Shooting Portraits in the Snow

by | Dec 28, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In the past, a camera’s in-camera meter tended to dramatically underexpose from all the reflected light in snowy conditions. The old rule-of-thumb for shooting snow with film SLRs was to overexpose the indicated exposure by two-stops. But no more. Today’s sophisticated cameras easily handle snowy conditions, especially if your portrait subject mostly fills the frame as in today’s feature image.

Today’s cameras are so good they can handle tricky exposure, such as shooting portraits or glamour in the snow but my shooting tip for these kind of conditions is to first make a test shot, look at the histogram, and adjust the camera’s exposure compensation control based on what you see on the LCD screen—IF you know from experience that it is an accurate representation of what the finished image file will look like. Not all camera do that, ya know. I wish all cameras had a simple exposure control know, like my Olympus Pen F at left/

And if you’re not quite comfortable with that procedure, you can always do what photographers have done from the first time Mathew Brady loaded his Kodak: Bracket like crazy. That’s what the AEB control on your camera is for. Here’s another tip: Shooting in the snow can be really contrasty, so why not use a speedlight to balance exposure and reduce contrast and make the image pop.


How I Made this Shot: I photographed Y’amie after a recent snowfall in the front yard of a friend’s house in Fort Collins, Colorado. Sometimes, the sun will come out after a snow storm and the weather will be pleasantly warm (at least for this time of year.) That was the case on the day that I made this shot a few years ago. The portrait at right was made with a Canon  EOS 1D Mark II N with EF 85mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1/250 sec at f/14 at ISO 400. An EX 550 speedlite was used for fill and to add a little sparkle to the portrait.

A bigger problem than exposure when shooting glamour in the snow is color balance. Shadows in the snow have a good chance of coming out blue. If you’re a RAW shooter you’re going to be tweaking the image anyway in your favorite images processing software. If you’re a JPEG shooter, you can try shooting using your camera’s Shade white balance. Every DSLR or mirrorless camera handles shade in different ways and some add a bit of warmth that fixes the “blues” and some make it too warm. My secret weapon is PictoColor’s iCorrect Portrait. It will correct the blues” and also let you tweak skin tones.


If you’re interested in learning how I shoot  available light glamour portraits, please pick up a copy of Available Light Glamour Photography which is available new from for $18.92 with used copies starting at $10.39, as I write this. The Kindle version is $28.45 for those preferring a digital format.