Tips & How-Tos

5 Tips for Charming Winter Portraits in Any Conditions

Winter is one of my favorite seasons as a portrait photographer. I love to take advantage of the slower pace and push myself creatively. It’s a wonderful time to try new techniques and make the most of the seasonal opportunities, no matter what climate you live in. Let’s take a look at various ways you can take advantage of winter portraiture.

Tip 1: Magic of the Season

Winter is one of the most magical seasons. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a climate that has a distinct winter season, you know how beautiful frosty mornings and quiet snowfalls can be. Since winter is our longest season in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I have lots of opportunities to get out and capture the magic.

My go-to portrait lens for outside shooting tends to be my SIGMA 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, especially during a snowfall. The ability of this lens to capture dreaminess with the large, round bokeh is the main reason why I favor it. Its impressive ability to find and focus on my subject in inclement weather, especially when photographing fast-moving little children, is another reason I love this lens.

A great, much more compact alternative is the SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art, made specifically for mirrorless. It shares many of the great qualities of the 105mm, and is much easier to carry around.

Tip 2: Bringing Winter Inside

Of course not everyone lives in an area where there is a distinct winter, so how do you embrace the season when you live in a uniform climate? The answer: bring winter inside.

My favorite way to do this is to make snowflakes, hang them from the ceiling, and shoot through them or use them to enhance the scene. I usually buy paper snowflakes from Amazon, but we’ve also made them out of coffee filters. Consider hanging the snowflakes in both the foreground, middle ground and background to enhance depth, and then find the focal length that works best in your space.

Since I’m working inside, I often gravitate toward wider lenses like the SIGMA 24mm F1.4 Art or 35mm F1.4 Art, especially if I’m shooting from above. But if you have the space, longer lenses like the SIGMA 85mm F1.4 Art or a zoom lens like the SIGMA 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary can tighten up the scene and tell a more intimate story.

Tip 3: Frosted Windows

There’s something so nostalgic and timeless about a winter window portrait. Not to mention, it offers a unique portrait perspective. Like the previous tip, this is a great portrait idea if you live in a climate that doesn’t have a cold winter. You can style the window with snowflakes, winter wreaths, or lights. I also love to cover my window in frost or snow spray (found at almost any craft store, or online) to enhance texture and mood.

If you don’t have an ideal window that you can shoot through, consider creating one! I purchased a piece of 2′ x 3′ plexiglass from a home improvement store, hung my plexiglass from a backdrop stand with clamps, sprayed the glass and shot through it. The beautiful thing about this method is you have more control of your light by being able to place the plexiglass anywhere. I tend to gravitate toward using my SIGMA 50mm F1.4 Art lens or something even a little longer, like my 85mm or 105mm to enhance the overall dreaminess for these types of portraits.

Tip 4: Color Opportunities

When I think of colors that represent winter, I think of cool tones like a monochromatic blue color scheme, or white. Winter color schemes exude peace, tranquility and solitude. Knowing this, it’s a perfect opportunity to create portraits centered around these colors. Whether you live in a warm or cold climate, embracing the cool-toned colors of winter is an amazing way to enhance atmosphere and mood within portraiture.

Moving indoors, you can see I went with a monochromatic winter color scheme with my SIGMA 50mm F1.4 Art lens. This lens tends to be my favorite lens for classic, closeup portraiture like this one. It’s sharp, yet at the same time dreamy.

Tip 5: Coziness of the Season

There’s something so inviting and cozy about winter, and I love to embrace that as much as possible. Including items like warm knits and oversized blankets is a great way to add texture to your portrait. Consider bunching up pillows and blankets to further enhance texture within your frame. When styling with textiles, lay out your items in advance to make sure the colors are all cohesive.

Additionally, implementing things like warm lights, candles, or just bundling up with winter clothing can enhance the cozy mood. The overall lesson here is that no matter the weather, you can create a wintery mood with just a few styling elements and color choices.

Bonus Technical Tip!

One question I often get asked: what do I do to protect my gear against inclement weather? In the winter, I’m often out in frigid temps and heavy snowfalls. While I don’t advise bringing your gear outside unprotected in extremely wet conditions, I can honestly say I have complete peace of mind bringing my SIGMA Art lenses outside during a snowfall.

In particular, the dust-and-splash resistance of my SIGMA DG DN Art lenses (made specifically for mirrorless) is incredible. These more recent introductions to the Art line are sealed at the mount and throughout the entire barrel, including the focus ring and all the switches.

Winter is such a wonderful time to push yourself creatively.

Whether you live in an area with a distinct winter season or not, there’s plenty of opportunities you can embrace for creative portraiture. Plus, when you’re done, you can treat yourself to a steamy mug of hot chocolate for a job well done.

Comments (1)
  1. Troy Phillips says:

    Very nice work ! Definitely can tell these were shot with the Sigma lens rendering. Sigma has its own way of rendering skin . Don’t know how it can look smoother but so sharp at the same time . I was just going through live music portraits I was shooting with the Sigma Art on my Nikon Z9 . I just love the skin on the faces of the musicians .
    I bought the Sigma Art 135 f/1.8 just when preorder for the Nikon Penta 135 came out . I’d been planning on getting the Sigma 135 for a while. When testing came out and one test was between the two lens I preferred the Sigma images most of the time . I like that Sigma didn’t put in any aspherical elements. Lovely bokeh , smooth drop off to the out of focus areas . The autofocus accuracy has been better than with all my other lenses that are adapted. It is so close to the Native Z lens it’s hard for me to tell which one is which . (Most of the time )
    Heading out for some more live music photography tomorrow. I’ll have the Sigma Art 135 and 28mm in tow .
    Thanks Sigma !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *