How can you not love a holiday that encourages you to dress up in costume, invites children to go from home to home demanding candy from strangers, and promises the annual rising of the toy-laden Great Pumpkin?
Yup, Halloween is pretty darn great.
And now that it’s just around the corner, we’ve put together a guide to help you get great photos on our favorite holiday.
Read on for creative ideas for Halloween shots, tips on how to carve your pumpkins to make them more photogenic, even instructions for making an anatomically-correct thoracic cavity cake!
Get out your glowsticks and get to work!
Halloween is a particularly difficult holiday to shoot because most of the action occurs after dark, when low-light conditions make it difficult for your camera to get a sharp shot. You’ll get your best Halloween photos at dusk. For that hour or so while the sun is setting, you’ll have enough natural light to easily forgo your flash while still capturing the glow of your jack-o-lanterns and the bright colors of your costumes.
After dusk, use a high ISO setting (400 or more) and hold your camera as steady as you can (or use a tripod) to capture action without a flash. The rich, dark colors characteristic of Halloween are essential in setting a spooky mood, so make sure your flash doesn’t overpower them. Remember, Halloween’s not a bright holiday; and dark and creepy shots can work in your favor.
Jack-o-lanterns make for a unique and beautiful Halloween subject, but capturing their inner glow can be tricky. This is a case where it’s crucial you turn off your camera’s flash so it doesn’t overwhelm your candlelight. Your jack-o-lanterns are not going to move, so your best bet is to use a long shutter speed and set your camera on a steady surface or a tripod.
If you’re photographing outdoors and your shots only capture the glow of the jack-o-lantern and nothing of its outer shape, try creating some makeshift lighting with a flashlight raked against the outer hull of the pumpkin–you can generate some pretty dramatic lighting effects this way!
Design your pumpkins for photographs
The more light your jack-o-lanterns pump out, the more bewitching they’ll appear through your lens. Try to maximize the size of the openings to allow as much candlelight as possible to get out. Bigger openings will also help if you want to use your jack-o-lantern to cast light on bystanders. And the bigger your pumpkin, the easier it’ll be to make those openings large!
Brighten your pumpkins’ glow
Sure, you can stick a dozen candles in that puppy, but unless you want to risk a smoking jack-o-lantern, try adding a flashlight instead. Keep an eye on your angle so your camera can’t see the flashlight or its beam of light directly. (If you do opt for more candles, cut a hole in the upper, back part of the pumpkin–it’ll act as a chimney and allow your candles’ heat to escape.)
Quick tip: If you still can’t get the inner glow bright enough and you’re shooting indoors, try lowering or turning off your room lights to compensate.
Ghouls, goblins, and grown-ups
If you’re taking pictures of the living undead, you may find you need to rely on your flash to get sharp exposures. Remember that the best flash photos (especially when you use the flash built-in to your camera) are those taken close enough to allow the flash to light everything in the frame. And don’t forget to fully charge your camera (and flash) to make sure you’ve got the extra juice those flash shots will require.
Using an off-camera flash unit? Try putting a red or orange gel (or colored cellophane) on the flash to match your natural lighting and eliminate artificial flash tones.
Makeshift lighting tricks work here, too. Use a powerful flashlight pointed up and aimed at the face to give your subject a telling-a-scary-story-by-the-campfire look. Make the effect even more dramatic by shooting from below to make your monsters appear larger than life.
Quick tip: Don’t forget to get pictures of everyone with and without their masks! Otherwise, you’ll find it hard to identify people in your pictures as the years go by.
- Sporting an elaborate get-up? Stick your camera on a tripod and document your transformation through makeup, costume, etc. Try to maintain the same position in each photo to for a fun effect as you flip through photos in a slideshow.
- Silhouettes with jack-o-lanterns look great. Try getting shots of people holding lit pumpkins silhouetted against the sky at dusk. Remember to turn off your flash and use a tripod if you have one.
- For some devilish desert, try this bleeding heart cake. (Not for the faint of heart.) Read the step-by-step to learn how Barbara made this anatomically-correct thoracic cavity cake complete with heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach, liver, and small intestine–all made of different kinds of cake–protected by a rib cage made of white chocolate. (Mmmm, Mmmm!) Also available: the more traditional but equally well-executed Zombie Cake and Killer Rats Cake.
- Create your own flickering LED-based Jack-o-lantern lights.
- The New York Institute of Photography has a great piece on Halloween Photography of their own.
- Pumpkin carving is an art. For real. Check out some award-winning pumpkin carvings, this 3D pumpkin carving how-to (practically sculpture!), pro-level pumpkin carving saws, free pumpkin carving templates, great tips on how to carve a pumpkin (example: coat cut edges with cooking oil to keep your jack-o-lantern fresh longer), gunshot wound and puking pumpkins, and a pumpkin-carving contest (pdf)
- Did you know… Pumpkins are a fruit! No kidding! (They’re the state fruit of New Hampshire.) Most pumpkins produced: Illinois; Biggest pumpkin ever: Ron Wallace, 1,502 lbs
Photo credit: Jack-o-lanterns image by Nathan Walls