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23 Tips for Successfully Shooting Winter Wedding Photography

winter wedding photography

Here at ShootDotEdit, we provide photo color correction services for wedding photographers. We also partner with wedding pros to discuss topics that are most relevant to you and your photography. When the cold and, depending on where you live, snowy winter months arrive, there are several challenges that may arise during your wedding shoots. To gain insights into successfully shooting winter wedding photography, we reached out to Adam Shea of Adam Shea Photography. As a Wisconsin-based photographer, Adam has extensive experience photographing weddings and engagements in extremely cold conditions.

 Read below to find tips and tricks that will make your life, and your client’s experience, a much happier one.

Adam Shea Headshot

About Adam Shea

Adam is a wedding photographer based out of Neenah, Wisconsin. He serves areas such as Green Bay, Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, Door County, and Fond du Lac. He also travels across the state of Wisconsin and abroad for destination weddings. Adam focuses on rich, vibrant photos which tell the story of his clients’ wedding days. When not photographing weddings, Adam also photographs engagements, corporate events, families, high school seniors, boudoir portraits, and professional headshots. Adam experiments with time-lapse astrophotography and loves to create short films as well. His main subjects are his 2 dynamic daughters at home.

Adam loves to roast coffee, fish, and is active in the political scene. He strives for equality, fairness, and compassion among all members of society. Adam Shea started Adam Shea Photography in 2007 and his goal has remained simple: create timeless, beautiful images for couples. He focuses on capturing real moments that are crisp, vibrant, and beautiful.

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Winter Wedding Photography

You’re a photographer. And you want to photograph outdoors and create unforgettable winter wedding photos. Hold on! There are a few vital things you should know before hitting the snow.

A vertical outdoor winter wedding photo of the bride and groom, arm in arm and looking at one another, as they walk upstairs.

Image by Adam Shea Photography

Protect Your Camera Gear

A critical step to being a successful professional photographer is to make sure your gear is up-to-par. Cold weather stresses your equipment. The brutal conditions bring their own set of unique challenges.

 The main culprit of cold-weather camera problems is condensation. Condensation can lead to camera malfunctions, damage to your equipment, and lost photos if you’re not careful.

Read below to learn how to effectively protect your camera gear from the moisture damage caused by condensation.

1. Learn What Causes Condensation

After photographing an outdoor winter wedding photography session and opening up your camera bag, you’ll notice 1 thing immediately: condensation.

 This is because your camera, lenses, and batteries were exposed to cold air for a long time. When you bring it indoors, the warm, humid air causes tiny water droplets, or condensation, to form on those cold surfaces.

 It’s similar to when you bring a cold bottle of Wisconsin Spotted Cow beer outdoors in the summertime.

 Condensation is your worst enemy when it comes to your photo equipment. It will erode contacts, damage sensitive electrical components, and shorten your gear’s lifespan.

 This means potentially losing photos, buying a new camera, or replacing those expensive lenses.

2. Acclimate Your Camera

To prevent condensation from forming, acclimate your gear when you arrive back from your photoshoot. There are a few common winter wedding photography tips for this.

 The first method is to use a good backpack or camera bag that is well-sealed. This means durable zipper enclosures and water-resistant lining. I’m a big fan of LowePro photography backpacks and have been using them for years. They have good-quality zippers that seal the inside of the backpack effectively.

 When you’ve finished shooting, pack all of your gear into the bag.

Take it inside where it’s warmer. Leave your equipment inside of the bag for at least a few hours before opening it.

 During this time, your photography equipment will slowly acclimate to room temperature. This will help eliminate the condensation that wants to form on the sensitive contacts, lens surfaces, and internal components of your gear.

 The second, and more involved, way to do this is to use a large plastic Ziplock bag. The best bags to get are the jumbo-sized bags in most retail stores or on Amazon.

While you’re still in the cold-weather, place your entire camera bag inside of the cold bag plastic and bring it inside. Leave it there for a few hours. You’ll notice that condensation will form on the bag instead of the sensitive electronics inside.

 The Ziplock bag-method is especially effective if you don’t have a well-sealed zipper camera bag for all your equipment. Or, if you just want to make sure your equipment is as protected as much as possible.

