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10 Tips to Produce Award-Winning Winter Photo Shoots

The holiday and winter season is upon us and that usually means that families are getting excited to have their yearly family portraits taken. Here are some expert tips for capturing those festive portraits.


Planning holiday and winter sessions is all about serious timing! Ask your clients what their intentions are for their family portraits. Are they sending out holiday cards or do they just want the beautiful winter scenery as the backdrop to their annual photographs? Your clients might have a timeline in mind or they might be flexible so that you can capture whatever vision it is they have for their photos. If your clients want to send out holiday cards, it’s a good idea to start photographing portraits in October and November so they have enough time to order cards from you or a preferred printer. Know that in the winter months the sunlight sets a lot earlier so plan your session times accordingly!


When planning your holiday and winter sessions, it’s a good idea to scout out locations weeks and even months before they take place. This is a very popular time of year to photograph portraits, and if you need to obtain permits or permission it’s important to plan early! I shoot my holiday sessions at the end of October and early November because the locations I choose are very popular and I have to reserve them in the summer months. I find that this time of year clients love to be photographed at festive locations such as Christmas tree farms and rustic barns. A lot of these locations are also closed to photographers during the month of December so find out early!


Choosing the right gear is key to photographing both holiday and winter sessions because the weather is colder. It is important to know that items like batteries drain faster in the cold so you should always bring lots of extra equipment with you. If you are photographing portraits in the falling snow, it’s a great idea to invest in a lens hood, which will keep the wet snow off of your lens. There is nothing worse than having to wipe it off every couple of shots! Purchasing a snow cover or simply bagging your body with a clear plastic bag is also a good idea when you’re shooting in heavy snow.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer 

Winter backdrops are beautiful but let’s face it; it is also freaking cold out there!  If you’re cold, this means that your subjects are too and cold skin almost always equals red cheeks and noses! The Luxe Lens has both presets and actions for getting rid of red skin, which comes in handy after photographing in the freezing cold outdoors.

Original photo by Malin Kihlstrom

Original photo with Dream preset + Skin Softener brush from the Luxe First Years Preset Collection

Camera Settings

Shooting in the snow is a great time to trust your eye when it comes to exposure. Play around with your settings to get the best look! White is a great backdrop for your subjects to stand out but you have to ensure that they don’t look overexposed. It’s better to be a little underexposed rather than overexposed. A much easier fix in post processing! Bokeh is also a popular addition to winter pictures. This can be added by changing your camera’s settings or it can be added in post processing using bokeh overlays.

Capturing Snow

If you are lucky enough, you will get the opportunity to actually capture the snow falling during a winter session. This is where a fast shutter speed will become crucial to making your photos so much more magical! A fast shutter speed will allow you to capture the crisp falling snow details. Not all photographers are so lucky though. The snow may have already fallen or might not even have arrived yet which is why I absolutely love using the Luxe Snow overlays! They are so realistic!


I love photographing holiday and winter sessions because it’s a great time to use festive colors to make your photos pop! Bright reds and evergreens are classic colors that complement a winter backdrop. This goes for indoor sessions as well. This year I incorporated a vintage red velvet love seat in both my studio and outdoor sessions. Choose items that will make your clients excited to choose you as a photographer. Remember that sometimes your setting is the best prop of all.


Dress for the Weather

There are so many options for what your clients should wear for their sessions in this season. It’s pretty hard to go wrong. Your clients can choose to go formal or they can keep it casual. I think black is classic as are red and green. White or blue looks lovely and very winter wonderland but I don’t suggest this to clients who are going to be photographed outdoors in the snow as they may start to blend in with their surroundings. Remind your clients that you want them to feel comfortable and if they or their children will be too cold in what they are wearing, it might hurt their image results. There is nothing worse than photographing a cold cranky kid! And don’t forget to take care of yourself either! It’s a good idea to purchase camera friendly gloves to keep you warm and toasty during your winter sessions.

Original, taken in mid-October


Radiant preset + Snow brush from the Luxe Let it Snow! preset collection enhances the seasonal look of the original

Session Workflow

When doing portraits this time of year, it’s important to create a workflow for your sessions. Holiday and winter photo sessions are often for Christmas cards, to give as gifts to family, yearly photo albums, etc. so make sure you capture all the shots! The best way to do ensure you don’t miss anything is by creating a workflow in advance of the session. I always have my clients fill out a client questionnaire to find out if there is anything specific they want out of the session. Knowing in advance will only help your workflow be that much more effective. Photographing a group of four? Remember to capture them all together, individually, in pairs and threes. Lots of combinations offer them an assortment of proofs to work with. Great for variety and even better if you sell your images individually or by collection.

Make it Special!

Do you know what it takes to make your clients keep coming back to you? Whether it’s for their yearly portraits or all of their family milestones, making holiday sessions special sets the tone for the following year. It could be as simple as bringing cookies, sending a holiday card, giving an inexpensive thank you gift or an extra special edit. Every year when I photograph my Christmas tree farm sessions, I provide my clients with 2-3 extra special edits. I know that a lot of my clients wish they could have the look of snow in their holiday photos. It’s just not possible because we have to photograph their sessions early enough to get photos out in time for the holidays so that’s what I offer. This snowy edit is made possible by Luxe snow overlays.


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