Monday, 22 October 2012

Halloween Photography Tips

Jack-o-lanterns, costumed adults and children, spooky decorations, trick-or-treating kids……  Halloween is a night of fantasy and also an opportunity for trying out your photographic skills. It’s the perfect setting to try some low light photography techniques, unique compositions, and lots and lots of fun filled experiments like double exposure, 2nd curtain sync, capturing motion blur, stroboscopic flash, multi coloured gels etc etc. lets discuss how best we could capture the night of spooks and spirits in all its essence.

halloween photography
Photo By Jpellgen

Camera Settings for Halloween Photography

It is best to remember that in Halloween pictures we expect drama, contrast, coloured lights, ghoulish lighting and more. It is essential to make your pictures look spooky and so lots of things that we generally would not do will actually work for Halloween.

Check Battery and Storage Medium

Make sure you have a fully charged battery and lots of space in your memory cards. The low light shooting situations drains the batteries faster than in other conditions, also you would probably click a lot more than you would have initially planned, so do carry enough memory cards with you.

Use Fast Zoom Lenses

Since you will be mostly shooting in low light conditions, use the fastest zoom lens you have. A zoom lens is preferred over prime lenses as it avoids the hassle of changing lenses in such risky conditions. A good lens choice will be in the range of 18 – 135mm, or 24 – 70mm. Fast lenses give faster shutter speeds, provide brighter viewfinders and also improve auto focus performance.

photography halloween
Photo By Jesse Draper


Generally noise is a dreaded issue in digital photography, but for Halloween pictures it could add to the effect. What a blessing, especially when we are shooting in very low light conditions isn’t it? Yes it is best to bump up your ISO a bit so as to get hand-holdable shutter speeds. Do not fear much about noise, a little noise will only add to the effect.

photographing halloween
Photo By Boogeyman13


Choose aperture carefully, in most cases you will be shooting wide open to compensate for the lack of light, in situations where you need greater depth of field, use narrow apertures along with higher ISO speeds rather than compensating with shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

The choice of shutter speed should be made by deciding whether you need to capture motion blur or not. Some scenes a lot livelier when there is a hint of motion, try different settings, if you are not sure you could also try Automatic Exposure Bracketing with the camera set to Shutter Priority Mode (TV). Thus the camera will take three successive shots with varying shutter speeds and you could choose which one is best.

White Balance

As you are purposefully aiming to get spooky pictures, you need not worry about whether the white balance is set to the correct setting or not as per the lighting conditions. All you need to think is whether shifting the white balance will give you a more dramatic effect with more saturated colours or stranger shades of colours. My personal preference is to set the white balance to either the Cloudy or Shade mode, as these modes warm up the images a bit and it kind of works for me.

how to photograph jack o lantern
Photo By Mark JP


Normally if you use flash in a night scene you will lose the ambience and will only get a flat picture, but during Halloween a flash could prove handy to capture some shots which are otherwise not possible, you could also use your flash as focus assist device, use it on camera to purposefully produce the red eye effect and also gel it to give your pictures the effect of coloured light. It will also be a good idea to try some method of diffusing your flash.

Halloween Photography Tips

Start Shooting Early

Do not wait for it to get dark, in fact you will get better shots during the time when the sun has set but the sky has not become completely dark.

Pay Attention To Detail

Halloween is not only about spooky costumes, there are many more things to photograph if you pay attention to them, kids trying out costumes, people helping each other with costumes (especially funny if they are wearing enemy characters (eg. Joker helping Batman tie his mask), Decorations, carving the pumpkin, tired kids sleeping at the end of parties, bags full of treats, shots of parties both before and after, close ups of food etc. There’s a lot going on out there, just try and capture as much as you can.

Always ask Permission

Make sure you ask permission before taking a photograph of someone, especially if you want to photograph children, do ask permission from their parents beforehand.

Photo By Peter Prehn

Be Quick

During Halloween everybody will be busy trick or treating or with some other activity and when you find an interesting angle or expression or composition you need to act fast and take your shot, else you will miss the opportunity, be alert always.

Shoot People With and Without Masks

If you are photographing friends or family members, (that includes your children), make sure you take shots of them with and without masks.

Vary Your Perspective

Try shooting from a very high angle or a very low angle, the difference in perspective will make your shot unique. Especially if you shoot characters from a low angle it will give them the appearance of being larger than life, thereby accentuating the effect.

halloween photography tips
Photo By Katie Weilbacher

Shoot a Sequence

Always try to narrate a story through your pictures; it is done best with a sequence of shots, for eg. A sequence starting from preparations of Halloween to Cleaning up the next day.

Photographing Jack-o-Lanterns

Jack O Lanterns is the highlight of most Halloween parties, but getting a decent photograph of one is a bit tricky. The technique to get it right is by lighting the lantern from the inside with 3 or 4 candles instead of just one, so there is more light. Compose your frame and place some lit candles around the jack o lantern just out of the frame so it is not visible in the picture but the light coming from it will help expose the outside of the pumpkin and also capture details of its immediate environment. You could modify the effect by either changing the placement of the candles or by adding or taking away some.

photographing jack o lanterns
Photo By Professor Bop

Zoom In To Capture Details

Zoom in tight to focus on finer details, zoom in on the costumes, buttons, shoes, hats, bags, masks, hats and anything else that you find interesting and that screams Halloweeeeennnnn.

Try to take Action Shots

Most pictures you see of Halloween consist of a kid standing still in their costume. However this is kind of a boring way to photograph. A better method is to go candid, let the children enjoy the show and you capture them in various acts like trick or treating, dancing, being goofy etc.

Capture Expressions and Emotions

If you look closely there are a lot of emotions at play during Halloween, especially with children. You could find a wide array of emotions from joy to sorrow, try to capture the emotion in the context of Halloween and your picture will tell a story to everybody who look at it.

Do not Forget to Shoot Pets

Very often you will find costumed dogs and other pets at the party which could be very interesting too. Try to photograph them at the earliest, since there is no guarantee that their costumes stays for long.

photographing pets during halloween
Photo By Anne Marie

Halloween Lighting Trick – ‘Ghoul Lighting’

We are all used to seeing subjects lit from above, as it happens in nature (sunlight) and in most other lighting situations. But to get that spooky feel to your shots, you need to place your light low so that light comes from below the subject, casting shadows across the faces that are eerie or ghoulish. The simplest method to achieve this effect is by shining a flash light up at the subjects face from below the chin. You could also try it with various other light sources, it’s not the light source, but the angle from which the light falls at the subject that is important.

halloween lighting
Photo By Sammee

If the costume or make-up has special effects like blood dripping down the chin etc., you could add more texture to it by lighting it from the side.

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