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Quick Tip

If you happen to accidentally open your bag and notice a lot of condensation on your camera or lenses, don’t freak out. Let them sit out in dry air to help it evaporate as quickly as possible. If a lens is attached to your camera, take it off and allow the inside of the camera to dry. This exposes the inside to dust, so do not leave it in a dusty setting.

3. Reduce Condensation Damage

Keeping your lenses and extra accessories inside your equipment bag will help reduce any moisture damage coming from snow. It will also keep it away from your body and slippery, wet gloves while shooting.

Want to go even further? Add a few packs of silica gel inside of your camera bag. I’ve found the rechargeable Ruggard Desiccant Silica Gel Packs at B&H Photo to be useful. They can help preserve your gear, and you don’t have to throw them out. You simply need to reheat them to recharge them.

 Keeping packs of silica gel in your bag at all times is a good idea. This applies to any season or any location. Even a small amount of moisture will cause your equipment, especially metal contacts, to corrode faster.

4. Wrap Up Your Camera

If you’re extra-cautious about your camera and gear, you can take the extra step of purchasing a camera-ready plastic bag to protect your camera. This will prevent snow from getting in the nooks and crannies while you lay on the ground getting an amazing shot.

 I’ve found these bags to be a little cumbersome while using gloves, however, they do protect your gear fairly well. If it’s not snowing, I simply leave my camera “naked” and remain extra careful. If it’s snowing, however, these definitely come handy to keep my camera body and lens dry.

5. Don’t Put Your Camera in Your Jacket

If it’s cold or snowing, your first instinct will probably be to tuck your camera inside of your warm, cozy jacket. Don’t do it!

 Why? When you take your camera out, it will be covered in moisture. Your lens will be foggy and you’ll be trying to wipe it away with your gloves, which will complicate your situation even more. 

The heat and moisture trapped inside of your jacket will immediately cause condensation to form on the outside of the camera and fog your lens. Yuck.

The better option: leave your camera exposed to the cold and dry air. It’s OK! Just be careful.

 Hang it around your neck and tilt it down. Or use that plastic bag I talked about before.

 If you’re walking a longer distance, place it in your camera bag and carry it on your back. But don’t put your camera in your jacket.

Set Expectations for Clients

A major factor in maintaining happy clients is to under-promise, and over-deliver. Be honest and straightforward. Be yourself. A winter photoshoot is a different animal. The ambient temperature is low. The climate is harsh. You are working with a more compressed timeframe due to light.

An outdoor winter engagement session image of the couple in an embrace facing toward the camera, with the bride's hand on the groom's chest and her ring showing.

Image by Adam Shea Photography

I often inform my clients that in harsh winter conditions, our winter photography session timeline may be shorter than others. The bitter cold can seep into their bones, causing them to get super chilled. This can result in frigid-looking winter wedding photography. Or, it may cause them to want to end the shoot sooner.

If they are on board with that, I often remind them that a few other factors can appear. Red noses, runny nostrils, watery eyes, and cold appendages can lead to less-than-flattering profiles. These can, of course, be abated a bit by some editing.

If these issues are not a concern, then it’s game on. A winter wedding photoshoot can provide to be of the most unique, intimate, and captivating of any type of wedding photo session. Their friends and family are likely to say, “You did WHAT outside?!”

What to Expect from Your Camera and Batteries

In cold-weather conditions, your camera is more prone to malfunction. Your gear is more susceptible to damage. To avoid these maladies and capture memorable winter wedding photography, keep a couple things in mind.

1. Bring Extra Batteries

This is the absolutely most important thing to remember when photographing outside in the winter. Batteries operate best in warmer temperatures. In cold conditions, your batteries are unable to discharge their energy. The ions move slower and it causes the battery life to drop by almost half.

Keep an extra battery, or two, in your pocket. Keep it close to your body. This will not only keep it warm but it keeps it handy. Chances are you’ll be switching out batteries at least once during your session.

 If you’re using an external flash unit such as a Canon Speedlite or Nikon Speedlight, be sure to bring extra batteries for that, too. Their cold-weather life is drastically shorter, just like your camera battery.

2. Bring an Extra Camera

The effects of the bitter cold on your camera can be unpredictable. I’ve experienced times when my camera quit functioning, produced error codes, or would not write to my CF card.

