How to take the best winter photos

The snow is falling, the temperature is dropping and that may have you tempted to pack up your camera until the first blooms of spring. Instead, pause and look around: there are a number of photographs that you can only capture this time of year. 

Here are some tips to ward off that winter chill on your photography pastime.

1. Get outside with the family 

Bundle up and get outside. Have a snowball fight; have someone blow snow toward the camera; have one person sit and the others throw snow high above them to capture the snowfall; make snowmen or snow angels. 

Have someone blowing snow towards the camera lens. It is best to try this technique while standing at a safe distance and having the camera lens zoomed in to prevent snow from actually hitting your camera. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

By throwing snow up in the air, you can create the look that it’s snowing hard over a person. If you use a fast shutter you can freeze the snow in motion. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

  • To avoid blowout — when the snow is so bright and the subject is dark — have a low ISO (around 100 to 400).
  • Don’t trust your camera’s light meter as snow can trick it into giving you an inaccurate reading. Review the pictures on your camera’s screen and adjust.
  • Have a low aperture or F-Stop (F1.4 – F4.5) so that only your subject is in focus.
  • Use a fast shutter speed (around 1/400 or 1/800) to capture the snow flying in the air. 

2. Look for the little details

Winter is ripe with potential for close-up photographs. Look for snowflakes in someone’s hair or snowflakes stuck to colourful mittens; red noses from the cold; and footprints in the snow.

It’s important to look for details everywhere when photographing, including snowflakes on a toque pom-pom. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

While you’re wandering around by yourself, look for hoarfrost on the trees; icicles hanging from branches; berries covered with snowflakes or ice. 

Remember to capture the little details of snow in someone’s hair after playing outside and having a snowball fight. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Try out different angles: lay on your stomach to see what you might be missing closer to the ground, look up high to see things you might have missed, and never forget to turn around! 

  • Remember to prevent blowout. Use a lower ISO (around 100 to 400) as there will be a lot of natural light.
  • Have a low aperture/F-stop (F1.4 – F4.5) to make sure only your subject will be in focus.  
  • Use a fast shutter speed (around 1/400 or 1/800) to capture snow in the air, icicles melting one drop at a time, and details of snowflakes.

3. Warm up indoors with Christmas lights, hot chocolate and cookies

After your noses are red from the cold and you can’t quite feel your fingers anymore, step back inside. 

When photographing children, a photographer should get low to capture their candid faces. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Use the light you have and embrace that some subjects or objects might have deeper shadows in the image. Bake cookies in the kitchen using only the window light to illuminate the table; use the oven light to capture someone peeking in; photograph someone close-up taking a sip of hot chocolate as the steam rises up from the mug. 

Baking Christmas treats is an annual simple moment to capture with family or friends. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

When the sun goes down, shut off the lights and have some fun with Christmas lights.

One option for a unique, budget-friendly photograph is to wrap lights around the opening of your camera for a light frame. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Gently wrap Christmas lights around someone’s arms and use that light to photograph them; have someone take a bundle of lights and hold them up to their face to brighten them up; wrap the lights around the opening of your lens, putting the lights out of focus and creating a beautiful, colourful border for your photograph. 

If you’re hoping to photograph with lights, consider wrapping a subject up in them to light up their outfit and face in a variety of colours. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

  • Use a high ISO (around 800 – 2000) when you’re shooting without a lot of light. Don’t go too high or your image will have a bit of a fuzzy look. 
  • Have a higher aperture/F-stop (F1.4-F5) to let more light into your lens. 
  • Use a slow shutter speed (around 1/60 to 1/40) to brighten up the image and capture the light and shadows at the same time.  
  • Use a tripod to prevent blurriness.

General tips

Avoid a foggy lens

When you go from photographing in the freezing cold to the cozy warm indoors, it can be hard on the camera and the lens. Your lens might fog up. Put your camera in your bag before going indoors to let it warm up slowly and giving it a bit of protection. 

Don’t be left out in the cold — with no batteries

Batteries will die quicker in the colder weather. Always have multiple fully charged batteries and plan for your specific shoot. 

Bundle up for shorter amounts of time

You don’t want sad photographs of people who just want to warm up. Plan for shorter shoots outdoors and keep the ever-changing weather in mind. As the photographer, bundle up, and wear mittens with individual fingers so you can adjust settings with them on.

Did you try any of these techniques? Send us your photos to

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