
7. Bring a blanket.
Snuggle up under a cozy blanket. You’ll be warm and get adorable pictures. There’s a lot you can do with a simple warm blanket.
8. Do portraits at home.
Your front steps and backyard are great location choices in the winter. To keep warm you can go inside your home for a few minutes between poses. Outdoor winter portraits at home are convenient too, because you don’t need to drive anywhere in the snow.
*Note: While I’m writing this blog we’re experiencing a pandemic, so having a photographer inside your home isn’t recommended. Once things settle down with the pandemic indoor portraits at home can happen again.
9. Book your portraits last minute
In the winter I usually have people book their portraits about a week in advance. This is so we have a good idea of what the weather will be like. We can attempt to pick the nicest day of the week. Sometimes you need to be flexible, because snow happens when it happens, but booking last minute is still a good choice for outdoor winter portraits.
10. Plan portraits for “False Spring”
From late December to February in Minnesota we occasionally get nice weather. So nice we think spring is coming. It’s a predictable event that happens almost every year. We have a few days where temperatures suddenly jump up into the mid 30’s before once again falling below zero. This is called False Spring. This is a great time for portraits, because you get all the snow and sun without the wind chill.
So, these are my biggest tips to have great outdoor winter portraits. It’s totally possible, and very worth it.
Outdoor winter portraits are the best choice for adventurous people who love the outdoors no matter what the weather. If you can be flexible and roll with the winter weather you can have a fun portrait experience that’s memorable and different than traditional posed outdoor winter portraits.