While spring is around the corner for many of our readers, some of us who live in the north may endure a few more blasts of arctic misery before the the tulips finally bloom. In honor of this brutal winter which saw temperatures dip to -25F where I am, I’d like to present some of the things I’ve learned about shooting couples portraits in the cold.

Last year my wife and I moved our photography business from the warm beaches of Tampa to the sometimes completely frigid but incredibly vibrant city of Chicago. If you’re a wedding photographer like us and you live in a city that gets frigid in winter, you probably know the misery of trying to photograph a couple for their engagement session or wedding portraits when it’s below freezing outside. That said, when you live in a cold climate, sometimes you have no choice but to brave the cold and create incredible images for your clients, regardless. Now that it’s almost spring and I’ve spent the winter shooting weddings, engagement sessions, and family shoots in the arctic, I’ve learned a few things that I’m happy to pass on to you. If you live somewhere warm, and this doesn’t apply to you, feel free to read on and laugh maniacally.

When shooting in the cold, there are so many challenges to consider: The clients comfort and safety, your own comfort and safety, your equipment, shoot locations, what to wear, and so much more. But there are also many opportunities you don’t have at other times of the year or in other places. In this post, I’ll provide 5 tips for taking great couples portraits in winter.

1) Dress for the weather

This may sound like common sense, but one of the biggest mistakes I see both clients and photographers make is not dressing warm enough on a cold day. Don’t assume you can brave sub-freezing temperatures in a thin coat and gloves. Also, a freezing cold couple is going to have a really hard time following directions and giving you that natural smile. Advise clients to dress comfortably so they can focus on being themselves in the photos.

It’s always a good idea to bring hand warmers (and suggest that your couple bring some as well)! If your fingers go numb you’re not going to be very good at taking photos. If you do start to feel your fingers go numb, take a break and throw your hands in your pockets to warm them up. I recommend checking out the North Face E-tip glove. It’s warm enough to keep your fingers from falling off, but not so bulky that you can’t handle your camera. I also recommend investing in a super warm down coat. Most people I see out shooting in the cold aren’t wearing a coat that’s appropriate for sub-freezing temperatures and wind chills.

2) Embrace What winter gives you

The cold of winter will challenge you in ways that the the warmth of summer just won’t; however, winter also provides an opportunity for you to create images that are unique compared to all those unlucky photographers who live in warm weather climates year round. Yes, winter is dark and gloomy, and you won’t be shooting in the perfect light of Orange County, but you have the beauty of a frozen lake to use as a backdrop (or to have your clients walk out onto…).

3) Find the green

One of the things I hate the most about winter is the lifeless dead look of the trees. Nothing makes me feel more like I’m in a horror movie than walking through a park full of leafless branches, all seemingly reaching out to attack me. Fortunately, there are trees that stay green all year round. Pine trees and conifers of all varieties will trick your audience into believing that you don’t live in a lifeless hellhole six months of the year.

4) Be Creative

Not every photo you take needs to show the scene that you’re working in. So, if you’re shooting outside and it looks like you’re north of the wall in Game of Thrones, stretch your creative muscles and try something new. ¬†Winter is a great time to push yourself out of your comfort zone and test techniques you’ve been wanting to try but didn’t have a reason to when the light was perfect. Double exposures can create some really interesting photos in winter. A tilt-shift is another way to add interest to your images while minimizing distractions like dead tree branches.

5) Get out of the cold and go inside!

Once your fingers are limp and lifeless, and your clients lips won’t stop quivering, it might be time to head inside. Don’t be afraid to take your shoot indoors. You can plan to finish your session at a conservatory where your couple will be able to warm up and finish off the shoot on a positive note. Also, consider locations that are meaningful to your couple, like their home or a bar where they went on their first date. Don’t forget the wedding venue itself. There are often great spots in the venue where you can capture some great portraits and stay warm. If there are no windows with natural light, bring the lights that you’ll need to make the indoor shoot successful. I learned much of what I know about off-camera lighting from SLR Lounge’s tutorials.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for taking incredible couples portraits in winter in the comments section below.