 Having an extra camera on you will save you the uncomfortable experience of having to explain why your gear isn’t able to handle the cold conditions.

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3. Prepare, but Don’t Over-Fret

Most modern cameras have good weather sealing and are manufactured to operate in cold conditions. The most trouble begins, however, when it gets below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Be aware that the LCD screen will operate a little slower and the battery life will be drastically reduced. This is normal.

 Don’t be afraid to take a risk and shoot in bitterly cold conditions, but keep these points in mind.

Related: 8 more tips for shooting stellar wedding portraits in the snow – get them here!

Adjusting for Light

Light plays a major role in photography. We paint with light, we manipulate light, and we use light to create our images. Light during the winter months dramatically affects the types of photos we take. Below are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Too Much Light

You may notice that your subjects may be too dark if you leave your camera in evaluative metering mode. This is the mode most DSLR cameras are set to by default. If you allow your camera sensor to meter the entire image, you may have increased the exposure a few stops.

 Why does this happen? Your camera sensor will automatically detect the brighter light from the snow. It will want to lower the exposure in order to achieve what it believes to be the correct exposure. This can result in underexposed subjects.

You may have to increase the exposure by 1 or 2 stops to compensate for this.

 To prevent this, I always use spot metering on my Canon 7D Mark II. This allows me to control metering and focus on exactly the point I want. I typically expose/focus for the single point, or “spot”, then move my camera where I want it to compose the image.

 It’s all a matter of preference. Spot metering is not for all situations. I’m a fan of controlling as much as I can using my own experience rather than trying to let the camera give me its “best guess.”

2. Shorter Days

In Wisconsin, our winter daylight hours are cut dramatically short. The skies can darken almost completely by 4:30 pm. 

Keep this in mind when scheduling winter shoots with your client. I’ve used the site TimeAndDate.com to check the sunset in my area many times. This calendar helps you schedule your clients’ photo shoots well in advance.

An outdoor wedding photography couple portrait of the bride and groom, with the groom kissing the side of bride's forehead as she faces the camera and smiles.

Image by Adam Shea Photography

3. Little Shade

In winter, the trees are usually bare with little to no shade. This creates harsh shadows of branches running across their bodies and faces. These are difficult, if not impossible to edit. There 2 winter wedding photography tips I have for this. If you’re apprehensive about photographing in direct sunlight, try to find a place that offers solid shade. Or, have an assistant bring a light shield or bounce screen.

 Try going next to a large building or a Christmas tree farm is usually a good bet. The upside about winter light is that shadows are longer, which gives you a little more room to move around.

Related: How can you capture unforgettable images for your clients during a wedding-time crunch?

Incorporating Vibrant Colors

Winter is a season in which many of think of white, brown, gray, and blue. But these don’t have to be the only colors that dominate your winter wedding photos. 

If you place yourself in a setting that is able to add areas of vibrant color, you can create gorgeous winter images that will surprise your clients and their families.

1. Evergreen

Evergreen is the most common color I incorporate into my winter photoshoots. We have a lot of Christmas tree farms in Wisconsin. These provide an incredible setting for our sessions.

 Not only do they offer gorgeous colors, but add an element of symmetry and depth. This is because the trees are typically planted in perfect lines. By using a wide-angle lens or opening up your aperture, you can create some stunning images.

2. Red Berries

If you’re lucky, you may encounter some trees or bushes that contain red berries. Use them! Place your subjects about 5 – 10 yards in front of the berries, set your camera to a low aperture, and snap the shutter. You’ll be surprised at how the red will “pop” in the background of your image.

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3. Blue Skies

Since the angle of the sun is lower in the winter, you can use this to your advantage. Place your subjects on an angle in which you take a photo and can see the blue sky behind them.

 When you hit it right, you can capture a bright, vibrant blue sky against a solid white foreground. You’ll need to experiment a bit with the angle to achieve the right effect. But once, you have it, the results can be super-picturesque.

4. Stone and Snow

Contrast is a key element of creating an interesting photograph. In winter, I’ve found that stone architecture creates a stunning result. Soft-fallen snow on top of large rocks provides a textural contrast that invokes more emotion. If you live in an area that contains stone architecture or bridges, use them!

