I love getting outside during the winter to do family portrait sessions, especially when the sunshine is out! The trouble with doing a winter portrait sessions is that nobody wants to do them because it’s too cold. But if you are willing to bare the cold and do a quick session outdoors on a sunny day (this is key), then typically the outcome is gorgeous! There are many components to making a good photograph when it comes to shooting family portrait sessions, but most of all it comes down to these few keys.
1.) Shoot during early morning or late afternoon. When the sun is still close to the ground your shadows won’t be as harsh. The problem with shooting in the middle of the day is getting harsh shadows, like the kind where a persons eyes are sooo dark compared to their cheeks that it looks like they have black eyes. To avoid these shadows, shoot during 9-10am or 3-4pm (winter hours). Also, take note of the few tips I use below.
2.) If you are shooting in direct sun, which sometimes you want to, then put your subject at a 45 degree angle. Make it so that the sun is to the left or the right of their face. This allows for your shadows to go diagonal across the face rather than straight down. It also allows your subject to not be looking straight into the sun.
3.) Use a reflector. Although, most of the time when there is actually snow on the ground – you don’t need a reflector but if the sun is so bright and your only option is to shoot in the direct sunlight, then pop some light back into your subject on the shadow side of their faces. Make sure your reflector is at least shoulder height (so that the fill light isn’t coming from below, which can sometimes give your client dragon eyes). I find that if I use a reflector I use the silverside, if it’s from a distance and white side if I’m up close, that I have to do less post processing and my edit time is cut in half. Notice the reflector in the snow blowing photo below, I had my husband pop the sliver reflector into my subjects face to fill in the shadow and give her a pop of light in her eye. That reflection of light in your subjects eye brings life the picture, I am always looking for the perfect reflection in my subjects eyes.
4.) Put your subjects in the shade. Most of the time I like to have the sun to the left or the right at a 45 degree angle. If my surroundings allow for me to have everybody in my shot to be in the same light, then I make it happen. In the family shots below, I had all my subjects stand in the same line of shade. There was a tree to my camera-right that was creating a line of shade through my shot. I took advantage of this shade line and put all of my subjects in a line with their faces in the shadow. I simply take a second to explain to my clients that I want all of their face to be in the exact same light and that I need them to pay attention to where their heads/bodies are to make sure they stay within that zone. This allows for the same light and shadowing on each of my subjects faces. Which in the end helps me for quick edit times and easy post processing.
5.) Try some back lighting. Back lighting can be difficult but beautiful if pulled off correctly. For this shoot, I only tried a few backlight shots because I was unsure if they would turn out right. The reason I ended up liking the backlight shots for this shoot is because the snow in front of the group reflected enough light back into my subjects faces. Most times, if you expose for the subjects face, your background will be over exposed and if you expose for the sky then your subjects will be a under exposed (your subjects will look like a silhouette) – which is sometimes what a photographer might want. In this case, I wanted both to be exposed correctly – which I mostly got lucky because the snow acted as a reflector to increase the lighting on my subjects which made them closer in exposure to the sky which in turn made the entire photograph exposure evenly. For the backlighting of the couple in the street at the bottom, the sun was already setting so I was able to do an even exposure for the entire photograph. I took my subjects to a spot in the road that the sun was peaking through the trees and put that peaking light behind them. The improve this shot, I should have popped a reflector back into their faces. I will note, I think this shot is a little flat because I didn’t pop that light back in.