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Four Halloween Photography Ideas

Inspiration and advice for photographing this fun holiday

It’s that time of year again—the peak holiday for candy lovers. It’s Halloween! And while the holiday is always fun for all ages‚ from little kids collecting candy to grown ups partying in full costume, it can be a bit tricky to photograph. From the early sunset this time of year to unpredictable weather, Halloween presents its own special set of photographic challenges. With that in mind, here are four Halloween photography ideas and some ways to better capture Halloween imagery.

Photograph Costume Portraits Before The Big Day

Whether you’re a semi-pro cosplayer or a mom who skillfully crafts great costumes, photographing the family in their costumes is something best done before the big day itself. Not only are busy events on Halloween sure to make finding time for photographs a challenge, but also the earlier sunset and chaos of parties and school events are even trickier to navigate. Instead, why not do a dress rehearsal of sorts and photograph those costumed friends and family well in advance of Halloween? Not only can you have more control over the lighting this way—whether you’re shooting in a makeshift studio or setting up moody theme lighting after dark—but you’ll also have more time to perfect the costumes and your shots, including appropriate props and the overall setting of the scene.

Plan For Low-Light Shooting

If you’ll be making candid photographs of the “night of,” you’ll want a plan for dealing with the low light. Whether you’re shooting trick-or-treating at dusk or an all night bash for the young at heart, you might first try dialing up the ISO and setting manual shutter speed and aperture to ensure sharp photos in low light. Better still, set a fast shutter speed and wide aperture and pair it with an automatic ISO setting to ensure you’ve always got just enough ISO to create a sharp exposure. The benefit of going all ambient this way is that you’ll get better color and more context for the image. The alternative is using a flash, which will inherently underexpose the background and isolates subjects against a dark background. The best-of-both-worlds approach is to set your camera for what a point-and-shoot might call “Night Portrait” mode. This combines that flash (which produces bright, sharp imaging of a subject close to the camera) with a longer shutter speed and higher ISO to allow for a low-light ambient background to register on the sensor. Just watch out for motion blur that can occur with handholding such long shutter speeds.

Halloween photography ideas


Use Gelled Lights For Fun Special Effects

If ever there’s an opportunity to get wild with photographic technique it’s at Halloween. Anything creepy, kooky and crazy works, so why not go for broke and use gels to turn otherwise neutral light sources into fun special effects? Deep red, blue and purple gels are a great way to add weird ambience to any Halloween scene, while monster lighting (a light source from below) gelled orange, blue, red or yellow can add a wicked, weird vibe to any human (or monster) face. Best of all, gels are inexpensive and super easy to use. These translucent, flame-resistant sheets of acetate can be placed over almost any light source, taking care to provide distance between the gel itself and a hot bulb. With strobes and LED lights, heat is much less of an issue, making gel usage even safer.

In any case, simply using gaff tape or small clips and clamps makes affixing the gels easy. As long as no white light is spilling onto the gel-illuminated area of the scene, you’ll get rich, vivid colors from gelled lights. Experiment with output and exposure in order to dial in the right look, and remember that underexposure will produce deeper, richer colors, while overexposing a gelled light will make it appear lighter and more pastel.

Halloween photography ideas


Put A Light Inside A Jack-O-Lantern For A Fun Effect

Is there any single object more symbolic of Halloween than the carved pumpkin? Whether you’ve purchased a pre-made jack-o-lantern or are carving your own, it’s key to place a light source inside for maximum spooky effect. In the good old days we’d use a candle, but these days, battery-powered candles and LED lights are more common—and much safer. Whatever light source you use to illuminate your carved pumpkin, photograph it with a long exposure. This will require a stationary camera—courtesy of a tripod—and the exposure can be balanced with dusk illumination to get a glowing pumpkin on the front porch with some ambient exposure illuminating the surroundings.

Some ambient light is essential if you want to see more than just the glowing “smile” of the pumpkin. Without it, if you’re shooting after dark, you’ll have to add your own light. This might be something as simple as a porch light or flashlight but can certainly be a strobe providing low-level fill. Best of all, take that flash and stick it inside the pumpkin and you can create a pumpkin that really glows! With enough exposure, that pumpkin can appear to be bursting with light, while a low-output flash—particularly one that’s gelled—provides a beautiful, haunting glow.

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