Hack Your Headshots with CBP | Cold Weather/Natural Light


Sometimes shooting in the cold weather to do natural light headshots presents some interesting challenges. Personally, I love the crispy cold air and light. Maybe it's the Canadian in me. But I also want my clients to be as comfortable as they can.

When I'm shooting a session outdoors in NYC, the cold isn't much of an issue as we can go outside for quick trips and pop back in to my place to warm up. But when I'm on the road, I don't always have a home base, so to speak, and we're often left to our own ingenuity to get the shots we need all the while battling the elements. Namely, staying warm.

Here are some tips and tricks that you can do if you may be shooting your next headshot session outside in the cold (with or without a home base).


1. Layers

Not only do layers add interesting texture to your shots, but you can be strategic about  it. Last week, Taylor came by to shoot and it was about 40 degrees out. Not freezing, but not exactly comfortable. We knew we wanted some shots in a tank and t-shirt, as well as a sweater and jacket. In this shot, I think she's wearing all of those layers at once in this shot. You'd never know it as the layers were very thin but insulating. This also helped us work quickly as she could shed each outer layer without having to spend a lot of time going back and forth to the car or my place. (She also may or may not be wearing socks on her hands in this shot as mittens.)


With Tom, notice the layers again. He had a tank, a t-shirt, a sweater and his motorcycle jacket on. He kept warm up top and we could shed layers as we went. One lesson learned though, we were standing in about an inch and a half of melty slush and snow. And he was in dress shoes. Oops. Don't forget proper footwear.

Tips on layering for headshots in the cold:

  • Start at the bottom. Wear warm, comfortable shoes and socks. We aren't shooting your feet.
  • Keep your layers thin enough not to bulk up the layers above it.
  • Be sure the lower layers aren't darker than the ones above. We don't need a dark blue tank showing through a light cream colored sweater. Make sense?
  • Keep an eye on the under layers that they don't try to make a cameo appearance around the collar.
  • Test your layers at home.
  • If you're wearing a dress because you like the neckline, you can keep your jeans on underneath and even leggings or long underwear. Remember these are headshots and unless you're in need of a 3/4 shot, most photographers will keep their shots waist up. I do.
  • If you're going to wear a jacket (I'm always a fan), choose one that's fitted and feels like spring or early fall. A heavy winter parka doesn't work for headshots.
  • Bring your mittens or gloves. Keep those hands warm. Gloves are generally better in case you need to carry clothes and stuff. You'll have a bit more dexterity. And if you're really luxe - throw in a hand warmer or two.
  • Layering can help keep your core temperature warmer and may help prevent cold pink face. More on that in a bit.

2. Check the forecast (and pay attention to more than just the temperature)

Scheduling a session in late winter, early spring? If you want to have access to the most locations when shooting outside, you should try to pick a day where there's not snow falling, or 100% chance of rain or too much wind! OMG the wind!! If you have no choice but to shoot on a less than desirable day, here are some things you can do to help your situation.

Winter weather can be a bit unpredictable. So I always ask my clients to be a bit flexible in the scheduling so we can get the most out of our time together. With my scheduling, I ask for a bit of flexibility. Before I confirm a natural light headshot session, I want to know what the weather is going to be like. Generally, we rough in a date but then confirm it about a week or 10 days out. As the day approaches, we keep an eye on the hour by hour, so if we need to push things back a bit or move things up we can. On to the elements!

The Wind!

Nope. Anna's Hair Explosion. Ha.

Nope. Anna's Hair Explosion. Ha.

And sometimes it works out just right like this one with Jackson.

And sometimes it works out just right like this one with Jackson.

When a cold front is moving out or a warm front is moving in (or however that works) the wind can be a challenge. It makes eyes water and long hair go nuts. A gentle breeze plus long hair can add some great movement to a shot, but too gusty and you're spending the whole session fixing and resetting.

  • If you're shooting in the wind and it's gusting - face it head on.
  • Hair blowing back is much preferred to hair blowing in your face and it's also easier to reset. Sometimes it's just a gust and you can go back to work as soon as it passes. Sometimes you can use it to your advantage and get some lucky shots when the gust is just right and the hair looks spectacular.
  • If the gust is sustained, face the wind and close your eyes or find some shelter. Keep those peepers from getting too red and watery.

The Cold

I "try" not to shoot outside when it's below 45 degrees to avoid pink faces and runny noses but that isn't always possible. 

Avoid pink face. As the body tries to send extra blood to cold extremities some people turn pink. My tips?

  • If you know you turn pink in the cold, try to pick a day that's 50 degrees or warmer.
  • Be prepared to work fast so you don't have to be in the elements for too long.
  • Wear those layers to keep warm.
  • I always recommend hopping back in a warm vehicle, a nearby coffee shop or back to the studio to get your temperature back to normal.
  • Bonus! Use the warm up time to peek at the shots you've gotten so far, pee or change outfits.
  • Hire a hair and makeup artist. (I always recommend one regardless of the weather.)
  • Last case scenario - I can fix it in photoshop. Not really ideal but it has been done.
  • Weird, fun fact about runny noses: Our noses warm and humidify — add moisture to — the air we breathe as it travels down into the lungs. So when you inhale cold, dry air, the moist tissue inside the nose automatically increases fluid production to do its job of protecting sensitive lung tissue. ... And cold air also speeds up mucus production.

3. Bring a Buddy

No matter the weather, having an extra set of hands on location is always welcome with me. You've then got somebody to hold your stuff - like your winter coat or the layers that you shed throughout the shoot. They can also keep things off the muddy ground. They can hold a reflector and be an extra set of eyes on your hair and clothes. Just be sure to bring someone you really love and feel comfortable taking your shots around. 

4. A Few More Tips That Have Come in Handy Lately

  • Tinted windows on cars make great mirrors.
  • Tinted windows also provide privacy for changing.
  • Snow on the ground makes for a great natural bounce of light.
  • Wear your chapstick, moisturize and hydrate. The cold air can be really drying and photoshopping lips back into shape is not fun for anyone.
  • Be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat before your shoot. You "feel" the cold more when you're hungry and tired. Amiright?
  • Wear a base layer that allows you to do a "gym change" on the fly. This saves having to trek back to the studio or into a restaurant or coffee shot to change looks.
  • Crank the heat in the car before you get going. Make that puppy downright hot. That way you'll have that nice toasty vehicle to pop back into between looks.

5. Why Not Just Shoot in the Studio?

That's always an option, but more than ever, I believe everyone should have a shot that is uniquely theirs. Unique enough to stand out among the sea of thumbnails the CD's are flipping though. Using found locations outside is one way to get more options from your session and capturing shots that are unique to your particular day, wardrobe and location. How many times have you seen that same flat gray or white studio background? Just sayin'. It's worth the adventure.