Related: Find out how to better capture wedding ring photography for your clients on their big day!

Make the Session About Your Client

Like any photo session, whether that is the engagement session, wedding ceremony, or reception, the images should reflect the personality of your client. Chances are, your client chose a winter setting for a reason.

 Does he or she play winter sports? Did they get engaged in the winter? Why is the winter a special time of year for them?

Here are a few suggestions for places to capture winter wedding photography. And how to use them to showcase their personalities.

1. Visit a Local Ski Resort

I had a client as me if we could go do a local ski hill and take photographs. I immediately jumped on the opportunity. We met in southern Wisconsin at a local ski resort and the results were amazing!
 The spot was special to them because that’s where they had their first date. On top of that, we got photographs most of their friends don’t have. It was like a white desert; with the focus solely on them.

2. Play Hockey

Do your clients like hockey? Using an empty ice rink can provide some incredibly unique photos. Early in my photo career, I visited a local outdoor ice rink to photograph an engaged couple. We got some incredible images that showcased these two in a setting all to themselves.

A wedding image of the couple facing away from the camera, out of focus, and in focus in the groom's black wedding ring.

Image by Adam Shea Photography

3. Go Sledding

Who doesn’t like to go sledding? We all know that un-posed photographs make for the best memories. Make use of the action photos and emotions created while holding on tight to your partner or sled. Take your clients to a local sled hill and have fun!

4. Take Them Ice Skating

Ice skating can create a unique and intimate photo experience. You can create a Rockefeller Plaza-esque style photoshoot by taking your client to a large ice rink. If there are Christmas lights in the background, use them! These create a stunning visual “pop” that will make your photographs stand out from most photographers in a winter setting.

5. Save Ground Shots for Last

Who wants to be wet while being photographed? Save the shots in which your clients come in contact with the ground last. They’ll thank you for being dry and you’ll be thankful you don’t have to edit wet patches the size of Greenland off their bodies.

Related: Are you using these 5 tips for shooting wedding photography to successfully capture the most important images?

Dressing for Photographing in the Cold

Wintery, cold weather has a deleterious effect on our bodies and minds. We fatigue easier and our brains and bodies seem to operate slower. To help extend the photoshoot and make everyone more comfortable, here are a few cold-weather tips to remember.

1. Bring Hand Warmers

This are my most recommended tool you can use to keep yourself clicking the camera shutter. Slip a few in your pocket, put them in your gloves and stuff them in your waterproof shoes.

 Heck – give a few to your clients a few as well. They most likely didn’t think to bring them, and they’ll be incredibly grateful that you did. You can purchase a 30-pack of HotHands on Amazon here.

If you feel extra ambitious, you can rubber-band one of them to your camera and have this help keep your battery warm. It looks a little silly, but works!

2. Get Some Winter Photography Gloves

Our tiny digits make adjustments, dial in our settings, and fine-tune our winter wedding photos. Don’t skimp to protect your fingers and hands.

 You might want to check out the gloves offered by Vallerret. These gloves are designed in Norway by 2 photographers who needed hand protection to combat brutally cold winters. Visit their website for their newest versions of their winter photographer gloves.

3. Invest in High-Quality Winter Apparel

When photographing in the snow, you’ll face a variety of extreme conditions. You’ll be wet from the snow, you’ll be exposed to higher-than-average winds, and you’ll brave brutally cold temperatures. 

As a Wisconsinite, I’ve learned to invest in high-quality winter weather garments. This includes a winter hat and form-fitting undergarments. My favorite brand is Patagonia.

 Patagonia creates some of the highest quality, longest lasting winter weather garments on the market. I have garments from over 20 years ago that are still in excellent condition. 

After multiple washings and countless snow-shoveling escapades, they’ve stood up well. They are tailored well, fit well, and made of good quality materials.

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There are several winter wedding photography tips Adam suggested you can use to set yourself up for success. Which tip was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

When you learn how to shoot in any scenario, you become a more diverse photographer. Plus, you can easily capture images your clients will love. Discover additional tips for how to create unforgettable images with our Pro Photographer Lighting and Posing Guide! Click the banner below to download your copy and gain insights from top photographers in the industry.

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